Planning for growth

2009-08-10 00:00

A significant event took place in KwaZulu-Natal last week, the impact of which will be felt in the province in the months to come. The event was the two-day Roadmap to Economic Recovery and Jobs summit held at the Sibaya Conference Centre in Durban.

Organised jointly by the provincial government, chambers of business and the trade union movement, the gathering was impressive on a number of levels. There was a large turnout of over 600 delegates, and spotted among the crowd were captains of industry, investment bankers, analysts, unionist, owners of small businesses, politicians and officials from national, provincial and local government.

In the end the objectives set out by Economic Development and Tourism MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu were met. These were the creation of a provincial coalition partnership with business, labour and civil society to address the impact of the recession and to create and protect jobs. The building blocks for an implementable economic recovery plan were put in place. Specific areas to be targeted are the clothing, textile, leather and footwear industries; tourism; the creative industry; agri-business; ICT and telecommunications; and manufacturing in the automotive, capital equipment and metals sectors.

Discussions were focused and frank, with well considered papers presented. Criticism was constructive with a range of ideas for the way forward.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said KZN needs to get its act together. He said money available in the province for the expanded public works programme is not being used to its full potential.

Labour did not pull its punches. Zet Luzipho, Cosatu’s provincial general secretary, called for the recovery plan to seriously address corruption.

Cedric Gina, president of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa), said the eThekwini Municipality gave a cable contract to a black economic empowerment (BEE) company that operated out of the boot of a car and with a laptop. He said this company imported cables from China resulting in 2 000 people losing their jobs. He urged the provincial government and municipalities to use local suppliers and spread the BEE net.

Business was equally upfront. Professor Alwyn Louw, president of the South African Chamber of Business and Industry, said that beyond infrastructure development for the 2010 World Cup, there is very little else in government’s arsenal to create jobs.

Louw called for a review of skills development programmes. He said that while jobs are available, there are not enough people suitably prepared to take on these jobs.

He was critical of narrow thinking within municipalities. Embarrassingly, he picked on Msunduzi Municipality, which increased its electricity charges by 27% in Pietermaritzburg. Louw said this was more in real terms than the 33% imposed by Eskom.

Joel Netshitenzhe, head of the Presidency Policy Unit, summed up many of the solutions presented. He said the recovery plan must avoid short-term solutions that are not linked to medium- and long-term growth. He agreed that infrastructure development needs to be extended beyond 2010. There is also a need to develop local construction supplier industries.

He noted the high growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa. A future provincial plan will have to focus on what advantage can be taken of these developments.

He called for a review of regulatory constraints in towns and districts against small, medium andmicro enterprises (SMMEs) and for more co-ordinated planning. Small towns like uMzinyathi and uMkhanyakude can be developed into nodes and linked in corridors to high-growth areas. Similarly Netshitenzhe also called for inter-provincial planning. “Limpopo wants to build a railway line to Richards Bay. They chose Richards Bay rather than Maputo. You need to interact with them.”

He suggested that the recovery plan should incorporate a programme of government visits to every poor household to identify one individual who will be a “change agent” within the family. That person must be skilled and given a job to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty.

The presidency policy head challenged the trade union movement to think about the choice of more people being employed or more money for those already employed. He challenged business on whether managers should consider a wage freeze to allow for real savings and as a symbolic gesture. “We often hear workers say ‘we must sacrifice, but why not our managers?’,” Netshitenzhe said.

The summit was an enriching experience. It showed the abundance of creative energy and commitment within KZN to make the province work.

This combined with good political leadership at a provincial level, gives hope that we’re on winning wicket.

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