THE province’s newly appointed special adviser to the premier has boldly stated KZN could overtake Gauteng as the largest economy in the country within the next five years. Not everybody shares this optimism though, with one leading economist calling this claim “utter nonsense”. In an exclusive interview, adviser Mike Newton said the province will need to increase its stake in the R3,5 trillion national economy by 28% to take on Gauteng. Currently KZN contributes about 16% as opposed to 34% by Gauteng — the economic powerhouse of both the country and continent. Newton, just five weeks into the job, said his “bullish” outlook rests on positive economic data coming out of KZN and a sound “strategic development plan already adopted by the legislature”. “The premier [Senzo Mchunu] has told his cabinet that his main focus is on increasing the economic growth rate of the province and create more jobs. While five years may be ambitious to overtake Gauteng, it does display our commitment and attitude to the future,” said Newton. The number of people currently employed in the province sits at 2,6 million. He said to attain high growth rates it will require competitive industrial development zones, a push into the maritime industry, tourism and an aerotropolis — which is a purpose-built city designed around air logistics. “We are aiming for between four and five percent annual growth and I believe we can find extra growth by cleaning up inefficiencies in the system while simultaneously rolling out large projects. We already have much of the key infrastructure in place at the Dube Tradeport and the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone, which will act as catalysts for the province. We have done the sums and believe we have the capital to roll out our growth strategy,” said Newton. Yet economic analyst Dr Azar Jammine said for KZN to outdo Gauteng in such a short period would be “arithmetically impossible”. “To catch up and beat Gauteng, the KZN economy would need to grow by [no less] than R150 billion a year for five years, which is about a 30% annual growth rate,” he said. Jammine said the only plausible — although highly improbable — way for KZN to outdo the leading economic province, would be if “massive projects” were rolled out on an annual basis. A more realistic target would be for KZN to overtake Gauteng in 50 to 100 years if a growth rate of four percent can be maintained, he said. A document titled “KwaZulu-Natal Economic Outlook and Implementation Framework” complied by Newton, said out of the 18 Strategic Integrated Projects being rolled out nationally, KZN could capitalise from 15, such as the Durban-Free State-Gauteng Logistics Corridor. It also stated what each provincial district is to target as an industry, such as agricultural processing in Zululand, electronics in uThukela and renewable energy in Ilembe, and that by 2015 the province aims to grow employment to 2,8 million and 3,3 million by 2020.