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The Black Industrialist Programme, a government initiative to include previously disadvantaged South Africans in the mainstream economy, has a potential to be a key driver of radical economic transformation and job creation in former homeland areas.

This was the observation of Mr Simphiwe Mthimunye, Leader of National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Mpumalanga delegation, during an interaction with the Department of Trade and Industry on Wednesday, as part of the Provincial Week.

However, Mr Mthimunye was concerned that the Black Industrialist Programme “is not very known to the expected beneficiaries”. “People from the traditionally poor provinces, farms and former homelands are not informed about this initiative. I would have expected the programme to be focused on and targeted at those areas where there are no economic activities except for spaza shops,” Mr Mthimunye said.

The DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) outlines the Black Industrialist Programme as a “practical tool of achieving the demographic transformation of economic power and spatial concentration within the overall industrial strategy as outlined in the Industrial Policy Action Plan, and the objectives of the national development as articulated in the NDP (National Development Plan)”.

Through the Black Industrialist Programme, the DTI plans to produce 100 black industrialists by the end of next year. Mpumalanga has three emerging manufacturers identified for the programme.

Mpumalanga NCOP Delegate Mr Jomo Nyambi, also House Chairperson: Committees and Oversight, warned the department to avoid widening the economic gap between the provinces through its empowerment programmes.

“We would want to see South Africa growing from all angles, economic development must be spread across all provinces. We are not going to celebrate 100 black industrialists if none of them are from Mpumalanga – that would mean that we are failing the people we are representing”, said Mr Nyambi.

Ms Shareen Osman, a Chief Director for Incentive Development and Administration at DTI, told the NCOP delegation that the reason the Black Industrialist Programme might not be well-known was that “it is for projects with primary investments of R30m”.

We wanted to change the trajectory of the manufacturing sector, she explained.

“We acknowledge that there is a gap, exclusion of smaller entrepreneurs, maybe we need to have another incentive that will target businesses of R30m and below to include more of the black marginalised,” said Ms Osman.

On the second day of the Provincial Week the NCOP Delegation visited the Highveld Industrial Park (formerly Highveld Steel) in Emalahleni, which has been placed under business rescue after going under.

Members of Parliament found it ironic that a steel manufacturer could collapse while there is a huge construction of the new Kusile Power Station in the same area, which requires huge amounts of steel.

“Kusile is using massive steel but Highveld Steel is getting under, how does it happen, I find it difficult to understand,” he added.

“Kusile is not buying from us and we don’t have the details, we only supplied the front gate of the power station – people exclude you through specifications,” said Mr Andrew Maralack, Chief Financial Officer Highveld Industrial Park. His CEO, Mr Johan Burger, suggested that this could have to do with “highly subsidised cheap imports”.

Governments around the world aggressively protect their industries against highly subsidised cheap imports,” Mr Burger told the NCOP Delegation.

During a visit to Eskom’s Arnot Power Station, is Steve Tshwete Local Municipality, the NCOP heard about huge municipal debts to the power supplier. Mpumalanga municipalities owe Eskom about R3bn, and while some have made arrangements to pay others are struggling, forcing the power supplier to switch off supply at certain times.

The biggest defaulters are Govan Mbeki Local Municipality (R423m), Lekwa (R347m) and Thaba Chweu (R387m). The power supplier is also dealing with pressure groups which stage protests in several power stations in the province demanding jobs and contracts.

“We are getting various groups coming to blockade our gates, demanding employment and tenders, creating a lot of instability, threatening our staff, we want to tell them that Eskom is committed to transformation,” said Eskom Acting Group Executive for Generation, Mr Willie Majola.

The NCOP Delegation will today (Thursday) meet with farm workers to discuss labour-related issues.

By Sakhile Mokoena

12 October 2017