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“Seizing the moment to chart a new course of action against poverty, unemployment, inequality and underdevelopment” was a theme of the debate that brought to a close the week-long Taking Parliament to the People Programme in Ekurhuleni. The debate was graced by the presence of the President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa.   

In keeping with this theme, the President, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Thandi Modise, and other speakers shared their perspectives on how to improve South Africa’s economic prospects.

One problem we have to face, the president said, is the protracted financial crisis municipalities find themselves in. This crisis makes them unable to properly fulfil their responsibilities to residents, something the NCOP must pay close attention to. “The reasons for this range from financial mismanagement and non-payment for services to the absence of a meaningful revenue base and a weak economy. This requires the attention of all spheres of government and it requires the close attention of the NCOP.”

Unless we can bring the economy out of this period of stagnation, we will be unable to create a better life for our citizens. “When our economy is strong, when our people have jobs, when government has more resources, our ability to deliver good, quality services is vastly improved,” he said.

However, a new path of growth, renewal and transformation will help our country to face up to the challenges that “our economy has been faced with over the past decade, resulting in slow growth and deepening unemployment,” he said.

This abnormality has, in his view “constrained our ability to increase social spending, build and maintain infrastructure, and above all, to create a conducive environment for the creation of jobs for our people.”

But the new economic framework is poised to turn the tide. “Through a combination of economic recovery measures and policy reforms, we are working to restore the economy and capacitate the state to fulfil its developmental mandate,” he said.

He assured South Africans that government is “doing everything within our means to ensure that the growth of the economy benefits all, especially society’s most vulnerable”.

He emphasised that the greatest economic intervention to date is the announcement of “the economic stimulus and recovery plan containing a range of measures to ignite economic activity, restore investor confidence and create new jobs”.

The reprioritisation of government public expenditure, as announced recently by the Minister of Finance, is set to add value to this intervention. “This is to ensure that resources are directed to activities that have the greatest impact on growth and jobs. An amount of R50 billion has been reprioritised to address infrastructural and other challenges in our public health care and education systems, and to bolster the Expanded Public Works Programme.”

The economic stimulus and recovery plan also focuses on unlocking the potential of key growth sectors such as agriculture. “We are increasing resources to provide support to black commercial farmers to increase their entry into food value chains. This include the facilitation of the signing of leases to enable farmers to mobilise funding for agricultural development.”

Furthermore, the job summit that is poised to create 275 000 jobs. The combination of this with the financial sector’s R100 billion pledge to small, black businesses as well as South Africa Investment Conference and the Africa Investment Forum have contributed in positioning South Africa as a favourable investment destination.

Then there is the commitment of several companies, many of them international, that have announced investments in the country, either to establish new operations or to expand existing ones, confirming South Africa’s global competitiveness, President Ramaphosa said.

The Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Thandi Modise, spoke of the challenges encountered during the NCOP’s site visits in Ekurhuleni. One such challenge is migration, which is putting pressure on the service delivery imperatives of the Gauteng provincial government.

South Africa attracts large numbers of migrants – skilled and unskilled – and this “imposes challenges of different magnitude in the context of post-apartheid dispensation and that of globalisation”.

 

She said funding for small businesses is still a challenge in the province. “We heard of a project that is fixing wheelchairs and all it needs is monetary assistance. They are many projects that required funding in the townships,” she said.

Illegal mining is another serious challenge, she added. “We heard how children in areas like Zamampilo and Riverlea are vulnerable to dust and arsenic acid. Government must stop illegal mining for the sake of children and our future is their cry. These are some of the cases that were raised in the former mining towns.”

She recognised that although Gauteng gets the biggest slice of equitable share and is capable to dispense service delivery, “we agree that the flows of people from other provinces eat away this advantage of better quality service delivery”.

This has been worsened by immigration, she conceded. “We agree that the inflows through our borders most adversely hit Gauteng – affecting service deliver, increasing illicit flows of goods and services.”

Having observed the state of service delivery in the province, the Chairperson of the NCOP assured the people of Ekurhuleni that they “they will co-ordinate follow-up activities on these matters which the public raised this week. However, it is important that the provincial legislature and the municipal councils do their parts, as part of their oversight in respect of their functional areas in responding to the issues that were raised.”

The chairperson promised that the NCOP will assess progress and report back in 2019.

The government has expressed its will to eradicate poverty and unemployment, but how that can be in a climate of corruption, such an undertaking is an empty electioneering slogan of a failing government, said Mr Farhat Essack, who represents the Democratic Alliance; Mpumulanga.  

The theme of this debate suggests that there is something wrong. We need to ask ourselves what went wrong, said Mr Mntomuhle Khawula (Inkatha Freedom Party; KwaZulu-Natal). “In the last 10 years, our country was run down because of greed, marked by the looting of state enterprises and government departments resources.” In this very period “there was a deliberate collapse of state institutions and the removal of teeth from those that were capable of biting such as scorpions”. The damage down in the last nine years is no different from the damage down during colonialism, he added.  

Standing for the Premier of Gauteng, Mr Panyaza Lesufi, declared that the Gauteng Province is charting a new course, finding innovative infrastructure funding methods as an enabler for inclusive growth, job creation, transformation and empowerment.

The outcome of the recent African Investment Forum, where more than R 92 million worth of private investment was pledged to fund infrastructure projects is a case in point, he said. Gauteng’s improved revenue collection has helped it deal with migration. “In 2017/18, we successfully topped the R6 billion mark on collections. Over the past four and half years we have managed to generate R25.5 billion in own revenue.”  

To improve the supply chain and financial management of the province “we implemented an Open Tender System, which has helped the provincial government save in excess of R 1.2 billion in irregular expenditure.”

Gauteng is a collective pride of South Africa and a beacon of accountability and economic growth, said the Chief Whip of the NCOP, Mr Seiso Mohai. He conceded that given its economic development rate, Gauteng it is bound to attract migrants. What is more, the country exports products to other African countries and in so doing created one million jobs. He commended the president for improving South Africa’s economic fortunes in a short space of time. “President, you have brought up an inclusive growth and you convened job and investments summits that have yielded positive economic results in less than a year since you became our president.”  

Abel Mputing
22 November 2018