Mbeki launches public works programme

South Africa has to overcome the colonial and apartheid legacy of unskilled and jobless workers to create a workforce for the reconstruction and development of the country, President Thabo Mbeki said on Tuesday.

“The central challenge we face is that the colonial and apartheid society and economy left us with large numbers of our people with very little or no education, with no skills, and without sufficient land even to maintain a viable system of subsistence agriculture,” Mbeki said at the launch of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) in Limpopo on Tuesday.

The programme was launched in the village of Sekhunyane in Giyani and aims to draw large numbers of unemployed and unskilled people countrywide into labour-intensive construction work that will train them for future jobs.

Mbeki explained that the EPWP is an intergovernmental programme that forms part of the goals of the recent Growth and Development Summit.

An important element of the programme is a large-scale expansion of the use of labour-intensive construction methods to build, upgrade and maintain the social and economic infrastructure in underdeveloped rural and urban areas.

Although it is a national programme, it will largely be implemented by provinces and municipalities and its success depends on a “high level of cooperative governance and hard work” by provincial and municipal authorities.

“Today we would like to say to all these people who are going to be at the centre of the implementation of this programme that we will not accept any failures,” Mbeki said.

He said the government will deal harshly with any form of corruption and does not want to see any wastage of public funds through negligence or maladministration.

The programme should also stick to the time frames and must be of a high standard.

The Limpopo village has already initiated a successful labour-intensive roads programme called Gundo Lashu (Venda for “our victory”), which “exemplifies this kind of corporate governance”, Mbeki said.

The Gundo Lashu programme involves the training of 24 local emerging contractors in labour-intensive road and bridge construction and maintenance. They in turn hire local labour to carry out infrastructure improvement projects.

“Similarly, across the country, we plan to have 250 learner contractors,” he said.

He thanked the British Department for International Development and the International Labour Organisation for its contribution to the Gundo Lashu programme.

Assisted by one of the Sector Education and Training Authorities and the Department of Labour, the national Department of Public Works will be hiring qualified people as partners in providing learner contractors with credit and other support.

They will form an important cadre of entrepreneurs skilled in labour-intensive construction methods, able to take advantage of the public resources that will be dedicated to the improvement of infrastructure in the poor and disadvantaged areas of our country, Mbeki said.

He quoted a letter from female contractor Mokgadi Raganya who told how she entered the programme with no previous road-building experience but—after training and mentoring—her company has completed a trial contract of 4,4km of gravelled road and constructed a 24m-long, low-level bridge.

Her company has employed an average of 120 labourers a day. She has been awarded an annual contract of R7,5-million by the Roads Agency Limpopo to seal another road and construct bridges.

There are also other well-established and thriving projects under the banner of the EPWP, such as the Zibambele, Vuk’uzenzele and Zivuseni Road Projects in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng.

“Indeed, through this programme, we should produce more people like Mokgadi Raganya who will help create work for our people and be part of a brigade that pushes back the frontiers of poverty,” Mbeki said.—Sapa

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