Charting the way forward for the Free State

Premier Ace Magashule. (Gallo)

Premier Ace Magashule. (Gallo)

Distinguished guests, including Thomas Maphikela and the Barolong Chief Moroka families, were agog with anticipation as Magashule stated that the African National Congress centenary celebration was "the next biggest celebration of all times after 2010 FIFA World Cup."

<strong>Historic occasion</strong>
"On 8 January 2012, the African National Congress returned to its place of birth, as we commenced the year-long centenary celebrations of our liberation movement in Mangaung. The founding fathers gathered in the small Wesleyan church in Waaihoek to map out a path towards freedom, based on the profound values that are the heart and soul of the African National Congress," Magashule recalled.

"Last year I stated that the operation would not be reduced to a mere project of the ANC. It is a celebration of our political emancipation from racism and oppression and the return of fundamental rights to the disenfranchised.
It definitely includes the liberation of women from all kinds of oppression and discrimination," he said.

Magashule said his government has succeeded in reclaiming the historical greatness of the Free State's people.

"The founding venue of the African National Congress, the Wesleyan Church in Waaihoek, the Maphikela House in Bloemfonteinand the Winnie Mandela house in Brandfort, have been declared as national heritage sites. Additional memorial sites that will be prioritised by the national and provincial government will include the [site of the] 1913 revolt of African women in the Free State, the Moroka house in Thaba Nchu, Bram Fischer's house in Westdene and the Mahabane House in Kroonstad as well as various cemeteries and gravesites of our freedom fighters."

<strong>Operation Hlasela</strong>
The premier also touched on his Operation Hlasela. He said: "We are launching an all-out offensive to free our people from the burden of poverty and underdevelopment."

Magashule told the audience in a hall that was packed to the rafters that earlier during the 2010 State of the Province address he had painted a vivid picture of Operation Hlasela, which significantly changed how government works.

"In simple terms, Operation Hlasela is a strategy, based on the ANC elections manifesto, which focuses on mass mobilisation, intervention, collaboration and partnership to fulfill the notion of 'working together we can do more'."

"Operation Hlasela is not a stand-alone project that requires additional and separate funding by the provincial government. Operation Hlasela brings together the resources of all spheres of government - national, provincial and local - in a focused manner in order to bring about real and concrete change in the lives and localities of our people."

He also stressed the main priorities of his government, which are education, health, creating decent jobs, fighting crime, sustainable human settlement and improved quality of household life.

The premier took time to highlight some major achievements of the township revitalisation programme implemented by the department of public works.

"Township revitalisation symbolises our commitment to bring about real change in the lives of our people through the Operation Hlasela approach. It is a joint urban regeneration project between the provincial and local spheres of government and is part of government's integrated sustainable rural development and urban renewal programme. It involves the revitalisation of strategic urban localities through refurbishing of infrastructure."

He added that provincial government has implemented the township revitalisation programme in towns throughout the Free State.

"We have reached the towns of Cornelia, Frankfort and Tweeling in the Mafube Local Municipality. In the Ngwathe Local Municipality, the communities of Parys, Koppies, Heilbron, Edenville and Vredefort have experienced the benefits of this approach."?Magashule announced that extensive work in Kroonstad in the Moqhaka Local Municipality as well as in the towns of Henneman, Virginia, Odendalsrus and Welkom in the Matjhabeng Local Municipality had been completed.

"The Masilonyana Local Municipality implemented the programme in Winburg, Theunissen, Verkeerdevlei and Soutpan."

He explained that some small towns, such as Vanstadensrus, Ladybrand and Hobhouse, and major urban areas such as Batho, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu have benefited from the programme.

"Our continued focus area in Thaba Nchu will include the establishment of regional offices of the provincial government as well as various agricultural and rural development initiatives. We have also reached the heart of the Letsemeng, Kopanong and Mohokare local municipalities in the Xhariep district. In Thabo Mofutsanyane, we have brought about significant change in the areas of Diyatalawa, Mokgolokoeng, Maqhekung and Kestell. In the Dihlabeng municipality, the areas of Fateng Tse Ntso (Paul Roux) and Bethlehem have also benefited," said Magashule.

He also pointed out some of the inroads made as stipulated in the mid-term review in the national and provincial priority outcome areas.

"This process is expected to be finalised by July this year. However, we are already able to reflect on some of the progress we have made to date. Our matric pass rate has improved from 69.4% in 2009 to 70.7% in 2010 and 75.7% in 2011. By January 2012, the availability of drugs at our health facilities has improved to 96% across all districts against the 68% when we took office in 2009."

