Working harder to be united in our diversity
In 1994, we voted for the first time for a democratic state, thus ushering in a new democratic order and respect for human rights. As a nation, we have made strides towards the realisation of the society envisioned by our forebears. Is it enough? Absolutely not! The challenges facing our people remain part of our daily reality. Our prevailing challenges must not lead us to despair, but should inspire us to find innovative solutions and employ collaborative approaches that will produce a vibrant and caring Mpumalanga.
This address is an opportunity to reflect on our achievements, to identify and acknowledge our shortcomings, and to put in place measures to address these shortcomings. We must forge ahead with the common purpose of changing the lives of all our people for the better.
Some of the criticism levelled at us as leaders is of our own making. We get preoccupied by our own responsibilities of office and spend less time talking to the people and responding to their needs. The arrogance of leadership must give way to humility. Leaders must respond to the issues raised by our communities. All leaders must make themselves available to lead and unite our communities to advance the vision of a province that is united in its diversity.
Make no mistake, our people are not mere passengers on this collective journey – they are our drivers, and when we take a wrong turn, they are surely entitled to point it out and to insist that we get back on track.
One of the promises to our electorate is to grow the economy and create decent employment to address the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Despite the economic headwinds we have faced in the recent past, economic data show that the country’s economy avoided a recession in 2015, but barely grew last year. The province created 130 000 net jobs in the past five years, achieving approximately 36% of our annual job creation target due to lacklustre economic growth.
More could have been achieved if it were not for the substantial fluctuation in global commodity prices, which was further compounded over the past two years by the drought. The mining industry shed 23 000 jobs over the same period. Over the past five years, 77 000 jobs were created in the community and government services, making the public sector the biggest contributor to employment.
While important strides have been made in setting our economy to work for the people of Mpumalanga, there are still structural constraints to economic growth and job creation.
Most of our people who have remained trapped in poverty have demonstrated remarkable patience, showing that they understand that centuries of structural damage by colonial and apartheid rule cannot be undone in a few decades. We cannot expect our people to remain patient forever. True social transformation requires steady and sustainable economic growth, and, here, we have faltered.
We have not moved at the envisaged pace due to a number of factors, both internal and external. However, we have taken action. We have investigated the challenges and identified the shortcomings. The following areas will become cross-cutting priorities in the coming financial year:
. We have established stronger links between our service delivery departments and our lead implementing agent for infrastructure development in the province, the department of public works, roads and transport. As we refine and finalise our plans for 2017/18, we are pleased to note tangible improvements in our planning and resourcing processes, including acceleration plans to ensure that projects already committed to are prioritised and completed as soon as possible.
. To further ensure that our big-ticket infrastructure projects are rolled out as planned, we will be establishing a provincial project management unit coordinated by the office of the premier to manage and oversee these critical projects from start to finish.
. Where we have experienced delays in the establishment of our infrastructure delivery fund, we have ensured that, in the interim, we can employ our own resources to facilitate the completion of key infrastructure projects.
. We will no longer find ourselves at the mercy of unscrupulous contractors and subcontractors vying for personal gain at the expense of our people and the services they are entitled to. We have established a panel of experts from across disciplines in the built environment, and we will be utilising their expertise in all infrastructure projects to ensure both value for money and quality deliverables.
Through the land reform programme, government spent R7.5 million to acquire and allocate 461 946 hectares for land redistribution and a further 503 769ha for the settlement of land claims.
It is of great concern that, despite such investment, most of these farms are lying fallow without any agricultural activity. This is not right and cannot be accepted. It undermines our efforts of addressing the land question. It affects the agenda of growing the agricultural sector to address food security, and of creating much-needed jobs for the unemployed.
The situation is further exacerbated by infighting within communal property institutions, which hold ownership of these assets. Instead of people focusing on working the land, much of their time is spent fighting over limited resources.
We are conscious of the challenges faced by farm dwellers and farm workers. We are working with the department of rural development and land reform, the land owners and the farm dwellers/workers to find solutions to prevailing problems.
Our land reform programme must be anchored to our agenda of growing the agricultural sector for both domestic consumption and exports to international markets. This is important for us as a province because this sector contributes 3.4% to South Africa’s gross domestic product, accounting for 630 000 formal jobs.