Thousands of jobs are on the cards for the Eastern Cape, with plans to develop the Wild Coast special economic zone in Mthatha now gaining momentum.
The zone will be developed at the Mthatha Airport development precinct, just 10km away from Mthatha, the seat of the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality. The municipality covers Mthatha and Mqanduli towns.
The project, which will take advantage of the newly revamped Mthatha Airport, which has an impressive runway of 3.5km, will result in a number of government departments and entities, including the private sector, working together to make it a reality.
The zone falls under the trade and industry department’s Coega Development Corporation, the economic development department, the environmental development and tourism department, the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality and the OR Tambo district municipality.
First rural metro
The development of the zone in Mthatha coincides with plans by King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality to become the first rural metro in the country by 2021/22 and to build a new town in Coffee Bay, with a harbour.
Ncedo Lisani, spokesperson for the economic development, environmental affairs and tourism department, said in the first phase of construction it was anticipated that 6 420 direct job opportunities would be created and then 2 578 operational jobs.
“A suitable site has been identified for the proposed Wild Coast economic zone in Mthatha after a number of land parcels were considered. A project management office, funded by the trade and industry department, was set up and has been operational for some time now,” Lisani said.
He said the zone would focus on promoting agro-industry and take advantage of the high levels of domestic demand.
“This understanding was informed by the work of the feasibility studies the project management team concluded. Feasibility studies included infrastructure assessments, such as electricity needs, water needs and other bulk infrastructure requirements. A business plan for the proposed project has been developed,” Lisani said.
The zone would focus on developing value chains in the agro sector taking into account the comparative and competitive advantage of the region, said Lisani.
“In this regard processing and value addition will be premised on some of the following products, although not limited to them, such as essential oils, macadamia nuts and livestock, including sheep, goats and cattle. This is consistent with the National Development Plan,” he said.
All that was left now was for economic development, environmental affairs and tourism department MEC Oscar Mabuyane to submit a final application for the economic zone to Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies for consideration.
Lisani said although it was too early to say when the zone would be operational, it was hoped some scalable demonstration investment projects would be completed by the end of next year.
“The submission to the minister is being managed by the project management office and is near completion.
“The environmental impact assessment is one of the few last aspects that needs to be included in the submission processes and is under way. We hope this will be concluded by year-end [December],” Lisani said.
He said there has been wide interest from the private sector both in Mthatha as well as the rest of the country, which he expected to increase significantly once certainty on the designation process was confirmed.
Lisani could not say how much the huge project would cost, saying this would be decided by the government.
The Coega Development Corporation did not want to comment on the project and referred questions to trade and industry department spokesperson Sidwell Medupe, who had not responded by the time of going to print.
Asked if the land on which the project was to be developed was not part of a land-claim process that could jeopardise its implementation, Lisani said: “The land claim on the area was successfully concluded last year in favour of the community.
“The Land Claims Commission has been effectively facilitating discussions between the project management office and the community. The project management office is committed to ensuring that the project will greatly benefit the Ncise community and the greater Wild Coast region.”
Sonwabo Mampoza, municipality spokesperson, said the project was in keeping with its Vision 2030 and would have positive economic spinoffs for the area, with a number of people standing to benefit from the jobs that would be created.
“The project is one of the biggest to be implemented within the municipality and will enhance the performance of the local economy.
“The site has been identified near the airport – for logistical arrangements and convenience. It will be easier to transport locally manufactured goods to the markets around the country.
“The municipality is expected to coordinate the implementation of the zone to ensure maximised benefits for the local economy.
“These benefits will relate to employment creation, cooperatives and enterprise development and will ensure that all sectors of the economy are able to directly and indirectly benefit,” he said.
The zone would provide world-class infrastructure services, improved functionality and provide services and technological advancement that would enable the local economy to thrive, he said.
“The zone will not only benefit the municipality but also the surrounding municipalities and all the towns within the eastern part of the Eastern Cape,” he said.
Mampoza confirmed there were plans to build a small harbour in Coffee Bay, which was part of the bigger vision to change the economic landscape by 2030.
“Some of the goods will be shipped through the harbour so that they can be transported to either East London or Mthatha.
“The Mthatha Airport has been upgraded and can now accommodate bigger aircraft.”
Mampoza called on investors to explore the many opportunities that are going to be available in the municipality.
He said there were plans to revive a railway line between East London and Mthatha to ensure easy logistical means to transport goods.
Mampoza could not say what the total value of the project would be but said given its magnitude it could be billions of rands.
He said there were plans to improve the infrastructure of the municipality, including fixing the 75km road between Coffee Bay and Viedgesville, which joins the N2 between Mthatha and East London.
As a municipality, he said, it had already been able to deal with some of the infrastructure backlogs through a R5 billion presidential intervention announced by former president Jacob Zuma in 2009.
Mampoza said the intervention was the catalyst for developing big projects, such as the zone.
Some roads within the municipality had been fixed and power supply had been improved.
A ring-road would be constructed to by-pass Mthatha between the R61 and the N2, which could be used by heavy-load trucks that wanted to avoid the traffic in town. “There has been a lot of improvement in water and sanitation and there were a lot of dams that had been built.
“This came about through the municipality working closely with other spheres of government.
“The zone will definitely be a welcome development for the people of Mthatha,” he said.
* SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.