DURBAN - KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala laid out eight priority areas for his administration, which has two years left in office, when he delivered this year’s State of the Province address on Thursday.
Speaking at the Pietermaritzburg Royal Agricultural Show Grounds, Zikalala said the priorities included job creation, growing the provincial economy, growing small businesses and co-operatives, education and skills development; human settlements and sustainable livelihoods.
He said that the province was still battling the aftermath of Covid-19 and the July unrest, but he was still optimistic that his government had plans to overcome all that.
Zikalala also dwelt on job creation, fighting crime, tackling water and power challenges crippling the province (in this regard eThekwini and Msunduzi are piloting producing their own power).
“There is an urgency to decisively address the unemployment rate, particularly among the youth, women and vulnerable groups.”
On the state of the economy Zikalala said it was left in shambles by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our unemployment rate has now risen to 28.7%, from about 23% before the pandemic. Our economy is saddled with corporate corruption, failure of companies to invest in self-development, lack of sustainable energy generation, and instability created by criminal activities of some business forums.”
He expressed disappointment that the province had lost two big investments in the form of Mara Phones (a R1.5 billion investment with 736 jobs) in Durban, and the decision to close the Sapref refinery in the same city.
“For that reason, we have called on the national government to buy Sapref. (This is) not only to protect jobs, but to build the capacity of the state. It cannot be that the country will remain dependent on foreign-owned, private conglomerates who are only driven by the profit motive and owe no loyalty to our developmental agenda.”
He said investment in infrastructure was key to growth and outlined several projects that would achieve that goal.
“The provincial government continues to pursue infrastructure-led development. Transport infrastructure is a catalyst for economic growth, job creation and development.”
With regards to the fight against crime, Zikalala said they were working on dealing with the issue at Mooi River where trucks were occasionally used to block the N3 and were later torched, as well as the issue of the killing of farmers. He also said the murder of councillors, which he described as an attack on democracy, would be attended to by arresting the assassins.
“We commend the increase in visible policing at 184 police stations with a special focus on the high crime stations. We are implementing the KZN Provincial Safety Strategy, the Safer Cities Framework, strengthening monitoring and evaluation of police stations and services, and firming up community partnerships.”
He also acknowledged the Ugu water challenges and said that they welcomed the allocation of R830 million to Umgeni water to finish the Umkhomazi water scheme that could help with the water challenges there.
Zikalala announced some key economic interventions including the increase in funding for the KZN Youth Empowerment Fund, an increase from R50m to R100m to support young people who want to be job creators, the development of the old Durban International Airport site which is now called the Durban Logistics Hub as well as the agri-hubs with red meat, skin and hides treatment facility in different district municipalities.
KwaZulu-Natal has developed a comprehensive strategy on rural and township economies.
For the next two years, the province will increase its EPWP target to 300 000 beneficiaries in order to respond to the increased urgency of job creation.
Guests included Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini and KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo.
Political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe lauded Zikalala’s address and said the premier’s accounts of the devastation experienced in the province over the last year was commendable as it painted the real picture of the state of the province.
He said the undertaking of the provincial government to acknowledge failure, while formulating proper plans, was equally important, especially for unemployment and job creation.
“The premier detailed the many projects that have been undertaken to turn the economic fortunes of the province around. Finally, the speech cannot be faulted regarding its comprehensibility,” Seepe said.
Hlengiwe Buthelezi, KZN LGBT recreation executive director, commended the use of time frames by the premier, with the demand of understanding the issues confronting the province, but expressed concern over the lack of a plan to curb hate crimes.
Economics expert Sanele Mthembu said the premier was ambitious and, to an extent, contradicted the national government in his stance of private-sector-centred investment. He said the economic outlook of the country needed the government to be proactive and for the private sector to follow.
“Premier Sihle Zikalala was ambitious in his approach to address the issue of economics in the province. He was very stern in his belief of the government being the main investor for the people. And that is how it should be, the government leads and the private corporations follow. It was also encouraging to see the extensive look at small business investment and issues of funding, which is fundamentally the biggest hurdle for these entities.”