Premier Oscar Mabuyane,
Members of the Executive Council of the Eastern Cape,
Leadership of the provincial government and senior officials,
Thank you for the invitation to address this first EXCO lekgotla of 2021.
This is an immensely difficult time for our country as we grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.
Our immediate and most pressing priority as all of government – whether it is local, provincial or national – is to save lives.
We remain firmly committed to rolling out a rapid and comprehensive vaccination programme that will provide immunity to at least 40 million of our citizens.
You will be aware of the results of a study that were released yesterday into the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine we procured from the Serum Institute of India against the new strain of the disease.
As the Minister of Health Dr Zwelini Mkhize has indicated, this will affect the design and phasing of our vaccination roll-out.
In the light of these new developments, he has tasked our scientists to develop proposals on how we can effectively vaccinate our population in the shortest possible time.
We welcome the participation of the Eastern Cape in the planning of the vaccination programe and the work you have undertaken to get all systems, structures and facilities ready.
Our success will ultimately rest on the cooperation and collaboration of all spheres of government and all public entities.
COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on lives and livelihoods in the Eastern Cape.
I want to congratulate the provincial leadership for its sterling efforts since the very onset of the pandemic.
It is thanks to the collective efforts of all spheres of government – and the cooperation of the South African public – that the rate of infections in this second wave continues to slow, and the recovery rate continues to increase.
At the same time we know we must be forever vigilant, because experience has taught us just how quickly our fortunes can change.
We need to continue to drive the public health messaging around social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitising, which still remain our best defences against COVID-19.
The economic impact of the pandemic has been severe.
The measures put in place for public health have constrained activity in a number of economic sectors, resulting in job losses and loss of income.
We have had to put support and relief measures in place to help poor households, workers and companies.
Through the various measures contained in our R500 billion social and economic relief package, we have managed over the last nine months to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our economy and our people.
We have now moved from the relief phase of our economic response to the recovery phase.
Our priority now is to implement the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan that I announced in October last year.
The challenge before us is an immense one. We have to rebuild the economy and create jobs even in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.
COVID-19 has severely set back a number of our developmental priorities.
We have had to urgently divert resources to fighting the pandemic. As a result, a number of other programmes have had to be put on hold or scaled back.
The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan is a focused programme of actions to restore economic activity, to drive growth and to create jobs.
To ensure it is successfully implemented, we need to come up with practical actions and tasks that are tangible and focused.
In this regard, I am pleased to note that the Eastern Cape already has clear and demonstrable plans to build on the substantial endowments that exist here to create economic opportunities.
The provincial government has declared the years 2020 to 2024 as the era of job creation and socio-economic development and is actively working to build a more inclusive and transformative economy.
Your quest to expand areas of economic activity beyond the urban centres of Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City is very much aligned to the aspirations of the District Development Model, which we launched in the Eastern Cape in 2019.
At the heart of the District Development Model are local and provincial governments driving programmes that bring both development and economic opportunity to where people live.
This is particularly important in a province that has high unemployment and even higher youth unemployment.
The unfortunate result of this is that large swathes of the economically active population are leaving the province to find work in the Western Cape and Gauteng.
As the provincial leadership, working with national government, we need to reverse these migration patterns by deliberately investing in the Eastern Cape so it becomes a centre of work and economic opportunity.
This is an extremely well-endowed province in terms of natural resources, such as oceans and waterways, fertile land and human capital.
The Eastern Cape is renowned for its natural beauty and its diverse ecosystems that continue to be tourist attractions. The province also has its rich historical legacy.
This is also the province where the country’s automotive manufacturing sector is headquartered. The Eastern Cape also has the country’s deepest container port at Ngqura.
Among the many responsibilities this EXCO is charged with, developing a strategic approach to harnessing these endowments for economic benefit of the people of the Eastern Cape must be a priority.
It is on your shoulders that the responsibility rests to drive programmes of economic transformation that better the lives of the citizens of the province, especially traditionally marginalised groups like women, young people, persons with disabilities and rural dwellers.
This lekgotla must come up with concrete and tangible proposals to attract development and investment in sectors that leverage the endowments of the province.
One notes for example that the province’s Agricultural Economic Transformation Strategy is being implemented to boost economic activity. Besides crop and livestock production, vast potential exists for the cultivation of cannabis and for dairy production.
The Eastern Cape must also be a key driver of the oceans economy. There has been work done to develop the Oceans Economy Master Plan, and I want to congratulate the EXCO for approving it for implementation.
We are told this plan is expected to inject a projected R10.4 billion into the provincial economy and create about 33,000 jobs after the first five years of its implementation.
Infrastructure development also has great potential for the province, and the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan outlines the catalytic projects that will be rolled out in this province, particularly road infrastructure.
The Special Economic Zone model is critical to unlocking private sector investment. It is noteworthy that the province’s two SEZs received investment commitments to the value of R2.6 billion last year. The bulk of this investment is in factories that will service the automotive sector.
It is encouraging to note that the province is also in talks with Transnet to increase the capacity of the Johannesburg-Port Elizabeth railway line so that manufacturers can export their cars through Port Elizabeth.
Promising work is also being done to develop small scale manufacturing in industrial parks.
Overcoming poverty and underdevelopment is a key aspiration of the National Development Plan.
We must work with urgency to overcome the service delivery backlogs that are so negatively impacting our people’s lives, whether it is in health care, education or basic services.
There must be consequence management for municipalities that fail to deliver services, matched by remedial action.
At this difficult time, when poverty is likely to deepen as a result of the pandemic, we have to demonstrate that we are a caring, professional government accountable to the people we serve.
Poverty-alleviation programmes will need to be stepped up and creative, innovative measures conceptualised by this lekgotla.
The reality is that our country’s financial position is extremely tenuous, and we simply do not have the funds and the means to roll out massive new initiatives. We have to work with what we have and within our means, all the while meeting our commitments to our people.
We must address with urgency the impediments that stand not only in the way of attracting new investment, but that are also hampering our national service delivery programme.
Like many other provinces in the country, the Eastern Cape is experiencing serious issues with governance in its municipalities.
Fulfilling our electoral mandate to our people necessitates that we address these governance challenges. These are reflected in poor municipal audit outcomes, lack of capacity in municipal offices, corruption and maladministration, poor oversight and underfunded budgets.
The province must work with the Project Management Unit that has been established at COGTA, supported by the Provincial Treasury, to look into these systemic challenges and resolve them.
It is our expectation that this lekgotla will provide the solid leadership to the province that is needed at this difficult time for our country.
We want the big ideas, like the proposed smart city at Port St Johns, but we also want the granular detail of how we plan to make an impact in every village, town, city and district.
What we need is to turn words into actions, and commitments into reality.
As I said at the national Cabinet lekgotla, our response to this crisis must be an economic recovery that builds back better and stronger.
It must be inclusive and transformative. It must accelerate black economic empowerment and advance the position of women in all parts of the economy.
Thank you once again for the invitation and I wish you fruitful engagements.
I thank you.