In the endeavour to provide people with shelter and build them decent houses, Magashule claimed that government has rebuilt 1 339 dilapidated houses in the towns of Van Stadensrus, Jaggersfontein, Kroonstad, Brandfort, Ficksburg, Senekal, Paul Roux and Phuthaditjhaba, handed over deeds of transfer to 4 338 beneficiaries and constructed in excess of 14 000 houses through various housing programmes.

"We have strengthened the capacity of government immeasurably."

To the excitement of many people on the ground, Magashule addressed government job creation in the province.

"...This is illustrated by the permanent appointment of 1 069 teachers in 2009, the filling of 1 898 school-based posts in 2010 and a further 945 school-based posts in 2011. During 2010, we appointed 250 emergency medical service personnel and filled an additional 828 posts in health. To date, a further 4 435 vacancies in health were filled during the current financial year, including 677 security officers at 19 health facilities. 297 Masupatsela Youth Pioneers were permanently appointed in April last year. Our investment in the future of our youth is strongly illustrated by the implementation of the provincial bursary programme, [which] has resulted in the maintenance and allocation of bursaries to approximately 6 000 students in the period 2009 to 2012."

He said that government has set a target to create 26 979 opportunities in the current financial year and "to date 33 954 work opportunities have been created out of a total of 1&nbsp;237 projects".

Magashule said his government is going to be firm on dealing with corruption and fraud.

"The department of public service and administration must initiate a review of the regulatory framework for the management of conflict of interests of public servants. The current framework provides for the compulsory disclosure of financial interests of public servants who form part of the senior management service."

He said by September 2011 the Free State had achieved a compliance rate of 95% for the submission of financial disclosure forms by its senior management to the Public Service Commission.

The premier aligned his government to the declaration of access to the internet as a human right by the United Nations in 2011 and announced that there will be advancement of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a development initiative. Magashule said his provincial government will strive to make sure that broadband internet is accessible even to people in rural areas and the project will be launched in March.

"It is critical for the Free State to achieve the goal of digital inclusion, enabling universal, sustainable and affordable access to ICTs by all, and to provide sustainable connectivity and access to remote and marginalised areas at both provincial and municipal levels." Magashule said major projects announced during previous years have begun to materialise.

"This includes the launching of the kraft paper manufacturing facility during April 2011 and construction is expected to commence in the new financial year. The Harrismith Logistics Hub (now part of the Durban-Free State- Gauteng corridor) and the N8 corridor development remain some of the major projects that will unlock and stimulate the economic growth of the Free State."

He added: "The Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (PRASA) has finalised the feasibility study of the Kimberley- Bloemfontein-Maseru rail link and this project has been identified as one of the prime rail investment projects in South Africa. Our work on this project in partnership with the national department of transport, PRASA and other stakeholders will continue. A technical cooperation project to support small, medium and micro enterprises has been established in partnership with the International Labour Organisation and the government of Flanders. This partnership aims to train and mentor approximately 2 000 small, medium and micro enterprises and is expected to contribute significantly to job creation."

Magashule told people who had been struggling with getting the title deeds of their respective houses erected by the defunct Bophuthatswana that his government will ensure that they get official transfer of ownership in the next financial year.

"We have been talking to the North West government. I have been told that those houses belong to Free State. Those people are the rightful owners of the houses and some have been living in them for over 20 years," said the premier.

<strong>Tendering and cooperatives</strong>
The premier also proposed shifting the process of awarding tenders by replacing it with a co-operative system was met with mixed feelings.

"Tendering seems to create problems for our people, so the best way is to introduce cooperatives. In that way, the government will be ensuring that the majority of our people benefit from tender," the premier said to great applause.

He encouraged the community to come together and form cooperatives which will tender for the biggest projects as well.

Magashule said that government had improved job creation opportunities through the expanded public works programme from 18 115 in 2009/2010 to 32 108 during 2010/2011. He explained that some of the initiatives to confront the challenges failed as government was faced with a plethora of limitations that frustrated them.

"These limitations range from the global financial crisis to issues closer to home, such as unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and, at times, a frustratingly rigid civil service. Overcoming these limitations requires innovation; it requires us to try new things, what academics often refer to as an 'alternative development'."

He said that the state of the provincial economy will not improve and job creation will not be achieved if government and all stakeholders do not take concrete and decisive action.

