Since 1994, South Africa has made significant progress by putting in place legislation and policy frameworks for advancing the equality and empowerment of women, children and people with disabilities.

The South African Parliament adopted without reservation the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. Parliament further passed the Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, which strongly called for equal participation of women in the economy and for equal representation of women in positions of decision-making, in both private and public sectors.

More than ever we should increase our efforts to ensure we continue to strive towards true equality for all. One such way is through the National Development Plan, which promotes gender equality and greater opportunities for young people in integrated themes that run throughout it. Empowered, inspired and developed women and youth are critical to South Africa's global competitiveness.

In efforts to assist in the emancipation of women, Government has established a Ministry of Women aimed to encourage and provide opportunities to women to participate in the economy.

In the spirit of the late Nelson Mandela, whose centenary we celebrate this year:
"If we want to build the better life for all of which we so often speak and dream, we will have to ensure that we have a highly educated and skilled population."

SANRAL contributed through its skills development programmes last year that benefited 4 257 people, 1 690 of which were women. Above that, SANRAL is focused on developing female engineers as well providing skills development and education for the women within SANRAL.

Furthermore, the South African Network for Women in Transport (SANWIT) was established. The concept was born out of a need to break existing barriers of entry into the sector and demystify the existing myths. This umbrella body was established as a strategic vehicle to engage business and government on issues that impact on women in the transport sector, including entrepreneurship. This was an important milestone. It gave women a voice in this important industry.

When we talk about emancipation and equality we also have to address the question of participation of black people in the economy. The economy is characterised by vast racial and gender inequalities in the distribution of and access to productive assets, wealth, income, skills and employment. Education is a key equaliser, this however must be juxtaposed with economic participation. Little progress has been made in achieving greater operational participation and control in the economy by Africans. However, one way of us making a contribution in this regard is by transforming our SOEs with a view of them becoming the key instruments of the developmental state.

All these efforts are aligned with the ideals of the late Nelson Mandela, who said: "The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation. Our previous system emphasised the physical and other differences of South Africans with devastating effects. We are steadily but surely introducing education that enables our children to exploit their similarities and common goals, while appreciating the strength in their diversity."

We must do this so that we do not limit our ability to expand the productive base, sustain economic development, eradicate poverty and contribute to a better life for all. Effectively, the black majority had been excluded from economic ownership and control fundamentally undermining their ability to accumulate capital.

Research remains key in solving current challenges and mitigating against future challenges. The appointment of Keith Nare a PhD candidate at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) as research associate at SANRAL's materials lab in Port Elizabeth, bodes well. More researchers must come on board and help the country move forward.

We must laud SANRAL for its commitment to investment in training and education as well as in identifying and nurturing the skills of the next generation of engineers and scientists through its bursaries and scholarships. It is something that is continually reflected in all of the agency's work over the years.

Dr Blade Nzimande is the Minister of Transport