Challenges continue for NW

North West Premier Thandi Modise (right) and speaker of the legislature Supra Mahumapelo during the opening parade of the Legislature. (Johann Barnard)

North West Premier Thandi Modise (right) and speaker of the legislature Supra Mahumapelo during the opening parade of the Legislature. (Johann Barnard)

North West premier Thandi Modise was hard-pressed to put a positive spin on her State of the Province address on February 21, especially given the troubled state of affairs at municipal level.

She spoke frankly in a media briefing about the pressing issues surrounding the Madibeng municipality that has been placed under administration, but preferred to focus in her address on progress over the past five years.

This follows the "good news" template adopted by President Jacob Zuma in his state of the nation address a week earlier.

The extent to which she has achieved her goals is open to debate, with opposition parties quick to point out her failures in this regard.

Her cabinet, however, are as quick to point to her no-nonsense approach that has focused on action, accountability and service delivery.

Given that the North West constitutes largely rural areas, as well as the added challenge of integrating the former homeland of Bophuthatswana, it continues to be a challenging task.

"It has been 20 years of an uphill march for the economic rights of the previously disadvantaged and a slow slog towards the development of our rural areas and the often interesting tension between the western and the cultural practices," Modise said.

"We do not dwell on yesteryear problems today — we assess the last five years of progress as a province and as a people. It is a report back on our commitment to good governance. We speak to our vision of a society, with capacity to embrace our diversity, to harness our collective energy for common goal."

It is exactly this approach that attracted the strongest criticism from leaders of opposition parties in the legislature.

They were unanimous in their assessments that the premier's address focused too much on the past and provided too little direction.

The United Christian Democratic Party deputy president and party leader in the legislature, Tediye Moerane, said the premier was merely emulating President Zuma's state of the nation address and ignored current challenges in the province.

He singled out the alleged misappropriation of the Development Account involving the Bapong Ba Mogale community.

"It looks as though she reneged on the promise she made at Madibeng that she would bring everybody that is alleged to be part of this plundering of funds before the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) committee, but unfortunately the premier did not do that."

DA provincial leader Chris Hattingh was also critical of the premier for not providing clarity on this matter, stating that the account had not been audited for the past 20 years.

This matter was brought before the provincial Scopa by the premier in September last year and has also been referred to the Public Protector for investigation.

"I want to assure everybody here that we will not want to spare anybody seen to be defying the legislature. None of the officials found with their hands in the till will be spared," the premier told the committee.

Moerane also questioned the direct value, and jobs, accruing to the province from the extensive mining activities that take place within its borders.

He claimed that as few as 5% of community members where extraction takes place are employed by the mining firms.

"So we doubt whether mining is being used to address poverty and unemployment and to the benefit of the locals," he said.

The premier highlighted in her speech that mining's 39% contribution to the regional economy produces employment for a quarter of the province's population.

"The mining sector has shown a steady growth since 2008 and this could largely be as a result of the growing demand for commodities internationally," she said.

Both Moerane and Hattingh commended the gains made in education, but questioned whether quality had been sacrificed at the expense of quantity.

"If you talk about quantity, yes, it is a good number, but all these people that are said to have passed with bachelors, are they all going to be admitted?" asked Moerane.

"We know the answer is no because we know those students are roaming the streets because their qualifications are not of a nature to allow them to pursue something like BSc, engineering or accountancy. So most of them will fall short of getting into university and making a difference in communities."

Infrastructure and service delivery
Hattingh added that the premier had obfuscated the issue of savings to the province by handing over road construction projects to the South African National Roads Agency.

"She acknowledged that by nationalising some of the provincial roads she saved R1-billion. That [money] would have been lost if it hadn't been taken over because of fraud, corruption and the simple lack of capacity to deliver," he said.

Congress of the People provincial leader Nikiwe Num also lambasted the premier for not cleaning out the public works department and ensuring that vital road infrastructure was delivered.

"Nothing is said about the outstanding roads that have not been built that has resulted in one road that has cost the department more than R264-million that today is still not finished.

"It would have been an opportunity for the premier to say that ‘road is finalised, there are no outstanding cases, we have paid everyone and the road will be finished in the next 30 or 60 days'," Num argued.

All three opposition parties expressed their concerns about service delivery a local council level, describing municipalities as dysfunctional and in crisis.

"There is acknowledgement in quarters of the governing party [that] some of the leaders in local government have no clue what they are doing," said Num.

"We don't have the leadership in municipalities and there are key people who have been intervening in these municipalities as part of the intervention plan, but what they have done is dried up the money and the municipalities are still in debt today."

The premier admitted that the process of improving lives has been slow, but that progress has been made.

"We have often had to stop and repeat and retrace to explain our policies and action to ensure that those who are still awaiting improvements can get the reasons why we have not reached them," she said.

"As the ANC we made a call to all South Africans to join hands so that together we can do more for our people.

"This call remains ever echoing to the hills and valleys of our province, to the mountains and seas of our country to better the lives of our people."

This article forms part of the supplement paid for by the North West office of the Premier. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by the ofiice