Gauteng premier David Makhura delivered his 2017 State of the Province Address at a wet Greenfields Stadium in Randfontein on Monday.
Before the address began it was already marred by controversy surrounding the deaths of more than 100 mental health patients who were moved from the Life Esidimeni healthcare centre to ill-equipped NGOs. The Democratic Alliance’s members of the provincial legislature carried placards that read “Remember Life Esidimeni” while Economic Freedom Fighters members outside the venue protested against Makhura and what they said was his involvement in the tragedy. Makhura started his address by expressing his regret to the families of the victims before moving on to another topic that took centre stage at the address – the economy.
Makhura announced the appointment of a panel to advise government on strategies and economic objectives. This panel, which would be known as the Premier’s Economic Advisory Panel would be made up of a number of entrepreneurs and representatives of labour and business and chaired by former deputy finance minister Jabu Moleketi.
“The panel will advise the premier and the Gauteng provincial government, particularly the economic development department led by MEC [Lebogang] Maile on implementing strategies to realise our objectives with regard to increasing employment, increasing empowerment, increasing exports and building an inclusive economy in which all of us share,” Makhura said.
The panel would predominantly be involved in the provincial government’s plans to unlock the employment potential of key sectors in the Gauteng economy. Makhura said 7 000 new jobs had been created in Gauteng between 2010 and 2016. But with the high rate of migration into Gauteng, Makhura said current employment figures would have to be doubled to truly make an impact.
“These employment gains are significant, although they are not sufficient to turn the tide of unemployment,” he said
Those worst affected by unemployment were the youth, 2.7-million of whom were neither employed nor enrolled in any schooling programmes in Gauteng. To address this government founded the Tshepo 500 000 youth programme in 2014 to deliver jobs, opportunities and skills to 500 000 young people by 2019. Makhura said thus far 350 000 young people had benefitted from the programme. About 91 000 had been placed in sustainable employment, 145 000 gained from skills development and 15 000 accredited as entrepreneurs. The success of the programme prompted government to increase its target to 1-million young people by 2017.
In line with government’s radical transformation agenda, Makhura said government would work with industry leaders to ensure the growth and sustainability of black-owned businesses by exposing them to wider market opportunities.
“Assisting and encouraging black firms and township industries that they must produce goods locally and sell them to domestic and foreign markets. This is very important because as we empower black businesses and township enterprises we must not be transferring that empowerment to those who don’t need it” Makhura said. “We must ensure every Rand of this goes to black businesses and township enterprises, but this can only happen if they are not hiring expertise from established white businesses”.
Government spend on township economies had increased from R600-million in 2014 to R6-billion in 2016, with 2 800 township enterprises benefitting from government procurement by January 2017. However, the timeous payment of service providers remained a concern for the province. While there had been an increase in the payment of providers within 30 days, with 11 out of 14 departments complying; Makhura said it was concerning that big budget departments such as Infrastructure Development, education and health were failing to comply, jeopardising the survival of businesses.
Due to the rapid growth of Gauteng’s population, provincial government planned to address the issue of land availability with haste in order to facilitate the construction of infrastructure and settlements.
Makhura said in some areas in the province where land lay fallow, it would be expropriated in order to construct settlements that were closer to cities, to do away with providing housing far from economic hubs.
“Gone are the days where black people must be housed away from economic hubs and amenities,” he said.
The premier also highlighted that Gauteng’s land requirements were informed by the need for socioeconomic development and not agriculture in particular.
The premier lamented the inability to resolve the outcry against the e-Tolls system and widespread non-compliance with Sanral’s payment requirements. The system has been a sore point for Gauteng government and is believed to be one of many factors that led to a decline in ANC voter dissatisfaction in the province. Makhura said while there were extensive plans to develop road and rail infrastructure, government would ensure that nothing would go ahead without full public consultation to avoid another conflict.
“We can’t build infrastructure such as roads and only come back to people later to inform them that they must pay. They can’t be told later that this infrastructure we are building is going to be paid for, we must be transparent with residents,” Makhura said.
He also announced the completion of a feasibility study into the expansion of the Gautrain which would be extended to reach areas such as Mamelodi in Tshwane, Boksburg in Ekurhuleni and Jabulani in Soweto.
Makhura announced government’s commitment to increasing funding of higher education. R800-million had been spent to fund students at higher education institutions, with government setting itself a new goal of providing R1-billion funding annually by 2019. He also announced that the sale of the premier’s residence last year had yielded R16-million which would be used to fund 40 students from townships.
Closing off his speech Makhura lamented the use of politics for party political games and grandstanding instead of for the good of the public. “I don’t subscribe to politics of doom and gloom. Politics of impending apocalypse wherein politicians make a career out of preaching that South Africa is about to collapse,” he said.
He called for constructive politics that focused on the needs of citizens instead of a preoccupation with winning the 2019 national elections. His comments, however, came at the height of pressure on the ANC in Gauteng, which lost three key metros in the 2016 municipal elections. Despite delivery by Makhura’s ANC-led administration, dissatisfaction with the national structure of the ANC has translated itself in a loss of support in urban areas such as Gauteng, with fears running rampant that the party may completely lose control over the province in 2019.