In discussing the Gauteng and Western Cape provinces’ efforts to recover their economies after experiencing massive job losses in the last few months, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and Gauteng policy research head Duduzi Mbada have said provincial governments need more power.
The two provinces have been hardest hit by Covid-19 infections and deaths, and the economic problems in its aftermath.
The Western Cape lost 321 000 jobs in the last few months, while Gauteng recorded 600 000 job losses.
Winde estimates that about 25 000 small and medium-sized enterprises in the Western Cape will not reopen after the lockdown, with the majority of hardship being concentrated in the province’s tourism sector.
He explained during a webinar on October 2 how the province had learned a lot during the crisis and was approaching various aspects of governance differently.
For example, Cabinet meetings have been decentralised and now include district mayors and regional managers, while government has also learned that it is possible to achieve complex tasks with the right partnerships.
Winde said he would have never thought under normal circumstances that the province would be delivering medicine to 700 000 peoples’ homes and be able to build and equip hospitals at such a rapid rate.
He also pointed out that the Western Cape government managed to build a partnership with the taxi industry to get tens of thousands of nursing staff to their workplaces.
What the province is focusing on now is salvaging and creating jobs, first and foremost, followed by ensuring food security and the safety of people.
Winde said the Western Cape provincial government had been focused on impactful spending, bringing infrastructure projects forward and stimulating and enabling businesses to recover and prosper.
Commenting on the recovery of the tourism sector, since it formed such a major part of the province's economy, Winde expressed concern about the list of countries that were not allowed to resume leisure travel to South Africa at the moment, since the list included major tourism markets.
He believes it should be carefully considered whether leisure travellers, who stimulate businesses in their travel destinations, should be allowed to travel to South Africa, as is the case with business travellers.
Winde added that a traveller from another country that followed strict Covid-19 testing protocols was a safer bet than a local traveller crossing provincial borders without being checked or tested.
However, the Premier said it remained undecided whether the struggling global tourism industrys with its “new normal” travellers, would bring about opportunity for South Africa to stand out as a safe destination.
“We need to make booking easy and simple, continue to show good management of Covid-19 infections, maintain our hospitals and promote our wide open spaces and good weather for this time of the year, to attract new travellers,” Winde stated.
Moreover, he believed the energy and rail infrastructure across the country should be decentralised for a quicker and more sustainable economic recovery and growth going forward.
“Municipalities and provinces alike should be able to offer competitive rates to attract investors to specific regions. We have to enable our regions and local government to effect their own business confidence.
“A regional rail model is essential. Metropolitans ought to be allowed to create a transport entity and take over the management and running of trains, since transport networks, and rail in particular, are the backbone of the economy.”
Winde asserted that the single-biggest solution to unlocking provincial growth would be for provinces to be given more federal powers to make decisions on behalf of the people they represent in their provinces.
Mbada, speaking on behalf of Gauteng Premier David Makhura during the webinar hosted by political foundation Konrad-Adenhauer-Stiftung and African development think tank The Brenthurst Foundation, motivated that provinces needed to be allowed to raise their own revenue and have extended powers to create their own incentives for investors.
He stated that Covid-19 had demanded that institutional decisions were taken rapidly to respond to challenges, "but we need to strengthen those structures and effect change to mechanisms for normal day-to-day operations as well".
Mbada noted that the province had learned, throughout the pandemic, the necessity and benefits of working hand-in-hand with the private sector and labour.
“We are in the process of consolidating a recovery at district level; we have coordinated with municipalities to strengthen our industrial development agenda and we have brought on board special economic zones too,” he explained.
Mbada added that the Gauteng provincial government was looking at a revamped Public-Private Growth Initiative programme to get young people into the job market and to realise projects for revitalised cities, such as the R11-billion Vaal River City development, together with the private sector.
With the financial services sector having its home in Gauteng, government has engaged with banks to see how best young entrepreneurs can be helped in the informal economy, while officials across the province gather regularly to discuss the province from the perspective of social security and economic workstreams.
To this end, the Gauteng provincial government is focused on township economies and enabling a boost to productive capacity there, including by finalising the Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill, which seeks to reserve certain economic activities in townships for citizens.
The Gauteng provincial government is also continuously looking for ways in which to strengthen the way it works with national government on public transport.
Mbada said the province continued to invest in the capacity to take over transport and run it as a province, while using Gauteng’s experience in managing the Gautrain, and working with the taxi industry and municipalities to build bus-rapid transit systems.
“We want to be seen as 'urban regions' because of our contribution to the economy. Provinces are increasingly integrating municipalities in provincial planning. We have to change the narrative about the importance of development and governance at provincial level and enable them to make a bigger contribution to the country,” Mbada said.