by Buyile Sangolekhaya Matiwane | Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)
Observers of the current affairs discourse in this country could be forgiven for thinking that South Africa is totally bereft of hope and that the state is on the brink of collapse.
The dominant views emerging out of this one sided discourse are those of doomsayers who use the country’s genuine growth and development challenges as a tool to support their imaginary theories of a failing state, led by a government that is incapable of addressing the needs of ordinary citizens. To this end, unemployment, crime, service delivery protests, government’s response to the drought, the performance of the Rand and slowing economic growth rate are paraded as examples of how the ANC led government is, in the words of one commentator, “fiddling while Rome burns.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. In a forthright and frank assessment of our economic challenges during a period of slowing global volatility, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan noted that a decline in demand for our commodities and their prices has created a toxic mix of reduced export earnings, declining investment, job losses and in some cases business failures.
It is for these and other reasons that Minister Gordhan delivered one of the most balanced budgets that advocates for a period of fiscal consolidation marked by a reduction in the budget deficit, freezing non-essential managerial and administrative posts and introducing specific new taxes to augment national revenue.
To respond to slowing global demand for commodities, which is leading to job cuts, especially in the mining and associated industries, government has identified and is investing in key sectors of the economy that have the potential to create thousands of new, sustainable jobs. The National Growth Path (NGP) calls for targeted investment in infrastructure development, the agricultural value chain, the mining value chain, the green economy, the manufacturing sector and tourism.
To respond to the challenge posed by the NGP, government has kick-started a comprehensive infrastructure development programme that is turning South Africa into a massive construction site. New roads, railway lines, power stations, dams, bridges, pipelines, schools, hospitals and clinics are either in the planning stages, construction phase or have just been completed. The country is spending R1 billion a day on a massive infrastructure development programme that has so far created over 200 000 jobs.
On a daily basis, the socio economic conditions of our people are improving for the better. When completed; Medupi, Ingula and Kusile power stations will add over 1600 Megawatts onto the national grid. Six months ago President Jacob Zuma opened Medupi Unit 6 which has added 800 Megawatts onto the grid. The results are there for all to see. When was the last time South Africa experienced large scale load shedding?
South Africa is investing in its people and putting them to work. In terms of government’s commitment to industrialisation; buses, trucks and rail locomotives are being manufactured and refurbished here at home, in targeted economic zones such as Rosslyn in Tshwane and factories in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The Industrial Development Corporation has set aside billions of Rands to invest in new manufacturing ventures, the green economy, grow the pool of entrepreneurs and to create new black industrialists.
Other large scale infrastructure initiatives include widening the Durban Harbour and increasing its container terminal capacity, expanding capacity at the Port of Ngqura, completing the De Hoop and Clanwilliam dams and extending the Bus Rapid Transit system that has proved successful in Tshwane, Joburg and Cape Town to other metros such Ekurhuleni which is about to pilot the first phase of its BRT system.
Our State Owned Companies (SOCs) are crucial in driving this infrastructure development through targeted spending on developmental projects with the propensity to create thousands of jobs and ensure that infrastructure can meet demand once the global economic outlook improves. This is the mark of a government that works, that is creating new industries and maximising opportunities for investment, employment and growth.
But boasting about investing in infrastructure is futile if this investment does not result in visible improvements in the lives of ordinary South Africans. When a municipality, working closely with Eskom, extends transmission to an area that had no electricity and Gogo Dube switches on the lights in her home for the first time in her life that is when we are working. When a single mother of four receives the keys to her brand new home after years on the waiting list and smiles because she has always dreamt of cooking in her own kitchen that is when we are making a difference.
When a young entrepreneur receives funding for an idea that could change the world for the better and create jobs for locals, we know that our efforts at improving the lives of our people are bearing fruit.
President Jacob Zuma has put infrastructure development at the top of his agenda and is personally overseeing coordination of all the major infrastructure development programmes along with members of his executive. As the President has aptly put it: “Infrastructure development is critical for both industrialisation and to boost employment in construction and other sectors, especially during such a difficult time.”
The doomsayers are wrong. Unlike ancient Rome, South Africa is not burning. It is a thriving democracy that turns 21 next month, blossoming into a fully matured adult along with the complications that come with such changes. This ANC led government has developed sound policies and put in place concrete programmes that will douse any fire before it becomes an inferno.
Yes, we have challenges. The crime rate is still unacceptably high, levels of poverty and inequality must be reduced, and economic benefits are still skewed in favour of a tiny minority. But despite what the critics may believe, this country is on the correct path towards a trajectory of shared growth, development and poverty alleviation. Let us all put shoulder to the wheel.