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Makhura heckled at SOPA

GAUTENG PREMIER David Makhura described unemployment as a ‘crisis’ during his State of the Province Address, which he used to focus on the Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill.

“We are boldly shifting our main focus and principal energy to tackle unemployment through economic recovery and reconstruction,” said Gauteng Premier David Makhura during his State of the Province Address (Sopa) at the Brixton Multipurpose Centre on Monday.

“And it is this unemployment which has become critically something that requires an emergency response and the kind of response that we gave to Covid-19.”

Coming out of the “shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic”, Makhura said the province would prioritise the economy and job creation in the two years until the next election. Urgently improving service delivery, access to housing, infrastructure for basic services, and fighting crime and corruption also featured on the premier’s to-do list.

Statistics SA’s third-quarter 2021 Labour Force Survey showed Gauteng had a 37% official unemployment rate, rising to 44.9% under the expanded unemployment rate definition.

Makhura was quick to highlight that Gauteng remains a leading player in the national economy and is a critical contributor to the continental economy, being the seventh-largest economy in Africa in 2020. The province contributed more than 35% of South Africa’s GDP between 2015 and 2020.

“Of course, it’s not enough just to have GDP growth; we also want to double the number of people employed in the Gauteng economy,” said Makhura, referring to Growing Gauteng Together 2030, the provincial plan of action.

The premier said unemployment in Gauteng was “at its worst at the moment”. He described youth unemployment as “a particular crisis and emergency” and said the government had established a Provincial War Room to tackle the issue.

“We have established a Provincial War Room in which government and industry leaders have joined forces to drive economic recovery, unlock growth in every sector and create sustainable jobs, as well as to support SMME development,” said Makhura. 

“We are opening up value chains, building competitive local content production, promoting commercially meaningful enterprises, supplier development, SMMEs and township enterprises.”

Echoing President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 State of the Nation Address, Makhura put particular emphasis on the importance of the private sector, along with public sector programmes in job creation, stating, “Yes, the private sector has the greatest possibility and potential to create more jobs.”

He said it was “very disturbing to hear the same thing which was said last year. It’s not fair to the people of Gauteng. You must implement all the programmes you spoke about. There’s no implementation in the ANC… they just speak about it.”

Solly Msimanga, Gauteng provincial leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), said: “We are tired of hearing about the establishment of various war rooms as these rooms do not yield any results and are just a waste of our taxpayers’ money, which could be put to better use by creating employment opportunities for our unemployed residents and youth.

“The latest war room established by the premier is one that needs to assist our province in reigniting the economy. Surely our current legislation is supposed to assist with this?”

Makhura said that in line with commitments made at the last Sopa, 3,440 permanent jobs had been created through the roll-out of special economic zones, exceeding the target of 3,288 jobs.

Msimanga, however, said: “But the Stats SA statistics show a different picture of our unemployment, which is now sitting at 37%. So, who is the premier fooling?”

On youth unemployment, Makhura provided an update on the Tshepo One Million programme, which the Gauteng government introduced in 2014. It started with the goal of providing young people with 500,000 job opportunities (from 2014 to 2016) and then moved to a goal of one million in Phase 2 (from 2017 to 2021).

In the first phase, the programme reached 211,642 young people and in the second phase reached 718,636 young people, which, in total, is nearly a million, said Makhura.

“If there was no Tshepo One Million, the situation of youth in Gauteng would have been worse,” Makhura said in response to heckling from opposition parties.

Msimanga said: “The Tshepo One Million programme is meant to create employment opportunities for our youth and should be implemented in all departments, yet we only have the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that reports on this goal and does not meet the job creation goals set.”

In preparation for the new phase of the rebooted Tshepo programme, Makhura will appoint a civil society-led Youth Advisory Panel so young people will “be the ones who work with government to make sure that government responds comprehensively to all areas of concern of our youth”.

“So, young people of Gauteng, we have heard you,” said Makhura. 

Makhura said that since 2014, the province had championed the development of the township economy, reminding opposition parties that between 2014 and 2019 the Gauteng government had spent more than R20-billion on the procurement of goods and services from township-based enterprises.

He said that growing businesses and job potential in townships would ensure that all sectors of the economy participate meaningfully as growth is decentralised, bringing opportunities closer to where people live.

This growth will be facilitated through the Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill, which was mentioned in the 2021 Sopa and tabled in the provincial legislature that same year.

“The legislature public hearings are still under way and, as the Executive Council, we keenly await this legislature to pass the bill into law,” said Makhura.

The bill seeks to do three things. 

First, it aims to create new development regulations and get rid of old bylaws that have lots of red tape “that make it difficult for businesses to be established, and to operate and to grow, including informal businesses”, said Makhura. The province aims to use the new law to formalise 90% of informal businesses.

Second, the bill will lead to the Township Economy Partnership Fund – a fund that has grown to R500-million and Makhura said there are further discussions with partners to grow it to R800-million.

Third, the bill will provide the legal framework to support township real estate. 

Makhura explained that the formalisation of what is often called “back rooms” – where people rent out small parts of their property – will lead to formal income-generation opportunities for people in townships.

The premier said the move was planned “so that it’s not illegal to have a back room and have people renting, because it’s supporting livelihoods and incomes”.

Opposition party members heckled the premier, saying mayors know these types of back rooms can overload infrastructure as they are not properly connected to sewerage systems or electricity and are not always built properly.

“That’s where we have many problems of the growth of the debt in our municipalities,” noted Makhura while acknowledging the criticism.

Makhura said he had spoken to people in townships and they wanted the bill to be passed this year. At public hearings, he said, “They all are saying that they want the opportunities to go to the local residents of our townships.

“They are saying these opportunities of the bill must not go elsewhere. They must not be hijacked. They must go to local residents of our townships to rebuild businesses in our communities.”

Additionally, Makhura highlighted how R100-million had been earmarked for rebuilding and supporting township businesses affected by both the Covid-19 pandemic July 2021 riots and looting.

The premier said that in the past year Gauteng had successfully incubated 56 township businesses at the provincial government’s eKasiLabs.

The DA’s Msimanga said, “We have heard similar promises before of our township economy being revitalised and instead of proactively investing and empowering our entrepreneurs through the current Gauteng Enterprise Propeller a new bill is now instead being introduced.”

The EFF’s Mukwevho said the partnership the province had with Pick n Pay had left people in the township “suffering” because locals took over businesses, which failed because the new owners were not properly trained. 

“The model they bring doesn’t benefit our people,” said Mukwevho.

“Education is the greatest source of pride in Gauteng,” said the premier, claiming that National Senior Certificate results in Gauteng had improved by 85% between 2014 and 2019.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Gauteng was the second-best-performing province in 2021, with an 82.8% matric pass rate, dropping one percentage point from 2020.

Makhura also spoke about the province’s anti-corruption framework, service delivery, food security, human settlements and migrants.

“Nobody should resort to violence. Nobody should take the law into their own hands; the law enforcement officers must do their jobs. People should not be attacked or killed because they are foreign nationals,” said the premier.

Image (GP Premier David Makhura at the SOPA held at Brixton Multipurpose Centre on Monday).

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