210 17.07.2014 Lebogang Maile, the new MEC for Economic Development for Gauteng, talks to The Star about challenges he sets to overcome and the difference he will bring in his position. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Johannesburg - Gauteng, which is the home of Johannesburg – the economic hub of South Africa and the most populous city in the country, can be the critical part of the engine of the ship that is meant to steer the country away from recession.

The province is the source of gold, the precious metal that has seen massive numbers of people migrate to Johannesburg in search of a better life over the last 200 years.

With a current population of about 12.5 million people, today’s economic environment in the province is one that is trying to dig itself out a group depressive state of mind.

As the province tries to claw its way out of a collective depression, cities like Johannesburg and the rest of the Gauteng economy are susceptible to global ills, such as the global economic meltdown of 2008, which reinforced the belief that when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold.

Looking at recent events in the country’s economic landscape, gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 0.6 percent in the first quarter.

This resulted in widespread speculation of recession and downgrades by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s to a level that is just above junk status.

The events were largely attributed to the five-month platinum strike that concluded last month.

With these dynamics and devastating blows to the state of the economy, it is important to understand what the Gauteng department of economic development is doing to transform the economy and achieve satisfactory levels of economic growth in the process.

In an exclusive interview with Lebogang Maile, the MEC for economic development in Gauteng, Business Report got a glimpse of what is in the mind of the man tasked by the ANC-led government to lead the province away from an economic downturn and to ensure greater participation and co-operation from various stakeholders in order to achieve growth.

Maile, who was born and bred in Alexandra township just outside of the leafy suburbs of Sandton, highlighted three standout points that will help him realise his goals.

The first is the re-industrialisation of the Gauteng economy by helping to grow the sectors that make the biggest impact on the economy, such as information, communication and technology (ICT).

This sector, according to Maile is critical to invest in and grow because it provides a gateway to innovation and the knowledge-based economy where growth enabling tools, such as free wi-fi, will be made available to millions of people who need to be connected to ensure smoother participation in the economy.

Another is the automotive industry, which accounts for 40 percent of the province’s economic output.

This industry, along with manufacturing – which is not doing well at 11 percent, should be developed in order to create job opportunities.

The aim is also to ensure that the BRT system is completed by 2019, which will ensure the smooth running of his long-term vision for using the townships as a base for economic development.

According to Maile, the township economic revitalisation initiative will be the backbone of the government’s economic development drive.

Explaining the aim of this ambitious project, he said the plan was to mainstream the township economy by supporting the development of township enterprises, co-operatives and SMMEs.

“In pursuit of this objective, we will roll out Township Enterprise Hubs across Gauteng’s oldest townships. The Winterveld Enterprise Hub, which is already recording promising levels of participation, income generation and job creation for the small enterprises in the area, will be used as a model,” he said.

In addition, R8 million has been set aside for the Township Business Renewal scheme, “which is administered by the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller, which is meant to increase sustainable and productive businesses in the townships”.

He also suggests that the government will engage in an extensive review of the Township Business Renewal funding scheme to make it more responsive to the needs and challenges faced by township entrepreneurs.

“In our endeavour to stimulate the township economy and overcome the apartheid spatial geography, we will regenerate old township industrial sites and turn these sites into vibrant and productive spaces.

“We will refurbish infrastructure and attract private sector investment to these sites. We have earmarked old industrial parks in Residentia, Katlehong, Babelegi, Ekandustria and Emndeni for this intervention,” Maile said.

He added that these industrial parks would specialise in light manufacturing in the automotive, furniture manufacturing, plastic, polymers and chemicals sectors and would “increase the participation of small and emerging businesses in these parks through incubation and supplier development programmes modelled on the Diepsloot SMME Incubation Hub, which we will be launching in a few months time.”