Johannesburg – People from rural areas should not only serve as labour reservoirs for the cities, says North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo.
Earlier this week, News24 spoke to Mahumapelo about a wide range of issues, ranging from the so-called ‘premier league’ in the ANC to the state of the North West province.
In the interview, Mahumapelo discussed his rural villages, townships and small dorpies initiative just a few days after hosting his province’s inaugural economic lekgotla.
“Should people in the rural areas be forever hopeless? Should they forever be pessimistic about the future and so on?” asked Mahumapelo.
Mahumapelo said the concentration of poverty in his province was mostly in the small dorpies, villages and townships, which is what sparked his idea to build village economic hubs.
These hubs are expected to help people obtain services that are usually based in the big cities or require a lengthy waiting period.
The North West premier said a decision had been made to commit 70% of local government spending in the next financial year to the project.
He said his officials had managed to visit around 95% of the province’s villages and had assisted communities in establishing individual village development plans for each village.
“Each village had a list of things that affected it economically and solutions as to how we could deal with that problem,” said Mahumapelo.
Infrastructure, lack of water for both human and animal consumption, the quality of service from government and unemployment are just some of the communities' problems, added Mahumapelo.
Several targets had been set with some focusing on agricultural development, building entrepreneurs in the villages and setting up local bakeries for each of the regions in the North West.
He said it costs too much to merely transport bread from Johannesburg when it could literally be produced just a doorstep away.
“There is input cost in the price of bread and that includes transport, because it travels around 320km, coming here from Johannesburg, but we have women who bake all the time, on weekends, for funerals,” said Mahumapelo.
He also developed people’s chambers in the rural areas, which are planned to serve as one shop stops for conducting business with the people in the villages.
He said he wanted to provide support for such businesses so they can grow.
Smart villages are also being eyed by the province. These villages are expected to tap technology to fuel their growth, said Mahumapelo.
“They must be able to do business with Sao Paulo or even China if they want to,” said Mahumapelo.
Still battling the impact of drought
While plans are in place to boost the North West’s rural towns, the area still has challenges. Among the chief challenges is the recent crippling drought.
The premier said the effects of the drought in 2015 and 2016 are still being felt by residents and farmers in the province.
“It has hit us hard, our economy had declined in the province as we mainly depend on agriculture and mining,” he said.
People had lost their animals, there was still no grazing and water tables are low, continued Mahumapelo.
“Only mud comes out, this means we need to go deeper in searching to access water and that needs financial resources to be done,” he said.
The province had recently set aside R23m to deal with the disaster and the department of water and sanitation said it would contribute a further R25m.