South Africa


Public Works jobs programme report leaves important questions unanswered

Image: Guilherme Cunha/Unsplash

The South African Cities Network and the Department of Public Works have released their 2017/2018 report into the Expanded Public Works Programme. And while progress has been made, questions have been asked as to whether the programme is creating long-term employment, or is just a temporary sticking plaster.

South African cities are recognised as engines of economic growth, attracting many job seekers who end up poor and jobless. This is why the national government launched the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) — an initiative that creates job opportunities in cities for unemployed semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

The programme is in place to combat the triple scourges of poverty, vulnerability and unemployment. And despite enjoying some success, it has also faltered and faced criticism.

According to the report, Phase 3 of the programme has created 3.5 million jobs, more than half of the six million which was the target for the phase. That is, 59% in four years of the five-year phase.

The eight South African Cities Network (SACN) member cities — Johannesburg, eThekwini, City of Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, Msunduzi, Buffalo City, Mangaung, Ekurhuleni and Cape Town — implemented 1,303 EPWP projects in total during the 2017/18 financial year; a 7% increase on the previous financial year.

The number of EPWP projects implemented by the metros:

  • Buffalo City 56;
  • City of Cape Town 547;
  • City of Johannesburg 166;
  • City of Tshwane 95;
  • Ekurhuleni 51;
  • eThekwini 181;
  • Mangaung six;
  • Msunduzi 32; and
  • Nelson Mandela Bay 169

The City of Cape Town contributed 41% of the total number of projects implemented by the cities. The next-largest contributor was eThekwini, with a contribution of 13% to the total output of projects. The institutional challenges affecting Mangaung, as reflected above, are evidenced in the municipality’s low contribution of just six projects in the 2017/18 financial year.

Overall, the nine cities collectively implemented 65% of the total EPWP projects implemented by metropolitan and district municipalities countrywide during the 2017/18 financial year. This marks a 26% increase in the nine cities’ share contribution to total municipal EPWP projects from the 2016/17 financial year.

Percentage of projects created by the cities in their respective provinces:

  • Buffalo City 15%;
  • City of Cape Town 84%;
  • City of Johannesburg 51%;
  • City of Tshwane 29%;
  • Ekurhuleni 16%;
  • eThekwini 48%;
  • Mangaung 46%;
  • Msunduzi 8%; and
  • Nelson Mandela Bay 46%.

As seen above, the metros contributed a huge chunk of EPWP projects in comparison to other municipalities in their respective provinces.

For instance, the City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and the City of Tshwane were responsible for 96% of the total EPWP projects implemented by the five district and metropolitan municipalities in Gauteng Province. The City of Cape Town implemented 84% of the total number of projects vis-a-vis the six district and local municipalities in the Western Cape. Msunduzi and eThekwini contributed a combined total of 56% of the EPWP projects implemented by municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.

For 2017/19, the cities had set themselves a target of 163,158 work opportunities that they wished to create. They managed to achieve 82,912 of that target. Of the nine cities, six achieved less than 50% of their targets and three of those achieved less than 30%.

The City of Cape Town contributed the most to that total, achieving 25,389 of the target set of 34,306 work opportunities, followed by eThekwini with 20,050 of 23,960 it set, and the City of Johannesburg with 12,468 of its target of 26,789.

The report said that despite Cape Town creating the most work opportunities and implementing the most projects, this has not resulted in it reporting the most full-time equivalents. The reason, the report said, is that a significant number of the projects implemented by the City of Cape Town are short-term, construction-based projects, and the participants are cycled through these projects regularly.

Speaking at a gathering of the EPWP Reference Group consisting of the SACN member cities, Alice Mpahlele, director of EPWP co-ordination in Tshwane, posed this question to her colleagues:

If we hire someone for a week, can we actually say we’ve reduced unemployment?” Mphahlele also stressed that EPWP, as well as future programmes that may be similar to it, shouldn’t only be numbers-driven, that when evaluated, outcomes and impacts should be also be looked at, alongside outputs.

She was not far off the mark as the report noted that politicians tend to focus on the numbers instead of the impact. The report stressed that instead of counting how many EPWP beneficiaries there have been in a specific period, attention should fall on whether the beneficiaries leave the programme equipped with skills and relevant experience that will enhance their chances of future employment.

Training has been another Achilles heel of the programme, as cities do not include enough training opportunities in their projects.

The City of Cape Town reported 78% of the total number of training days implemented by the nine cities, most of which were through youth development programmes in the form of technical skills training in the social sector. One of these projects, the ICT Technical Skills Training Project, was purely a training programme. Other projects that included training were from cities such as eThekwini and Buffalo City — their environment and culture projects involved city beautification and waste management.

The report noted that projects are extremely difficult to integrate with training programmes as there is generally very little education required for cleaning or trenching activities. Furthermore, training is viewed as time-consuming by some of the implementing departments.

According to the report, the metros are not spending nearly enough of the total allocated budget for EPWP. For the financial year of 2017/18, they spent only R1.121-billion of the allocated R15.557-billion.

With regard to wages for participants, the average minimum wage is R88 a day. However, as this is the minimum that EPWP workers can be paid, cities vary in their wage rates. This difference in wages also exists within each city, from project to project.

eThekwini pays the highest minimum daily wage rate of all the nine cities, averaging a minimum of R200, followed by Nelson Mandela Bay at R180. The City of Cape Town had the lowest average of just under R150. The overall average minimum of the cities for 2017/18 was R160.

Ignatius Ariyo, chief director for EPWP Infrastructure Sector at the Department of Public Works, said “a national policy has to be developed to counter gaps in implementation, as well as to mainstream EPWP”.

Ariyo said the final draft of the policy would be ready for Cabinet approval in October 2019, after which the department would seek to sort out the legislation of the policy by the following financial year.

One of the key messages contained within the report was that public employment programmes, such as EPWP, have the potential to make a significant contribution to addressing unemployment in South Africa. However, the approaches must be cross-sectoral, collaborative and innovative.

Furthermore, the report notes that political office-bearers have an important task in championing the EPWP. However, their involvement is not always in the best interest of the administration of the EPWP. The EPWP is prone to political manipulation and can be used as a form of “rent-seeking” by politicians.

Acting chief director of EPWP Sustainable Livelihoods, Convergence and Compliance, Lindiwe Nkuna, told the forum that at times “unrealistic expectations are sometimes put on the programme — for example, permanent employment”.

The report reflected this, stating that programmes such as the EPWP must not just be viewed as temporary employment programmes. However, they should be designed in such a way as to provide transferrable skills and relevant experience geared to industries that have job opportunities.

The report also made the following key recommendations:

  • Training opportunities should be provided to EPWP beneficiaries to ensure that they are better equipped to find more permanent jobs once they exit the programme;
  • The importance of the “right” officials — those in positions of authority in cities — are fundamental to the success of the programme within a municipality. The developmental orientation of officials appointed to lead on EPWP is important. These officials should lean towards wanting to contribute to solving the socio-economic situations that many communities find themselves in;
  • EPWP in a city needs to be first conceptualised as to whether it is part of economic or social policy, or both, and this then determines the future design, which allows for better outcomes and impacts;
  • Community participation must be improved in the design of public employment programmes to create better value, ownership and therefore greater impact of the programme in the long term; and
  • It is imperative that communities are enabled to think differently about how they can contribute to change and solve problems. For example, if people are hungry, to have them think: “Can we grow food that will mitigate this problem?”

Ariyo said there was approval for the start of phase 4, and they want an improvement over the next five years, with the help of the soon-to-be-implemented national policy. DM


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