by Portia Lebakeng

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Bloemfontein: The Free State government has targeted education, skills development and youth opportunities as their focus areas this year.

Part of the plan will see the provincial government opening ten new schools in this financial year, Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela announced on Tuesday.

The province will also be focusing on infrastructure maintenance and eradicating pit toilets in schools in the province.

Delivering her State of the Province Address at University of Free State; Vista, Ntombela said the province has 156 schools with pit latrines.

Fifty-one of these schools are in Thabo Mofutsanyana followed by Fezile Dabi with 43 schools. The number of schools in Mangaung with pit latrines is 20, while Lejweleputswa has 39 schools and Xhariep has three.

Ntombela went on to highlight the need to invest in young people and ensuring that they participate meaningfully in the country’s economy by implementing the Framework for Skills for a Changing World.

The framework is meant to prepare children to respond to emerging technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

“We will extend our current programme of using technology to teach our learners to more schools to better prepare them for the 4th Industrial Revolution,” said the Premier, acknowledging that quality education furthers social and economic development.

The province’s efforts of rolling out a reading and writing initiative saw the opening of a new state-of-the-art Sechaba Mahobe Library in Botshabelo, which boasts a reading area, computer room, games room and a toys library for children.

This year, Ntombela committed to equipping 24 Mzansi Libraries Online with computers, tablets and Wi-Fi to assist unemployed youth to find job opportunities.

Opportunities for youth

With regards to opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the province has been opening doors of learning by giving away bursaries for higher education to 9 976, young people between 2009 and 2018.

Of them 2 723 have completed their studies and are yet to find employment.

The province also has 921 students currently studying in countries such as China, Germany, India, Cuba, Portugal, Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia and Turkey.

“Many of these young people are studying medicine, engineering, agriculture and other fields of study that are crucial for the development of the Free State,” said Ntombela.

Skills programme in welding, building, construction and mixed farming for 1 500 youth have started. Ten enterprises have been trained in Sao Paulo in Brazil in automotive vehicle maintenance and metal mechanics.

Early Childhood development

With regards to Early Childhood development, the provincial government reported that they have 103 533 children in centres.

In an attempt to empower and address the many challenges facing youth, 277 000   youth participated in various youth camps and similarly supported 335 youth structures.

Substance abuse centre

Ntombela said her government will open a Substance Abuse Treatment Centre in Botshabelo this year.

“This will be a state-run facility to provide treatment and rehabilitation to those who abuse and are dependent on substances. We are committed to rid our streets of all kinds of drugs.

“We are convinced that taverns that operate close to our schools and churches contribute to societal ills amongst young people.”

As such, Ntombela said they will work closely with municipalities and law enforcement agencies to ensure that no taverns will be allowed to operate near schools and churches.

The province will also taking care of the elderly through the Thekolohelong, Boiketlong and Botshabelo Old Age homes that house 152 older persons.

In addition to this, the province is funding 179 Community-Based Care Centres with 5 856 older persons.

Hospitals, clinics

The province also boosts of 32 hospitals and 223 clinics as well as 884 doctors and 6 657 nurses manage these health facilities.

For this year, Ntombela said they are going to build a Trauma Centre in Villiers to take care of N3 road accident casualties.

“We will also improve the provision of our Emergency Medical Services. This will include the appointment of more staff and distribution of ambulances to towns where they are not available.”

The province only had 86 ambulances and has now procured an additional 60 which will be distributed to Mangaung, Xhariep, Fezile Dabi, Lejweleputswa and Thabo Mofutsanyana. –

Free State’s plan to drive up investment

The Government of the Free State will develop an Investment Book as a means of contributing to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment drive.

This book will provide an analysis of the Free State economy and detail investment opportunities. It will also include information on doing business in the province.

“To augment this, we will establish the Premier’s Economic Advisory Council to help boost economic growth and development.

“Working closely with the President’s investment team, the council will be made up of experts and qualified individuals, whose names will be announced soon,” Premier Sisi Ntombela announced on Monday.

Ntombela said the province will place special emphasis on the Expanded Public Works Programme, which created 18 897 jobs in the province in the 2018/19 financial year.

“In the financial year 2019/20, we will create 52 000 job opportunities. Of these, 28 600 will benefit women. Another 28 600 will benefit the youth and one 1 040 will benefit people living with a disability,” Ntombela said.

In the 2019/20 financial year, the provincial government will undertake construction and maintenance of critical roads projects, which will be implemented in various towns.

In addition to this, the province will develop six new roads, which are expected to create 5 000 jobs.

“Not only will these projects contribute to skills development, [they will] also improve road infrastructure and access to basic services. It is expected that more than 5 600 jobs will be created through these projects,” Ntombela said.

Property and industrial parks

The Free State Development Corporation concluded 18 new commercial and industrial lease contracts that are below R10 million with various tenants, creating 900 jobs.

Forty-eight percent of blacks and 52% of whites are benefiting from the province’s commercial property portfolio.

On average, this means that over R9 million is paid to black landlords in rentals on a monthly basis.

