Premier of the Free State Sisi Ntombela has promised that her administration would be a driving force for “radical economic transformation”, by working on transferring means of production to the youth, more specifically black youth and black women.
Delivering a passionate State of the Province Address (SOPA), Ntombela said: “We want what is best for our youth. Focusing on our youth, economic growth and employment creation will in this coming financial year be our main priority. Radical economic transformation is our path to success to unleash our potential.”
In the fourth quarter of 2019, the province recorded an unemployment rate of 35% – the second highest in the country, behind the Eastern Cape.
In her 2020 speech, building on the theme of youth empowerment that she had broached in her 2019 SOPA, Ntombela presented practical ways in which her administration would fight the scourge of youth unemployment in the province.
“Of the many problems that affect the youth, unemployment is the most depressing. More youth are entering the labour market, but few are getting jobs. We will therefore, intensify our economic development activities for their benefit,” Ntombela promised.
Ntombela said they had allocated R33-million to assist 100 township youth businesses and all districts would benefit.
She also was at pains to stress that youth in rural areas would not be forgotten.
“We have offered R1-million to the National Youth Development Agency to increase financial and non-financial support to the youth. We are pleased that the agency is opening offices in some of our rural areas such as QwaQwa,” said the premier.
Attempting to kill two birds with one stone, the province’s leader said they would reinvigorate a number of key roads in the province; including the N8 Airport Road near Bloemfontein and Welkom Road in Bultfontein.
Importantly, the premier said local contractors, the youth and women must benefit from this repair of infrastructure, stipulating that it will be compulsory to give 30% of the workload to small local contractors.
Due to the high rates of unemployment, as well as poor service delivery, there have been protests in the province in 2020, with the most recent happening in mid-February 2020.
At the time, the residents of the township of Botshabelo were demanding the eradication of the bucket system in the area, while also calling for factories to be opened in order to create job opportunities.
The premier stated that her administration would move to resolve the issue of informal ablution systems, although she did not put a timeframe on when a solution would be implemented.
She also commented on the need to create job opportunities in the townships. “There is progress in Phuthaditjhaba Industrial Park. The final phase of the Botshabelo Industrial Park will be completed by the end of this year,” she stated.
Mangaung, which is a metro in the Free State, became the first metro to be placed under administration due to financial challenges as a result of maladministration and corruption. This has seen it being downgraded twice by Moody’s Rating Agency.
The premier commented that this was not “what our people deserve”, but did not elaborate on whether people would be held accountable for actions that had led the metro to be placed under administration.
Democratic Alliance leader in the province’s legislature, Roy Jankielsohn was critical of the premier’s choice to not bring pressing issues that plague the province to the fore.
“Municipalities are disintegrating and are unable to deliver basic services like water; you’ve got communities living on five litres of water a day,” Jankielsohn told Daily Maverick.
“Politicians fail residents over and over again, and they are not held responsible. If she is serious about her stance on corruption, then we need people to go to jail. And not just officials, but actual politicians,” he added.
Ntombela also touched on issues relating to the future leaders of the province, seeing that they had achieved the highest matric pass rate in the country for 2019, at 88.4%, followed by Gauteng with 87.2% and the North West with 86.8%.
The premier lamented the slow process of building of schools in the province, saying that a number of contractors had been handed tenders to build, or fix school infrastructure, but had so far failed to complete the jobs.
In an attempt to show the progress the province has made in building new schools, Ntombela announced that three schools – Grassland Primary School in Bloemfontein, Mooifontein Primary School in Zastron and Silindokuhle Primary School in Warden would be opening in this financial year.
These were the same three schools mentioned by Ntombela in her 2019 SOPA as being complete and ready to operate.
The premier said her province was trying to keep up with the technological advancements of the rest of the world and had established a provincial robotics league in 2019 in some schools.
This technological progression in some schools was in stark contrast with realities that face schools in certain parts of the province, with Ntombela stating that the province still had 156 schools with pit toilets.
She stated that they were looking to provide acceptable and healthy forms of sanitation in all schools, and have committed R10-million to eradicate all pit toilets in schools by the next financial year.
She also promised that her administration would build and repair a number of footbridges as many learners still have to cross rivers to get to school every day. DM
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