At the conclusion of his state of the province address (Sopa) 2019 in Polokwane last Friday, members of the Limpopo legislature erupted into song in praise of premier Chupu Mathabatha.
Phakama Mathabathaaa/ixesha lifikileeee…
The spirited singing went on for a good five minutes, drowning out protests by members of the opposition, the Economic Freedom Fighters.
Although the economic situation worldwide looks glum, there was perhaps more than good reason for the members to celebrate.
Mathabatha, who was sworn in as premier in July 2013 after the recall by the ANC of Cassel Mathale, delivered a speech filled with promise and painted a picture of a province whose economy is on the rise. Throughout the country, the cry among both the youth and adults is common: jobs, jobs, jobs!
In his address Mathabatha said despite challenges, which include the possibility of a technical recession announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa, the Limpopo economy remains resilient. He said it was able to create jobs in line with the commitment made by the provincial government in 2014.
“The Statistics South Africa’s Labour Force Survey indicates that since 2014, the provincial economy has been able to create no less than 317 000 jobs … These numbers do not include the figures for the 2018 fourth quarter labour force survey,” said Mathabatha.
He said the latest figures from Stats SA indicate that Limpopo has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. “Our unemployment rate is currently at 16.5% against the national average of 27.1%,” Mathabatha said.
This is a commendable achievement, especially given the fact that Limpopo comprises mostly rural settlements and is one of the least industrialised provinces in the country. He said mining, which has been one of the major contributors to the province’s economy in recent years, is projected to create even more jobs.
Mining contributes 24.5% to the provincial Gross Domestic Product. Mathabatha revealed that jobs in the mining sector have increased from 71 000 in 2013 to 103 000 in 2017/18. This is despite job losses and a general decline in the industry in traditional mining provinces such as Free State and Gauteng.
Mathabatha said with the new mining projects in the pipeline the employment figures are expected to increase by a further 3 000. He said that mining in Limpopo adds significant quantities of coal, copper, diamonds, gold, iron ore, nickel, platinum group metals, rare earth minerals and tin to the country’s mineral industry.
The province, he said, has 147 mining projects that are currently operational. Another eight new projects are envisaged in the Capricorn and Sekhukhune districts.
“These projects are expected to attract investments worth R2.5-billion and create about 3 000 jobs. We are also excited about the new investments in the Ivanhoe Mine in Mokopane. The current investment in this mine is at R4.5-billion. We are looking forward to the mine going into full operation by 2024. This mine is expected to create well over 25 000 jobs,” said Mathabatha.
He said although in recent years there has been a decline in commodity prices, some have experienced a recovery in price. “We are hopeful that platinum and chrome prices, that have lagged in recent years, can rise again,” he said.
Mathabatha pointed to the recent developments with regards to policy, particularly in the Mining Charter, as another encouraging development. “This will obviously go a long way towards renewing investor confidence in the sector,” he said.
In December 2017 Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies promulgated the Musina Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The SEZ is part of a deal struck by President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinpin, in which the Bank of China will pump at least R15-billion into SEZs in South Africa. The Musina Makhado SEZ is one of Limpopo’s flagship projects.
“To date, the Musina-Makhado SEZ project has managed to attract a total investment commitment of around R150-billion to the province. This will indeed go a long way towards creating much-needed jobs and other economic opportunities, especially for the youth,” said Mathabatha.
He said according to existing plans and programme, several plants will be constructed under these SEZ projects, creating more than 21 000 jobs. “We are also expecting that the Environmental Impact Assessment study on this project will be completed by the end of August this year, so that work can commence. There can be no doubt that the economy of Limpopo will never be the same again, once this project is fully operational.”
As part of government’s support for small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and co-operatives, more than 1 200 co-operatives were provided with financial support totalling about R51-million since 2014, while SMMEs received support of about R193-million during the same period.
Mathabatha said government and the Small Enterprise Development Agency had established a construction incubation centre at Steelpoort in Sekhukhune to train and capacitate emerging contractors. He said through a similar partnership they have established a jewellery incubation centre in the capital Polokwane to train young jewellery makers.
One of the blights on the province’s image last year was the Great Bank Heist scandal, in which billions were looted from the VBS Mutual Bank, resulting in its ultimate demise. Mathabatha fired seven mayors in December linked to the scandal, and has promised more action.
“One of the issues that the people of Limpopo raised sharply as they were making their inputs to this speech through various platforms, including social media, is the VBS saga. This simply shows how pained our people are about this matter,” Mathabatha said.
“On our part, as government, we have since referred the report to law enforcement agencies for necessary action. We have also referred the report to the affected local councils for further action. I can assure you that no stone will be left unturned in making sure that all those involved are brought to book,” he warned.
One of the highlights of the Sopa 2019 was the announcement by Mathabatha that work will soon commence on the building of the province’s first academic hospital.
“I am happy to announce that the long-awaited construction of the Limpopo Academic Hospital is finally becoming a reality. Tito Mboweni, Minister of Finance, has allocated R3.9-billion towards the planning and construction of the hospital during the next Medium Term Expenditure Framework period, starting in the next financial year.
“This initiative will help create an important platform for research and training of medical students and other health professionals. It will also help provide clinical services at the highest level, such as heart and kidney transplants,” he said.
Mathabatha said the province has overcome the financial challenges it faced in the past which led to some departments being placed under administration by the national government.
He said that when his administration took over in 2014, corporate governance in Limpopo had virtually collapsed. The province was bankrupt, with no money for service delivery, and almost all provincial departments were under administration in terms of Section 100 of the Constitution, with audit opinions of various departments discouragingly negative.
“At that time, the province had R1.7-billion in overdraft and R2.7-billion of unauthorised expenditure. Today, we can confidently say that Limpopo is back on a sound financial footing. We are no longer in the red. We are delivering services to the people.”