Commuters hang on to an overloaded train at Salt River station. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER
Commuters hang on to an overloaded train at Salt River station. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

Covid-19 has had severe consequences for SA. Our country’s economy is shrinking. Unemployment is growing. SA is facing the prospect of a debt crisis, and the national government will look to fund this growing gap by drastically cutting provincial budgets.

This is happening as the national government chooses to pour billions more rand into SAA. At a time when unemployment, poverty and hunger are growing, this is money that could have gone into improving the lives of South Africans.

Nevertheless, the Western Cape has opted to take the brave decisions to ensure we are able to move forward. As I announced on Thursday, we have focused our recovery on three areas — jobs, safety and dignity, and well-being. These three areas are interconnected, and you can’t remove one from the mix without having some kind of knock-on impact on the others.

I want to focus on the decisions we have taken in the economic and jobs space. We call these big decisions “moon shots” — ambitious and brave goals we intend to work tirelessly towards until we achieve them.

Our emergency economic relief and recovery programme aims to address the major blows of Covid-19 on our economy, which will result in over 150,000 jobs losses in the Western Cape this year alone. This plan aims to create nearly 20,000 new jobs through rapid interventions.

In the Western Cape, we believe the private sector, not the state, should drive economic growth and job creation. We must therefore continue our war on red tape by proposing new legislative and regulatory amendments — especially to the heritage legal framework.

This focus on private sector-led growth and job creation is also why we will do everything we can to finalise the more than 26 private sector investments still in the pipeline, which will create more than 3,000 jobs and pump more than R30bn into the economy. This includes investments in the property and construction sectors, logistics, health tech and investments at the Saldanha Bay industrial development zone and at the Atlantis special economic zone for green technology.

We will play our part and assist in the repair of our public transport system by establishing a single transport authority for the greater Cape Town region in the Western Cape

We will also work to grow exports by 5% through export development programmes, which will support market access research, certification needs, and by providing export training in priority commodity areas.

The Western Cape has supported our small businesses and informal sector, which has been hit the hardest, by launching an initial R27m relief fund, and we will continue with small business support programmes over the medium term, too.

In the longer term we have decided to invest heavily in infrastructure to achieve our jobs priority, but to do this we need the right vehicles to deliver projects. We will therefore be launching the technical process to form a dedicated infrastructure agency. Under the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), this is classed a 3D entity, and it will allow this agency to transact, hold assets or borrow money. We hope to conclude this process within the next year.

The Western Cape government has also taken a decision to explore — for the first time in the history of the province — the possibility of borrowing money from financial institutions to invest specifically in infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and job creation. We do not take this decision lightly and we will follow due diligence. Our financial track record and history of clean audits speaks for itself.

Energy is a constraint and if we are to achieve our moon shots, load-shedding must end. We will support municipalities in leveraging the recent directives from the national mineral resources and energy minister that they can now develop their own power generation projects and also secure power from independent power producers. 

This is an exciting development for our province, and we are well positioned to gain from it because of work we have been doing on the green economy. The Western Cape is already the province with the least load-shedding in the country and we will be the first province to beat it entirely. 

But none of these moon shots will bear fruit while our economy continues to be dragged down by our failing transport system. I was pleased to hear the president’s commitment to getting the central line working again — which is essential to all our priorities: jobs, dignity and the safety of our residents. I am also pleased that he proposes privatising our rail service on certain routes.

We will play our part and assist in the repair of our public transport system by establishing a single transport authority for the greater Cape Town region in the Western Cape and will proceed with engagements with our partners in other spheres of government to do this.

The repair of the central line will take time, and in the meantime the people of the Western Cape must have access to safe, affordable and dignified public transport. During the pandemic, the Western Cape developed a good working relationship with the taxi industry, which helped us provide a safe service to get our healthcare workers to and from work and transport people to and from our quarantine and isolation facilities, while supporting the industry during the lockdown.

We have now built on that and will be rolling out the first phase of the Blue Dot system. At its core, the Blue Dot taxi service will be a voluntary, rewards-based programme that leverages technology and incentives to shift behaviour and transform minibus taxi services.

In the first phase, we will provide a monthly financial incentive to taxi operators and drivers to improve their quality of service and safety. We will monitor this using technology and a five-star rating system. So, the better a participant performs, the more they are able to earn.

We intend to roll out the first phase in this financial year, using the provincial department of transport and public works’ own resources. We will launch, in partnership with umbrella body the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) and work with up to 1,000 operators and drivers on priority routes in this phase. 

We know our plans are ambitious but the situation we find ourselves in calls for difficult decisions and innovation. For me, having the courage to get the job done — as so many businesses in our province know well — requires being prepared to be bold. If it doesn’t work, we will learn from it, get up, and try something new.

But we will always be motivated by one unwavering principle: it is our job to create an enabling environment where every person — no matter the circumstances of their birth — can live a life of value. We intend to work tirelessly to get this done. We will have the courage to get the job done on the economy.

• Winde is Western Cape premier.

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