Those posts represent just over half the 556,890 work opportunities now targeted with an allocation of R10,95-billion from the national coffers to 15 departments. Phase one of the stimulus programme that started in mid-October 2020 spent R12.6-billion through 11 departments to create 551,882 such employment opportunities.
In phase one, the Basic Education Employment Initiative emerged as the flagship with a total of 320,000 young people, or 20,000 more than planned, placed as classroom assistants in 22,000 schools in every corner of South Africa.
At a minimum wage of just over R3,500 a month, this programme was supported not only by the schools and teacher unions, but also “non-state actors” providing training support, and has had a meaningful impact, according to Presidency Project Office boss Rudi Dicks.
Another phase one project that continues is the Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development input voucher support to subsistence farmers, 53,285 of whom benefited in phase one.
“The reality is that outcomes exceeded expectations. It is far quicker for a farmer in a far-removed area to apply and get the voucher (by USSD technology that works on non-smartphones) than to get into a taxi to town and queue,” explained Presidential Employment Stimulus programme lead Kate Philip.
This process also helped government to collect geo-spatial data of some 133,000 subsistence farmers which, according to Philip, provided an important platform to target future measures.
Coincidentally, such data collection has been a feature of most, if not all, of government’s Covid-19 relief and support packages. For example, small business and tourism support required registration on a national database.
Both the Basic Education Employment Initiative and the input voucher support continue into the second phase allocations of R6-billion and R750-million respectively.
The second-largest phase two allocation — R800-million — is for the Social Employment Fund, a new initiative by Trade, Industry and Competition to create 50,000 job opportunities.
Through this fund, the Independent Development Corporation (IDC), would “support non-state actors” in various projects that could, for example, include community safety, food security, arts and sports initiatives and informal settlement upgrading.
Coincidentally, Thursday’s repeat references to “non-state actors” are curious. It signals a shift from the traditional and widespread use of “private sector”, “civil society” or even “stakeholders” and “social compact” in describing society, and collaborative efforts.
‘Non-state actors’ is a term referring to anyone who falls outside the definition of ‘the state’ — from paramilitary groups and armed rebels in national conflicts, companies and corporations, including multinationals, private financial institutions, media, civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Under the motto of continuity and change, not quite up and running yet, but in the adjudication stage, are various projects proposed by South Africa’s eight metros. These range from supporting homeless people into work, food security through urban agriculture, precinct management and the digitisation of public city records in public-private partnerships.
“Watch this space, interesting things will be happening in the cities,” said Philip.
Continuing are environmental projects like removing alien invasive species and early childhood development support. Straddling the continuity/change paradigm is the revitalisation of the 2004 National Youth Service with a R400-million allocation.
Like the Social Employment Fund, also new is the R200-million Broadband Fund run by the Communications Department to connect 50,000 households in the most efficient way.
In Thursday’s briefing, Dicks was frank in his acknowledgement that the programme in phase one — despite having created 551,882 job opportunities — had actually fallen short of the target of 694,120. Lessons have been learnt.
While the Presidential Employment Stimulus on Thursday was described as “the most rapid expansion of public employment in South Africa’s history, and has been implemented with unprecedented speed and scale”, it was also categorically stated that jobs actually are created by the private sector.
Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele’s statement “employment recovery must ultimately be driven by growth in the private sector” signals a shift. It’s an unusual public acknowledgement by the ANC government that highlights public employment programmes alongside social grants as key successes.
Or as Gungubele put it, “It is important for us to note that employment recovery must ultimately be driven by growth in the private sector… In the short term, however, public employment can provide meaningful work and a stable income, while keeping people connected to the labour market and giving them skills to enhance their employability later on.”
Throughout Thursday’s briefing, ‘meaningful’ was a much-used word — “meaningful opportunities” for individuals, “meaningful impact” to benefit communities, “meaningful collaboration” and making a “meaningful difference”.
Perhaps the language has been fine-tuned in the wake of seemingly countless corruption scandals — not only over Covid-19 personal protective equipment or communications, but also most recently the Eastern Cape’s Enoch Mgijima municipality’s R15-million “stadium” with stubbly grass pitch, non-working toilets and lack of electricity that is now subject to a Hawks investigation.
With R12.6-billion spent on the Presidential Employment Stimulus, and another just short of R11-billion allocated — the 4 November Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) is set to officially make those allocations — Gungubele pressed home the point of good accounting.
“So much money has been spent; so far we have not had a whiff of corruption. It’s what delights the president (Cyril Ramaphosa) when I spoke to him.” DM