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Gauteng SOPA: A new dawn or more of the same?

Bonile Khanyi and Thuletho Zwane

“Overcrowding, overcrowding, overcrowding,” this is what Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi said when asked about the biggest challenge facing township schools in Gauteng.

Lesufi spoke to Inside Education after Premier David Makhura gave the State of the Province Address on Monday. He said the migration of families to Gauteng, which they [the families] considered more economically viable, has created a situation where there are more learners than schools or teachers.

In his speech, Makhura said Gauteng ran the second largest public education system after KwaZulu-Natal.  He added that enrolment had grown from 1.3 million in 1994 to 2.3 million in 2018 emphasising that the Gauteng Provincial government has achieved 95% universal access to Grade R.

This was Makhura’s fifth State of the Province Address which he gave at the Gauteng Provincial Legislature.

With regards to higher education, Makhura said the Gauteng government spent R1-billion on bursaries over the past five years which have benefitted more than 20 000 graduates.

“We will continue to invest more resources in the training and development of young people in Gauteng,” said Makhura.

He also welcomed the introduction of free higher education for students from working class and poor family backgrounds.

“This is truly the dawn of a new era for many parents and young people who have been denied access to higher education simply on the basis of the circumstances of their birth,” said Makhura.

This was in reference to the announcement made by former Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, whose department allocated R324-billion expenditure for higher education over the next three years, including an additional R57-billion to cover fee-free higher education. Gigaba has now been replaced by Nhlanhla Nene who previously led the finance ministry but was fired by former president Jacob Zuma.

Even with all this progress, however, the province still faces severe challenges.

Youth unemployment remains the most acute and primary problem of Gauteng province. Makhura said there are close to 2-million young people who are neither in employment, in education nor in training (NEET).

“Some of them are on the verge of losing hope, while others have drifted into crime and other social ills such as drug and substance abuse,” said Makhura.

To counter NEET and the potential social ills youth stuck here may encounter, the province has come up with a few programmes: The Ke Moja campaign, Tshepo 1-million, Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator and the eKasiLabs Innovation Centres.

Makhura said the Ke Moja campaign had reached over 1-million people now encouraged to live clean, drug-free lives. He said nearly 460,000 young people have benefited from Tshepo 500,000, which has now been upgraded and rebooted into Tshepo 1-million which will open opportunities for young people based on, “demand-led skills development, job placement and entrepreneurship.

Township economies

With regard to the revitalisation and mainstreaming of the township economy, Makhura said the Gauteng government had increased its spending on the township economy from R600,000 to R17 billion between 2014 and 2017.

He also said the number of township enterprises doing business with the Gauteng government increased from 642 in 2014 to 4182 in 2017.

“Our work, as the champion of the township economy, has given rise to a serious wave of entrepreneurial activity in the townships, especially among the youth,” said Makhura.

“Accordingly, the 2017 Ventureburn Tech Start-up Survey shows that 44% of tech start-ups list Gauteng as their home, as compared to only 26% in 2015. The survey also indicates that 53% of start-ups owned by Black young entrepreneurs are Gauteng-based while most of the Western Cape start-ups are owned by older white entrepreneurs.”

Makhura also announced the township stock exchange and its progress. “We have completed a feasibility study on the establishment of a provincial state bank which will enable us to mobilise the funding of SMMEs, township enterprise, women and youth businesses as well as infrastructure development,” he said.

He spoke of critical barriers facing township businesses. Makhura said the mushrooming of unregulated businesses owned by foreign nationals. He said he will send inspectors to visit townships and inner-cities to conduct inspections and shutdowns of illegal businesses.

“This is a matter we must address boldly and decisively to enforce by-laws and trading. Many township entrepreneurs are being squeezed out of businesses by unlawfully operating a foreign-owned business,” he said.

In 2012, the ANC made similar pronouncements. Ahead of the ANC’s Mangaung conference, the party proposed that non-South Africans should not run spaza shops without adhering to certain rules that would not apply to locals in a party discussion document called for a “strengthening and proper enforcement of municipal bylaws”. ANC economic policy head Enoch Godongwana said that, although the proposal was shelved, it was again being raised by party structures, and was “going to be a major issue at the national general council next year”. At the time, refugee rights group Passop (People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty) described the “anti-immigration” proposals as “unconstitutional” and “foolish”. Passop’s Braam Hanekom said he was shocked that the ANC had indicated it would support the document.

“The spaza shop owners feed these communities; their prices are the cheapest,” said Hanekom. He added that “the ANC seems to be more concerned about the businessmen and elites in the townships and not the poor families who depend on the foreign-owned spaza shops for cheaper loaves of bread and cups of rice”.

The African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand has done extensive research on the treatment of foreign shop owners. Attacks on foreign entrepreneurs are almost always triggered either by business cartels or business owners who want to get rid of the competition or by local leaders who want the goods in those shops to be distributed to their supporters, said the centre’s director, Loren Landau. 

Elephants in the room: Life Esidimeni and E-tolls

Makhura said the death of 144 Life Esidimeni mental health patients is a tragedy that has left deep wounds and pain in the collective memory of our democratic nation. It is something that should have never happened and should never happen again. “The tragedy has exposed deep institutional problems within our public health system and public service in general. It cannot be business as usual,” he said.

He conceded the controversial e-tolls system has failed.

“It is loud and clear for all to see that e-tolls have not worked. I will engage President [Cyril] Ramaphosa in order to find a new and more equitable funding model to support the continued expansion of Gauteng’s road networks.”

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