The state of potholes adress

2012-02-20 00:00

POTHOLES should be a priority in tomorrow’s state of the province address. This is no frivolous sop to middle-class whingers who complain about the wear and tear on their cars. Fixing, maintaining and extending the road network is fundamental to KwaZulu-Natal taking advantage of the massive infrastructure programme announced by President Jacob Zuma.

A key project mentioned by the president is the development of a Durban-Free State-Gauteng logistics and industrial corridor. Premier­ Dr Zweli Mkhize has described KwaZulu-Natal as having a transport-driven economy. Yet from the Transport Portfolio Com- mittee­ meetings it has emerged that because of overspend all maintenance and new road projects have been halted for the next two months.

The province is set to get R7 billion for roads in the next financial year. However, because of years of non-maintenance many roads have to be completely reconstructed. Already it looks like the R7 billion may not be enough. Navigating the N3 to King Shaka Airport is a nightmare. There were plans to have an alternate route to the airport via Mshwati (Wartburg) as well as a road from Pinetown, which at this stage remains half completed. It would be good to hear that these projects will be getting under way this year. The president spoke about massive investment in developing the rail system. Some R2 billion is allocated to rail projects. It is going to take time for this to get off the ground and until then an increased number of vehicles using the roads will continue to result in the rapid deterioration of the provincial road network. Roads should be a key priority in this year’s state of the province address — transport, logistics and tourism make up about 53% of the total output of KwaZulu-Natal’s economy. It is also the leading employer within the province — 49% — and contributes 22,1% of the national GDP for transport, storage and communications.

In many ways the State of the Province address is guided by the State of the Nation Address and a provincial premier can’t deviate too far from the script. Yet KwaZulu-Natal has certain unique characteristics and challenges that have to be taken into account if the province is to progress.

A major challenge is rapid urbanisation, where the poorest of the poor are no longer found in the rural areas, but in the two major urban nodes of eThekwini and Msunduzi. Already, more than 32% of the province’s population lives in the eThekwini metro. The KZN government recognised this challenge and instituted a programme of small-town development to revitalise the economies of towns like Mooi River, Colenso and Richmond. This was to help citizens find work closer to their homes, and stem the flow of work seekers moving to the bigger cities. The programme appears to have lost vigour, with Mooi River continuing on its downward trajectory and Colenso pretty well dead. The Premier needs to put meat on the bones of the small-town project and spell out a more detailed plan of action on the revitalisation project.

While mining is key to the economies in many of the provinces to the north, agriculture remains our unutilised strength. In fact KZN agriculture’s contribution to the GDP has steadily declined over the past decade by an average of 0,5% with an accompanying decline in employment in this sector.

We have a small underfunded agriculture department, with a succession of MEC’s who’ve hardly demonstrated leadership in this area. A boon to the province’s economy would be the announcement of some major agriculture projects that have gotten off the ground and do not appear like a wish list. In his 2011 state of the province address, the premier spoke about the development of specific farms with the potential for massive production of cut flowers, fruit and vegetables to support the export programme through the Dube Trade Port. How have these projects advanced and will we see a boost to employment in the agriculture sector with the Dube Trade Port becoming a hive of bustling activity.

Granted, some of the major obstacles that hamper the development of agricultural potential are beyond the control of the provincial government. One of these is that KZN has the highest backlog in terms of settling land claims. This is the year that the premier has to say what is being done, in negotiation with the national government, to sort out the backlogs. And what conditions are being created to place agriculture at the heart of the KZN economy.

Another problem that affected this province was the R200 million we had to return to the national government last year in unspent housing funds. Housing backlogs remain a major headache and the premier should spell out what plans are in place to fully utilise the government’s housing grants. Sadly, it appears that most of the money will have to go to rebuilding poorly constructed RDP houses. Will there be money left to make a dent in the province’s huge housing backlog?

We already have a hint from the provincial government’s lekgotla last week that good governance and dealing with corruption will form a major part of the state of the province address. To a certain extent the provincial government has already demonstrated its willingness to act against corruption. The Msunduzi Municipality was placed under administration and eThekwini has just been subject to the Manase Forensic probe. In the departments of health and social development a large number of minor officials have been charged with transgressions and have been dismissed or made to pay the money back. However, key here is that those punished were minor officials. What about holding senior politicians and officials accountable? The transgressions took place under their watch. More than two years on, the Msunduzi Municipality is out of administration, but we are yet to see senior officials or politician at the municipality called to account. The premier spoke extensively about fighting graft and corruption in his last address. What will he say tomorrow to show that the province has raised the bar on good governance.

KwaZulu-Natal has the largest health and education departments in the country and there is no doubt that the premier will give details on major infrastructure projects within these and other departments. However, as Free State University Vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen has repeatedly pointed out, it is not necessarily having good infrastructure that improves the service, it is about having committed and caring employees. It will be a boon to hear the premier speak about practical steps to improve the quality of the civil service — teachers teaching and nurses nursing, principals running their schools and the clerks at the social development counter genuinely practising government’s batho pele principles.

Finally, what’s truly unique about KwaZulu-Natal is its demographics. Tourism brochures describe the province as being a melting pot of cultures. The challenge going forward and in the centenary year of the ANC is for the premier in his state of the province address to commit to promoting one of the core values of the ANC — non-racialism. KwaZulu-Natal has overcome a legacy of violence and given its demographics it is well positioned to become the champion of non-racialism in the country.


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