6 May 1998
CEO and Deputy CEO; Members of the Secretariat and Chief Management; Representatives of ministries, departments and provinces:
After years of investigations and consultations, it is heartening that we can now start in earnest to transform government communications in line with the demands of our democracy.
In one sense, this is a disadvantage to our communicators, in that, while other structures of government are racing ahead, we are at the beginning of what promises to be an arduous road. Yet from a different perspective one can say that we are quite fortunate that we will be able to draw from the 4 years of experience in democratic governance, and from the tentative work that had already started in this area of endeavour.
As such you will be able, I hope, to avoid many of the pitfalls that the trail-blazers had to go through. Above all, you are setting in place a system whose content and organisation derive from the widest possible consultation in the profession and beyond.
It is in this context that I wish to thank all the employees in government communications structures, especially in SACS, who in the past few years of uncertainty did their best to keep the flag flying. I also wish to congratulate the new management of Government Communications (GCIS) and express my appreciation for the enthusiasm and sense of purpose with which they have started tackling their tasks.
This Conference is an important forum for us to ensure that, as we get down to implement or mandate, we do so as a single unit with a single purpose. It is a critical step in ensuring that we excel in our service to a democratically-elected and legitimate government, in its task of meeting the needs of the citizens.
This is our overriding mandate. It is a mandate underpinned by the Constitution; in particular, Section 16 of the Bill of Rights which guarantees the people freedom of speech.
Our task, hand-in-hand with partners in the communications industry including the media, is to ensure that this right is indeed realised in practical life. It is to see to it that all South Africans receive comment and information that enable them to make rational choices about their lives. It is to see to it that they themselves can pass on information and for the better. They have got the right to know and to be heard.
Without such communication among South Africans, and between them and their government, reconstruction and development will be severely circumscribed - a people-centred and people-driven process of change will be but a mere dream on the horizon.
Such is the importance e seriousness with which government takes this responsibility that, in addition to the many steps taken to introduce transparency and accountability at all levels, we will soon be piloting the Open Democracy Bill in parliament.
The Comtask Report defined in very clear terms the tasks that we face. The report did not only identify weaknesses; but with your participation, it also set out the steps required to rectify them. Its acceptance, in substance, by Cabinet has created the platform for you to exercise your creativity and initiative, for your profession to flourish. It is an opportunity that I am confident you will grab with both hands.
One does not need to go into any detail outlining these recommendations - in other words, to bring coal to Newcastle. Suffice it though to say that among the key principles contained in the report are.
Firstly, that government and its communications impact on the people not as disparate entities, but as government, to which the people gave a mandate in the first democratic elections; to build a better life for all.
Secondly, that it is critical to transmit clear and coherent messages and to reach out to the broader public in a manner to which they can relate.
Thirdly, that this needs to be done in as professional a manner as possible, with no room for duplication and wastage of resources.
Lastly, that in a country such as ours, particular emphasis should be placed on those who were marginalised, especially the poor, the rural masses, women, the disabled, the illiterate and others.
Except for one or two matters of detail, Cabinet accepted the Comtask recommendations, and one is satisfied that work has already started to meet these challenges. Next Monday, we will briefing the Parliamentary Committee on Communications, and the Monday thereafter will be the Budget Vote. And this conference should help define the vision and programmes that we can take to the elected representatives.
The underlying logic of our meeting today, is that the strategies and the programmes that guide our work, as well as the structures that we set up should be the result of joint efforts across government - for a start at provincial and national levels.
It is for this reason that we proposed that consultations should take place at provincial level and within departments and ministries in preparation for our discussions today. As such, we all should see ourselves as midwives of the new system of government communications.
What this means is that we should all be prepared to exchange views without inhibition on both the easy and the difficult questions. We should be self-critical; and we should welcome change and take active part in bringing it about.
In the next few months, we shall be setting GCIS on an operational footing, with the challenge of winning the confidence of both our political principals and the public.
This will depend on whether we gradually ensure that a corporate image of government emerges from our activities; whether we grapple with the difficult task of steadily but surely changing the mindset of our national discourse, and whether we are helpful and supportive in dealing with our partners in the media.
It will also depend on whether our operations are guided by a strategy that makes an impact on society; a strategy based on scientific research rather than what we ourselves want to hear.
It will depend above all on whether we start the process of affording the majority the wherewithal to exercise their freedom of speech through policies on media diversity and support to community media; as well as the challenge of utilising to maximum effect the advantages of the technological revolution to th the kind of information that communities need.
These then are the considerations that should guide our search for the best structures, programmes and a culture that meet the demands of the current age.
Some of the difficult questions that this conference will need to address include
ensuring co-ordination of our work and integration of approaches, strategies and messages across departments, clusters and between national and provincial spheres;
together searching for ways in which we can effect savings by eliminating duplication at all levels;
rationalisation of structures at GCIS Headquarters, so as to deliver better service with less resources; and
the need to address the question of regional offices taking into account that when they were first set up, the structure and character of government - let alone its mission - were fundamentally different.
In dealing with all these matters, we shall need to keep in mind, all the time, that we are servants of the public, and not, to put it frankly, defenders of imaginary turf, that we are functionaries of a government that is striving to ensure effective inter-governmental relations across the board.
Our success in dealing with these and other difficult questions will help us gain the confidence of our political princit there among the population to join hands with government to build a prosperous and just society; to build a winning nation.
Our work in government communications has a critical role to play in harnessing this goodwill for productive purposes; in helping to shape the national mood in line with the tasks of reconstruction and development, nation-building and reconciliation.
It is in this spirit that I welcome all the participants; and assure you of my utmost support, the support of the Deputy-President who is the ultimate political head of government communications, as well as the interest and encouragement of the President and Cabinet, as you set out to meet your mandate.
Deputy Minister in the Office of the Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad
Issued by: South African Communication Service (SACS)