"During the forthcoming year I will initiate an intensive campaign, together with employers and organised labour, with the intent to ensure that all stakeholders cooperate in planning and implementing programmes that will deliver the real and concrete jobs that the Free State people and economy requires (sic) to bring about meaningful change," Magashule said.

"I am pleased to report that since we assumed office in 2009, 2 823 young people benefitted from learnerships and skills programmes in various fields implemented by the provincial government in conjunction with sector education and training authorities (SETAs). An additional 1 350 young people started training programmes during August 2011."He said that a database for the unemployed youth has been developed by his office and will form the basis for targeted strategies and programmes to be developed together with private sector partners to proactively address this challenge.

"A total of 150 candidates drawn from unemployment graduates database will be placed in internship programmes in the human resources, engineering, communication and finance fields," said Magashule.

He said that youth unemployment is a global feature and urged young people to come up with job creation initiatives instead of criticising government.

The improvement of the quality of basic schooling and higher education through technical colleges, he said: "We have extended the early childhood development (ECD) programme to benefit 42 969 children at 810 facilities and 2 400 ECD practitioners received a stipend at the end of the previous financial year. We have improved the enrolment of grade R learners from 30 655 in 2010 to 31 676 in 2011. In total, primary schools throughout the Free State offered approximately 1 107 grade R classes in primary schools in 2011."

He said the national school nutrition programme benefits 521 611 learners from 1 181 schools in quintiles one to three throughout the Free State. There are 149 functional registered local women cooperatives registered in the five education districts of the province.

"We have implemented the policy of no fees schools in all schools in quintile one to the in order to improve social protection support for 487 768 learners who comprise around 79.13% of total learners in ordinary public schools."

Magashule was all smiles, saying that the adoption of the new growth path as a framework is paying dividends.

"Subsequent to the adoption of the new growth path as a framework that is essentially aimed at accelerating job creation, we have reiterated the fact that the key focus of the economic policy for the Free State province must be to achieve and sustain faster growth over an extended period of time in order to significantly increase labour absorption."

He added, "The finalisation of our customised growth and development strategy will concretise a shared vision and plan for our province in line with Vision 2030 being developed by the National Planning Commission."

He showered the teaching sector with praises. "We have acknowledged the achievements of the grade 12 class of 2011 for their performance in the national senior certificate examinations. Schools performing at 80% and higher [pass rate] increased from 116 in 2010 to 155 in 2011. Forty-five schools in 2011 obtained a 100% pass rate, as opposed to 40 schools in 2010. In fact, 18 schools in the Free State have consistently produced a pass rate of 100%. We must extend our appreciation and acknowledgement to educators for their commitment and hard work that have contributed directly to the achievement of these results."

He also stressed that his administration would continue to throw its weight behind developing sports.

"We will continue our support and involvement with identified sports codes such as Free State rugby and our rugby team, the Cheetahs. The Free State provincial government will actively support the initiatives to ensure that the Cheetahs retains its status in super rugby. Our soccer teams, Bloemfontein Celtic and Free State Stars, are ensured of our unwavering loyalty and support."

He said that the implementation of a programme aimed at upgrading school and public sports facilities is also on the cards.

"The first phase of design of the upgrade of the Seisa Ramabodu Stadium has been completed and construction has commenced. The roll-out of community gyms will be included as one of our priorities to promote and achieve a healthier lifestyle for all of our people," he said.

<strong>Population growth</strong>
He decried the plummeting population growth of the province. "The statistics show that there is a gradual decline in the population growth of our province. In 2001, the Free State housed 6% of the country's population, but this declined to 5.4% in 2011. This adversely affects the provincial fiscal envelope and makes it increasingly difficult to achieve the service delivery standards that we have set for ourselves."

"We have engaged with National Treasury to submit a compelling case that the funding formula of provinces cannot be primarily based on population statistics but must take into account major factors such as geographical size and the historical economic, social and physical infrastructure backlogs of provinces."

He said that where sustainable human settlements and improved quality of household life is concerned, the Free State Development Corporation had entered into a tripartite partnership with the Free State department of human settlement and the Mangaung metropolitan municipality to facilitate and implement a mixed housing development of 3 000 housing units in Mangaung.

"The project is aimed at addressing the housing needs of persons in the R3 500 to R12 000 per month income brackets, who do not qualify for RDP houses and struggle to obtain home loans from commercial banks. A similar partnership was entered into with Moqhaka Local Municipality for the construction of 2 000 mixed housing development units in Viljoenskroon and Kroonstad," said Magashule.

