Honourable delegates and observers, both physically present and online.
Greetings from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in this Africa Month that marks the 59th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity and its successor the African Union.
It is a matter of great honour to us that we are able to welcome this august body of the International Labour Organisation to KwaZulu-Natal and our continent.
We salute and are inspired by the work of the ILO, which is one of the most representative institutions within the United Nations system.
Etched in the annals of the struggle for South African freedom are the interventions of the ILO and the solidarity of workers all over the world in the isolation of the apartheid regime and the defeat of racial oppression.
Addressing the ILO soon after his release from Robben Island in 1990, President Nelson Mandela said:
“History will surely recall that there are very few other issues which united humanity as much as did the opposition of the nations to the apartheid crime against humanity. The actions that the international community took to express its revulsion against this crime are part of the equation of struggle which has taken us to the moment of hope and confidence which we have reached today. In this context, we would like to take this opportunity to salute the ILO for its enormous contribution to our common struggle.”
The elimination of child labour is a new terrain of struggle.
As Laureate Kailash Satyarthi eloquently sums it up: “Child labour perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems.”
Members of this distinguished panel and the deliberations in the days ahead will more authoritatively draw attention to the content, complexity and global challenge of child labour.
During these 28 years of freedom and democracy in KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa, we have worked hard to protect and advance the interests of the most vulnerable in our society, our children.
The institution of a democratic state has served as a tool for fundamental socio-economic where we can point to progress we have made since 1994 in the delivery of schools, homes, clinics, roads, libraries and access to one of the most far-reaching social security safety nets in the world.
Much more needs to be done to meet the aspirations of the children of our country while simultaneously building a capable and ethical developmental state.
We recognise that the fundamental transformation that we are building brick by brick to secure the future of our children and to protect them from all forms of exploitation will not come about because we willed it to be so.
Day by day, we work towards the living to the promise of our Constitution and the laws of our land which enjoins us to honour human dignity and to create a thriving human rights culture.
In this context, a better life for all citizens especially the most vulnerable – children, youth, women and people with disabilities is a leading priority of our government at all levels – local, provincial and national.
In the midst of grappling with our developmental challenges, Mother Nature and viral attacks have not been kind to us.
World Day Against Child Labour 2020 focussed on ‘the impact of crisis on child labour’.
The ILO noted at the time that, “The COVID-19 health pandemic and the resulting economic and labour market shock are having a huge impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Unfortunately, children are often the first to suffer. The crisis can push millions of vulnerable children into child labour.”
As KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa, we were alert to the possible implications for our children and worked decisively to cushion the impact of the pandemic especially in the areas of personal safety, nutrition and schooling.
We were alert to Madiba’s warning that, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Fiscal and financial resources have been stretched by the pandemic.
KwaZulu-Natal in pattern similar to the national economic performance, continues to rebound from the contraction of 6.4% prompted by Covid-19 in 2020.
The provincial economy is estimated to have peaked at 4.2% in 2021.
Real output is projected to retreat somewhat to 1.7% in 2022 and 2023.
Jobs remain a major challenge. While KwaZulu-Natal’s economy has shown positive signs of a full recovery, low provincial employment levels are a major cause for concern.
KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Treasury reported earlier this month that the number of employed people dropped by 5.1% in the third quarter of 2021.
Lower employment translates into declining fiscal revenue.
Amidst this calamity, in the week of 11 April 2022, KwaZulu-Natal was devastated by severe flooding, the worst South Africa has seen in recent history.
About 450 people lost their lives and no less than 64 of them were schoolchildren.
The floods left a trail of infrastructure destruction in our schools - with 630 schools reporting different degrees of damage, over 100 completely inaccessible and more than 320 000 schoolchildren affected.
The scale of the destruction was such that the South African government declared a national State of Disaster allowing for all three spheres of government to provide dedicated support in the rebuilding of our province.
Once again, we extend our deep sense of appreciation for all the humanitarian assistance that we have received from across the world, including from the UN, the business sector, labour, civil society, faith-based organisations, and many individuals.
In the uncompromising pursuit of a better life for our children, KwaZulu-Natal has not been deterred.
We have worked to ensure that every child of school-going age is in school and that they receive nutritious school meals.
Government funds continue to support the Department of
Education to ensure that schools that are part of the National School Nutrition Programme procure food for school feeding schemes from the local village subsistence and emerging farmers.
We established a programme of Radical Socio-Economic Transformation in Agriculture (RASET) to augment the efforts of the emerging farmers. This provides a market for the small-scale farmers and injects much needed funds into the rural economy.
Our labour legislation in alignment with international labour standards allows young people to seek employment. This is a crucial point as Africa in particular has a rising youth population.
Unfortunately, youth unemployment continues to rise, mainly when measured using the expanded definition, which incorporates discouraged-work seekers.
Labour statistics show that 59.3% of young people aged between 15 and 34 years are unemployed.
In this year’s budget allocation, KwaZulu-Natal prioritizes the rollout of education infrastructure and strengthen training and skills acquisition.
Our main goal is to make the young people of KwaZulu-Natal capable of sustaining themselves with education and skills.
The Presidential Youth Employment Initiative and the KZN Youth Empowerment Fund promote and sustain this youth entrepreneurship revolution especially the prospects inherent in the 4IR digital economy.
The South African National Treasury allocated R3.4 billion, R2.3 billion and R2.7 billion over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) to respond to pressures in Education, Health and Social Development.
Children are the dominant beneficiaries of these budget allocations.
That is a helicopter view of the interventions of our country and province that we are making – we believe they feed to this conference’s theme which is #RaiseYourHandForKids.
As KwaZulu-Natal, we raise our hand in support of the global campaign for the elimination of child labour. Let us mobilise so that no child is left behind.
Let us work for a world where every child has a future, a chance for a better life and is safe from exploitative labour.
KwaZulu-Natal welcomes you in warm embrace, invites you to enjoy our natural splendour and diverse culture.
Our very best wishes for fruitful proceedings at this 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour.
I thank you.