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21 Feb 2014 17:55
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. (Gallo)
After a week of hearing about the ANC government's "good story", Premier Helen Zille has claimed that the Western Cape was not just a good story but was the country's "best story".
This seemed to be a response to President Jacob Zuma and the ANC's election slogan: we have a good story to tell.
"We have the best story to tell," said Zille, while delivering her last state of the province address before the May 7 elections.
She later told journalists the province was the country's best story.
Like Zuma, Zille focused on the achievements of her government over the past five years, highlighting its service delivery record, the new laws it introduced to fight corruption and to cut red tape, and comparing these to the ANC-run national government.
The DA came into power in May 2009, becoming the first political party to win an absolute majority in the province in the 2009 general elections.
Zille waxed lyrically about her government's achievements, and where it fell short, she blamed and accused the ANC-led national government of sabotage.
Zille dropped the bombshell midway through her speech, saying while they worked well and constructively with relevant national government departments, as the Constitution requires, other national government departments, have, either for reasons of inefficiency or deliberate blocking, prevented the development of key infrastructure projects that are essential to generate growth and jobs.
Zille said while the province's 12 small fishing harbours can play a crucial role in supporting fishing communities and providing them with access to other economic opportunities.
"[But] up to now the national department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has been managing these harbours and allowed them fall into disrepair."
She said a report commissioned by the national government in 2005 made a number of recommendations to address their dysfunctionality, but not much has changed almost a decade later.
Zille also told how the Western Cape government had committed to connecting the province to affordable, high-speed broadband but, when it advertised for companies to tender for the design, provision and management of the broadband network in 2012, it was told by the South African Information Technology Agency (Sita) that they were contravening the Sita Act, and that the tender had to be awarded by them.
"We were required to cancel our procurement process and requested Sita to manage the tender for a broadband network service on our behalf."
Zille revealed that they were still waiting for this process to be finalised, which significantly delayed the broadband project and threatened the delivery targets they had set.
She said they were currently seeking legal advice on the constitutionality of the Sita Act.
"And just this past week, it has emerged that another province [Gauteng] may have been allowed, by the relevant minister [Public Service and Administration's Lindiwe Sisulu], to circumvent this constraining legislation, while we were forced to comply.
“I have written to the minister seeking clarity as a matter of urgency," said Zille.
She said it was not the first time major projects in the province were blocked by the national government. She cited the departments of public works and agriculture, forestry and fisheries as the biggest culprits.
She said she reported the matter to Zuma at the last Cabinet lekgotla but added: "I have decided that in future, when faced with this type of stonewalling from national departments, we will move far faster in invoking the constitutional mechanisms to declare an intergovernmental dispute."
Zille also controversially decried the in-migration of pupils who move from the Eastern Cape to study in the Western Cape, saying this created a financial burden for the province.
She said over the last five years, the Western Cape government has spent an additional R1.2-billion due to the migration of learners from the Eastern Cape.
"Yet, this money has not been diverted from the Eastern Cape education budget, even though they now service 100 000 fewer learners.
"We need to start questioning why this money is not being re-allocated to the provinces that are actually providing for these learners' education," she said.
Zille said that since 2010, inward migration has resulted in over 130 000 additional new enrolments within the Western Cape education system, with 80% of these enrolments being pupils from the Eastern Cape.
This year alone, the department enrolled 21 631 learners from the province, she said.
Zille's comments drew interjections and heckling from the opposition benches, especially from the ANC members of the provincial legislature who shouted "refugees" as she spoke.
Zille was heavily criticised and had to apologise in 2012 after referring to Eastern Cape pupils attending Western Cape schools as "education refugees".
On Friday, she said her government was committed to providing all learners entering the province, who are seeking better opportunities, with access to quality education.
However, this had major financial and planning implications, particularly when many of these learners arrive unexpectedly at the beginning of a school year, and often a few days or weeks into the school term.
Zille said overall she believed that over the last five years, they have made progress in realising the DA's vision of an open, opportunity-filled society for all.
"We have shifted resources and energy into creating opportunities for growth and jobs without compromising, and indeed while enhancing the state's ability to deliver better outcomes in health, education and social development.
"We have also refocused our efforts to promote social inclusion with a more pragmatic and less ideological approach.
"I believe that this is the Western Cape story.
And it really is a good story to tell …” she said to laughter from the ANC MPLs, with Mcebisi Skwatsha shouting: "That’s plagiarism!"
A debate on Zille's speech will be held in the legislature on Tuesday.
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