Siya Miti and Mike Loewe
A BATTERY of cabinet ministers yesterday launched an ambitious multibillion-rand national plan that will see 500000 jobs created in the Eastern Cape by 2020.
The Strategic Integrated Projects (Sips), announced at a Job Summit in East London, will be driven by the construction of road and rail infrastructure and is set to create five million new jobs nationally.
It will also offer incentives to manufacturers that source local raw materials and inputs.
Speaking at the summit, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said the plan aimed to grow the local economy through the manufacturing sector, pushing job creation.
The programme would invest in infrastructure, skills development and enterprise by offering incentives aimed to "deepen and broaden” the manufacturing base in the Eastern Cape and nationally.
Part of the plan is to link South Africa with the rest of Africa through building infrastructure "from Coega to Cairo”, tackle monopolies to open up opportunities for more firms to enter the market and create jobs and, lastly, improve skills by investing more in FET colleges and universities.
Among the Sips projects Patel highlighted was the Umzimvubu Dam, the Mthatha Airport upgrade and development of the southeastern node, which would see roads being built to connect the province to KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and Gauteng.
Patel said that within the cabinet there was a significant "determination to get the jobs issue right”.
"The Eastern Cape has potential in both industry and agriculture; the question is what can infrastructure do to unlock the potential?”
On the question of why state infrastructure billions have not been smoothly released to the Eastern Cape, Patel said the quality of projects was where the blockage lay.
"The money is there. No good project will be left unfunded. The key is to come up with viable projects ... ”
The ministers at the summit said the Eastern Cape, which had the third-highest unemployment rate in the country at 28.3%, needed urgent attention to overcome its challenges.
Eastern Cape premier Noxolo Kiviet said the national government had put the spotlight on the Eastern Cape and was committed to addressing the province’s challenges.
"It took a lot of pressure, fighting and lobbying from the province to get support from the national government.
"Now, national departments have recognised us as an area requiring support and they are exposed to the realities of the province,” she said.
Earlier, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said bridge-building and road projects on the "N2-Wild Coast Meander” road system were already on the go.
These projects fitted into the government’s strategic plan to link the eastern seaboard of South Africa, specifically the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Asked about National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel’s assertion recently that most jobs in the province would come from agriculture, Nkwinti agreed but said rural farmers had to connect to metropoles.
Essentially, there had to be a road network allowing farmers to get their agricultural output to the market in Durban, and even Gauteng.
Economic Development MEC Mcebisi Jonas said the time for highbrow planning and strategising was past, and the province was poised for the money to pay for ready- to-go specific projects in key sectors.
"We are not talking high-level strategy. We have identified key sectors and key projects that underpin the programme to create the jobs,” he said.
"We are already talking about how to fund them.”
Ministers conceded that government programmes had been competing with each other, and this had retarded job creation.
Patel said his department was mandating government departments and agencies to procure locally, and there would be private sector incentives for domestic procurement.
"We are mandating compulsory [government] buying from South African manufacturers.”
This came at a time when the global economy was threatened by a second wave of recession.
Rising costs of electricity, water and labour remained a concern for global firms seeking to open new firms in the country.
Patel was optimistic that incentives and strategies for cooperation between labour and business would ensure the success of the drive to procure domestically.
In the long term, Sips was designed to see a gradual move away from grants.
Patel said the economy since 1994 had been growing because of consumption driven by credit. That should change to a situation where the economy was driven by manufacturing, innovation and skills development.