Regarding healthcare, Magashule said, "We shall go on with the process of re-engineering primary health care, continue combating HIV and AIDS and decrease the burden of disease as a result of tuberculosis (TB), decrease maternal and child mortality by accelerating cervical and breast cancer scanning and ensuring coverage of 90% of children under the age of one year to be vaccinated through the expanded immunisation programme, strengthen our health system's effectiveness through the allocation of 100 student bursaries for deserving medical students to study in Cuba."

He said his government is ensuring the extension of the availability of healthcare facilities by building of new clinics at Ngwathe/Mandela, Viljoenskroon and Jacobsdal using modular technology.

"In addition, we will reassess the requirements for clinics according to the spatial population development demographics, as we are aware of the immediate need for clinics in Cornelia, Viljoenskroon, Schonkenville, Brent Park, Heidedal and the rural areas of QwaQwa."

He added: "We shall continue to build and refurbish community health centres at Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein, Matlakeng in Zastron, Amelia (Sasolburg), the rural areas of QwaQwa and Maletsatsi Mabaso (Botshabelo)."

The planning and design phases of the Mangaung District Hospital and the Free State Psychiatric Hospital have been completed and these projects will proceed to construction.?"Good progress has been made with the construction of the Mantsopa District Hospital in Ladybrand and the Trompsburg Hospital and should be completed by the end of the forthcoming financial year. The maintenance of health facilities within the province will continue to receive priority attention. QwaQwa has been selected as one of the pilot sites of the national health insurance (NHI)."

Magashule said the pertinent qualifications of medical professionals in all public health facilities will be verified in view of the recent challenges acknowledged by the Health Professions Council.

The premier unveiled some of the major progress in efforts to combat crime. The 2010 provincial crime statistics showed a reduction in only one category of crime, while the 2011 crime statistics for the Free State showed a decrease in 17 types of crime, he said.

"There are currently victim support rooms at 61 police stations in the Free State and the provincial government has established nine shelters for victims of crime since 2009. A total of 2 400 learners, comprising of reservists, patrollers, government employees, military veterans and unemployed youth, are targeted for the first phase of the training." He said 1 640 of these are already registered for training in various towns of the Free State.

He regretted that one of the major challenges facing environmental sector is rhino poaching. "We have established the provincial joint rhino committee comprising of the department, the Green Scorpions, the South African Police Service, the South African Revenue Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African National Defense Force."

<strong>Public service</strong>
He once again expressed great satisfaction with the Free State Training and DevelopmentInstitute, which was launched in 2003 by the late former premier Winkie Direko. The institute facilitates "in-house skills development of the highest standard, based on identified skills gaps, to officials employed by the provincial Government, municipalities and other entities through an integrated training model comprising of skills programmes and in-service short courses", he said.

"The extent of government's investment in the training and development of its public service is evident from the fact that 3 129 public servants attended training at the institute during the 2009/2010 financial year. A further 2 014 attended training in 2010/2011 and to date in the current financial year, a total of 3 366 public servants have already attended training and development courses."

"I am pleased to report that since we assumed office in 2009, 2 823 young people benefitted from learnerships and skills programmes in various fields, implemented by the provincial government in conjunction with sector education and training authorities (SETAs). An additional 1 350 young people started training programmes during August 2011."

He said the 2009/2010 audit outcomes of municipalities showed an improvement in the audit outcomes of six municipalities, while 13 municipalities remained unchanged and one municipality regressed. "The audit outcomes of municipal entities showed an improvement in two instances whilst three remained unchanged.'

Magashule said next year government will deploy teams of suitable qualified and experienced personnel, comprising both the provincial and national sphere of government as well as the private sector, to the Mafube, Ngwathe, Tokologo, Nala, Phumelela, Masilonyana and all Xhariep municipalities to provide sustained support over a longer term period.

He admitted that many challenges still remain in ensuringaccess to basic services for all the people and in the strengthening of municipalities.

"We, therefore, will make infrastructure repairs of sewerage and systems, water and electricity supplies with municipalities and the stakeholders within the water and electricity industries in Wesselsbron, Lusaka (QwaQwa), Parys, Odendaalsrus, Ficksburg, Botshabelo, and in Mangaung in the areas of Isithwalandwe, Khayelitsha and Phase 9," said Magashule.

The premier said that his government is leaving no stone unturned in a bid to ease the economic burden on the impoverished Thaba Nchu.

"We are going to renovate the Free State Development Corporation (FDC) offices and other government buildings as there are a lot of them and they are still in good condition," he explained at the media briefing after the speech.

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