The second phase of the revitalisation of the Botshabelo and QwaQwa Industrial Parks has been approved and will start in March, while the application for Phuthaditjhaba second phase and Thaba Nchu first phase have been submitted to the Department of Trade and Industry.

Ntombela said the biggest employer at Phuthaditjhaba Industrial Park is SA Clothing, which employs 1 300 people, and 90% of these are women.

Overall, 8 744 jobs have been created at Phuthaditjhaba Industrial Park as part of the revitalisation process.

With 144 factories, the Botshabelo Industrial Park employs 8 725 full-time and 800 part-time workers.

When operational, Ntombela said these industrial parks will serve as economic hubs producing different products such as textile, plastic, electrical goods and food products.

“The revitalisation program has created a sense of security and this has led to about a 5% increase in the number of tenants. Employment has also increased, with an extra 350 and 560 jobs created in Botshabelo and Phuthaditjhaba Industrial Parks, respectively.”

Mining

Ntombela said the province supports President Cyril Ramaphosa’s message that mining in South Africa is a sunrise industry.

As a result, programmes to support small-scale miners to take part in this sector will be initiated this year.

This will entail the development of an integrated plan for the revitalisation of depressed mining towns.

Agriculture

Ntombela said the province will focus on the agricultural sector as it is not only important for food security, rural development, and it has a significant potential for high labour absorption. She said this necessitates the expansion and diversification of the agricultural sector in the province.

With this in mind, she announced that the provincial government will implement an Agricultural Master Plan, which identifies many commodities meant to stimulate the desired economic growth.

In addition to this, the province will establish a goat farming project that will provide training for young entrepreneurs in this field.

An export market has already been identified.

Last year, the local government committed to commercialising black farmers, with a target of nearly 250 black commercial farmers by the end of 2021/22.

Ntombela said the seriousness with which the province considers the creation of black commercial farmers is evident in the establishment of the AgriBEE Charter Council to support commercial agribusiness and transform this sector in the province.

With regards to the controversial the Vrede Integrated Dairy Project, Ntombela reported that its operations have now been vested with the provincial government.

She committed to working closely with all role players to ensure that farming operations on this farm become sustainable and that the community of Vrede fully take part in this project.

Governance Transformation

Premier said governance objectives are about building a capable and developmental state in accordance with the goals of the National Development Plan. This means building a public service that is capable, stable, effective, integrated, accountable and responsive to the needs of our people.

She said that she will never pretend that some of municipalities in the Free State are not experiencing challenges that hamper the provision of services to the multitudes of our people.

The high number of complaints and protests in 2018/19 bear testimony to these challenges. Some of these protests were violent as witnessed in QwaQwa, Ladybrand, Koffiefontein, Welkom, Heilbron and other towns. The analysis revealed that these were mainly due to the failure to communicate with our communities.

“We respect the right of our community to protest but we want to condemn criminal elements who hijack genuine community grievances of our people, and instigate and commit serious acts of violence. All municipalities will establish complaints management committees. These, together with the use of the web-based complaints and compliments management system, will strengthen our capacity to effectively respond and resolve community concerns.” said Premier.

As per the outcomes of the Local Government Lekgotla held in November 2018,  she said that this year they will  develop an Implementation Plan of all resolutions. Envisioned interventions will include improving planning, coordination and support within and between the three spheres of government, and professionalising local government.

Municipalities are receiving assistance to comply with the municipal performance management system. Minimum competency requirements on filling of senior management positions in compliance with the necessary legislations will strictly be effected.

Despite earlier improvements in 2016/17, audit outcomes of municipalities have regressed in 2017/18. To deal with these, Provincial Treasury will assist municipalities that received poor audit outcomes. Free State Provincial Government will provide support on budgets, supply chain management, internal audit and risk management.

” We are now assisting twelve of the twenty-two municipalities that have cash flow and reporting challenges.  We were hoping that our intervention in Mafube and Masilonyana would have led to the desired outcomes and the Constitutional intervention uplifted. However, there are still persistent challenges, which need our technical support,”

” We are concerned about the instability in Maluti-a-Phofung. We are hopeful that the current political impasse will be resolved. We are also concerned about sustainable provision of water and electricity in this area. We are working with the team that Minister Mkhize has put together to resolve these challenges.” explained the Premier.

The Premier said that corruption affects service delivery. As a result the Provincial Government has established Risk Management and Internal Audit committees in government departments and entities to identify weaknesses and minimise risks.

Some of this initiatives include the implementation of Fraud Prevention and Detection Plans. Starting in 2014/15, twenty-two officials were trained as Certified Fraud Examiners. Another twelve officials will this year be trained.

“I want to urge all the political parties to work together with us. We all believe in service to our people. We all cherish our democracy. We believe in a better future for our people. Without belief in these values, there will be no purpose for this House to exist.” said Premier Sisi Ntombela.

” What we need is unity of purpose and belief in a better future that lies ahead of us. My doors are open to all political parties for us to work together to build our democracy.as I conclude, none of these achievements would have been possible without the determination, courage, dedication and hard work of many individuals, organisations and importantly, the people of the Free State.” concluded Premier Ntombela.