Premier upbeat over Gauteng’s future

A view of the Johannesburg city centre skyline at sunset from the rooftop of the Oribi Hotel in Troyeville.
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The Gauteng provincial government wants to position the province as a freight and logistics hub through the establishment of an aerotropolis. It will consist of aviation-intensive businesses and related enterprises around OR Tambo International Airport.
(Image: rwrant.co.za)

Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane was the speaker at the latest New Age Business Briefing on Wednesday 4 October.
(Image: thenewage.mobi)

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Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane was the speaker at the latest New Age Business Briefing on Wednesday 4 October, where she spoke about her plans to strengthen the province’s position as the economic hub of South Africa and the gateway to Africa. She also spoke of her government’s achievements.

The business briefing events are hosted regularly by the New Age daily newspaper in partnership with the public broadcaster SABC, to enable dialogue between the country’s citizens and leaders in politics, business and sport.

During the briefing, which was broadcast live on SABC’s breakfast programme, Morning Live, the premier didn’t shy away from answering questions about the province, ranging from healthcare and investment, to education and job creation.

The questions were submitted by viewers, via the social media network Twitter, as well those attending the briefing at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

‘Everything starts here’

Gauteng might be the smallest province by size – at 18,178km2 in area – but it is a major contributor to the economic prosperity of both the country and the continent. The province’s R811-billion (US$94.6-billion) GDP makes up 33.9% of the country’s equivalent, and is responsible for 10% of Africa’s market value.

The premier, who came into office in 2009, said heading up such a diverse province is no small feat.

About 11.2-million – the highest population in one province – of South Africa’s 50-million citizens live in Gauteng, with 60% of the country’s research and development spend allocated to the province.

“Everything starts here,” Mokonyane said in her opening address.

“One of the major challenges is to satisfy all the needs and expectations that people have,” she said.

A major achievement for her office, said Mokonyane, was the financial turnaround strategy that Gauteng put in place in 2009 to deal with poor financial and contract management.

The province was on the verge of bankruptcy, but through interventions like rearranging supply chains, terminating contracts and redirecting resources to important sectors such as health and education, Gauteng has started to make money again.

Freight and logistics hub

Mokonyane said that her team is working to position Gauteng as a freight and logistics hub through the establishment of an aerotropolis. The Ekurhuleni Metro Municipality, the home of the OR Tambo International Airport –Africa’s busiest airport – has been earmarked for this development.

In her state of the province speech earlier this year, Mokonyane announced that the aerotropolis project seeks to grow the Gauteng economy by improving the business environment linked to airports in the province. It will also consist of aviation-intensive businesses and related enterprises around OR Tambo.

In addition to developing existing aviation-linked business, the provincial government also aims to attract businesses from the manufacturing, distribution, hospitality, entertainment, retail, trade and exhibition sectors.

The aim of this development is to create a commercial facility around the airport, where travellers can conduct business, eat, sleep, shop and be entertained all within a 20km radius of the node.

Solutions to healthcare

Mokonyane also provided honest answers to questions about the provision of health services in the province.

“Gauteng has had a bad reputation for its health sector, but our primary health services have contributed to a reduction of HIV statistics,” she said.

She added that although Gauteng’s central hospitals are experiencing challenges, healthcare in the province has shown some improvement, and that more work is underway to upgrade service provision in these facilities.

The contentious issue of labour broking also came under the spotlight.

“I don’t believe we can’t build our own capacity to deal with certain services,” she said. “Why must we outsource?”

Mokonyane explained that this is one of the reasons for government’s move to reopen nursing colleges in the country.

She pledged to address the issue of customer service in public health facilities, such as reducing the length of queues for patients, improving cleanliness of hospitals and promoting better relationships between hospital staff and patients.

“This is a non-negotiable,” she said.

Creating jobs

Gauteng already hosts more than 40% of the country’s small medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), and the premier welcomed further innovative suggestions to create more jobs, such as promoting entrepreneurship through fashion and design.

“We are a young province and we are worried about youth unemployment,” she said.

In her state of the province speech Mokonyane said figures of the 2011 Fourth Quarter Labour Force Survey indicate that job creation in the province was increasing.

Gauteng had a 4.1% increase in employment, which translates to the creation of about 132 000 new jobs.

One of the ideas was for government and clothing retailers to work with fashion designers to create designated spaces in all stores for merchandise that is designed and manufactured locally. This would not only promote the local design industry, but also provide a much needed boost for the textile industry.

“We are reviving the fashion industry in downtown Johannesburg and creating a market for local fashion designers,” said Mokonyane.

Gauteng is also in the process of streamlining funding options for entrepreneurs, particularly to ensure that SMMEs are sustainable in the long term.