STATE OF THE PROVINCE
Eastern Cape premier announces plans to expunge criminal records of dagga farmers, plus R50m in debt relief
Delivering his State of the Province speech in a legislature without water, an upbeat Oscar Mabuyane announced a few major plans for the province, including expunging of criminal records of dagga farmers, a renewed plan to explore for shale gas, and a R50-million debt relief scheme for students.
Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane announced plans to expunge the criminal records of dagga farmers in the Eastern Cape, on Friday 24 February, saying that they “knew something about the plant long before the rest of us did”.
Mabuyane, who has been outspoken in his support of commercial hemp and cannabis farming as a way to boost the Eastern Cape’s economy, said the province has awarded 71 permits for growing hemp, the most in South Africa.
Other major announcements in his speech include:
- Plans to once again go ahead with shale gas exploration in the province, has been gazetted this week;
- The provincial government’s renewed approval for the building of a nuclear power plant at Thyspunt near St Francis Bay;
- A R50-million debt relief scheme for students;
- A command council to be set up to tackle gender-based violence in the province;
- An indication of his assured support and instruction to move quickly in setting up an electric car industry in the province.
Mabuyane again expressed his desire to make sure that the province becomes the automotive hub of South Africa. Crucially, this will depend on the sustained availability of electricity, as these industries are generally high-energy users.
He also announced his intention to make the province attractive to other pharmaceutical companies such as Aspen, which already operates in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Mabuyane said there must come a point when people will say: “Cars are done in the Eastern Cape full-stop.”
“It is a story of good progress,” said Mabuyane, who celebrated his birthday on Friday. After those present at the legislature sang happy birthday to him, he joked that all gifts were welcome, but promised to declare everything that he received.
Yet the State of the Province Address, which was attended by a number of foreign guests who are exploring the viability of the province as an investment destination, was held in a legislature that had no water. Speaker Helen Sauls-August pointed out that “special provision” had been made for some toilets in the building, but the rest would have to use mobile toilets in the parking lot.
“We are progressing to universal access water,” Mabuyane said in his speech, pointing out that 71% of residents now have access to clean drinking water. Rolling blackouts, however, are causing major interruptions in water supply.
Commenting on the upbeat speech, Bobby Stevenson, the Democratic Alliance’s Chief Whip in the Eastern Cape Legislature, said it appeared that Mabuyane was living in a different province to the rest of the Eastern Cape’s residents.
“Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s description of our province as a story of good progress is a delusional fairy tale that ignores the harsh realities confronting citizens daily,” he said.
Other major announcements made by Mabuyane during the speech include:
- A plan to expunge the criminal records of dagga farmers in the province;
- The province’s support and approval, and an instruction to move quickly to develop an electric car industry;
- The establishment of a command council in the province, to deal with gender-based violence and femicide;
- A plan to provide more work for township panel beaters and mechanics by giving them a part of government contracts;
- A bailout intervention to mitigate against shocks in the citrus industry, to prevent collapse.
Yet Stevenson had questions for the premier. “This is best summed up by the fact that there is no water in the legislature right now. We can’t turn on a tap or flush the toilets in the building that is the center of government in this province. How much worse is it for our communities?” Stevenson asked.
“The Eastern Cape that the people of this province want is one where roads are not crumbling, schools are not on the brink of collapse, and healthcare is accessible. They want basic services from their municipalities, and reliable electricity and water.”
“The people want to live in a province where they feel safe. The mass killings and rampant crime are not just a setback. It is a devastating indictment on the ruling government that has failed to maintain law and order and to protect its citizens.”
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Stevenson conceded that he welcomes the announcement of R50-million to help distressed students, and the establishment of a new forensic laboratory in Nelson Mandela Bay, as well as the commencement of construction of the Coerney balancing dam to improve water security for this metro. Other announcements that received approval by the DA included lifestyle audits for local government, and more police officers being recruited.
Mabuyane said the provincial economy was on the path to recovery, with the provincial GDP increasing year on year from the third quarter of 2021 to the third quarter of 2022.
“Still,” he added, “far too many are unemployed.” He expressed alarm at how many young people are unemployed, and also not spending their time getting an education or training.
Mabuyane made a special plea to traditional leaders to release vacant land to investors.
He added that there are further plans to boost the agricultural sector in the province, including a R139-million infrastructure development for small-scale farmers, and the establishment of another veterinarian school at Fort Hare.
“We made big mistakes with sanitation,” Mabuyane said, “but we must now move to address it.”
He praised the Class of 2022 for improving the provincial pass rate by 4%, to 77.4%. He said this was “not a fluke” but part of an intentional strategy.
Mabuyane said the Eastern Cape is making progress towards improved governance, and 14 government departments and entities have received clean audits.
He said 11 municipalities in the province are still classified as distressed, with four having been assessed as having a viability problem. DM/MC