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Premier Stan Mathabatha addresses the Legislature on Friday. Photo: Nelie Erasmus

Sopa ’17 updates Limpopo on challenges, achievements

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Drumbeats, traditional dancing and stretches of red carpet welcomed guests to the State of the Province address (Sopa) 2017 at Jack Botes hall on Friday. Premier Stan Mathabatha’s slot on the programme that afforded him the opportunity to inform his people of achievements and challenges of the past year coincided with the opening of the fifth Limpopo Legislature.
Around the time that the programme was scheduled to start a rain shower threatened to put a damper on proceedings, but it was short-lived and soon the drums, feathers and animal skin came out. Guests were treated to a cross-cultural blend of musical undertones and dance steps from Limpopo soil in addition to the customary pomp that usually characterises the occasion.
All eyes were fixed on Mathabatha, who opted to start the official part of his speech with a reference to the persisting and deep-seated triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality that required focused attention to the education and training of Limpopo’s children. “We have entered the era of knowledge economy, and therefore education must form the basis of our second phase of transition.”
He continued saying that the challenges they continued to encounter in the Department of Education, however had a propensity to undermine their efforts in this regard and notwithstanding some of those challenges the turn-around-strategy put in place has begun to make the necessary impact.
Education turn-around strategy
“As a measure of implementing this turn-around strategy, the past three years saw us investing heavily in this sector to achieve universal access to basic education, including Early Childhood Development (ECD).
“We have significantly expanded the provisioning of Grade R in public primary schools. To date, about 2 339 public primary schools offer Grade R. This translates to over 123 356 children enjoying access to Early Childhood Development education. This is, indeed, a milestone achievement given where we come from.
“We are also intensifying and broadening our teacher development programmes with the view to achieve positive outcomes.
“Between 2012/13 and 2015/16 financial years, we trained over 1 400 teachers through the Continuous Professional Development Centre (CPDC). In the next financial year, we will train a further 80 curriculum advisors and 300 teachers in Science and Commerce. In the same vein we will train 3 600 teachers in content and methodology in Mathematics and languages.”
Mathabatha pointed out the importance of school infrastructure being equally critical for the creation of a conducive learning and teaching environment. In this vein he said that during the 2015/16 financial year alone the provincial government had built 354 classrooms; had supplied 57 schools with proper sanitation facilities, had connected 33 more schools with drinking water and had built 128 specialist rooms at public schools.
Mathabatha continued to refer to five new schools being constructed to improve the teacher-learner ratio in the province, being New Look Primary and Mphengwa Secondary in Capricorn District, Khubvi Primary in Vhembe District, Tšhweele Primary in Sekhukhune District and St Patrick Primary in Mopani District.
He subsequently shared good news in the form of an announcement that in the 2017/18 financial year the provincial government intends to provide 210 more schools with potable drinking water, 185 schools with decent sanitation facilities and connect nine more schools to electricity.
On the matter of beneficiaries of the National Schools Nutrition Programme the Premier said they would increase the number from 3 845 to 3 854, contracting 10 542 food handlers and employ 88 school-based monitors through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) incentive grant.
“In the same vein, we will also increase the number of learners benefitting from the ‘no-fee school’ policy from 1,6 million to 1,7 million.”
Matric pass rate
In addressing Limpopo’s pass rate Mathabatha yet again reiterated that it was not in line with the provincial developmental objectives as captured in the Limpopo Development Plan.
“The 3% drop in the overall pass rate is a serious indictment on all of us given the amount of resources that we commit to this sector.” He further said he had directed the MEC for Education to develop a comprehensive, coherent and workable plan to ensure that the downward trend was immediately reversed.
According to Mathabatha the delay in the delivery of textbooks to schools at the beginning of the year had made a dent on the good work they have done in restoring good corporate governance in the province. He continued saying the Executive Council (Exco) has since adopted a 10-point plan to ensure that the unfortunate incident never happened again.
Municipal boundaries re-determined
Mathabatha then moved on to touch on the issue of the redetermination of municipal boundaries, saying it was completed well on time before last year’s local government elections. The Premier said almost all affected communities had embraced the process with the exception of some communities around the Vuwani area. “Whilst we respect the community’s right to object to any process of government, we totally reject and condemn the tendency to use violence and destruction of property as a means to communicate any dissatisfaction.” He advised that communities were, instead, encouraged to use legitimate community and municipal structures for engagement and dialogue.
Muni audits
Saying that audit opinions of municipalities across the province were showing signs of improvement, Mathabatha stressed the move away from five disclaimers in the 2014/15 financial year to two disclaimers in the 2015/16 financial year. “We also have improved on unqualified audit opinions from ten in the 2014/2015 to 13 in the 2015/16 financial years.” Although there were some areas of concern, the spending patterns of municipalities on the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) were improving, he simultaneously noted.
While congratulating municipalities which have already spent more than 50% of their MIG allocation by mid-term, he urged all municipalities to improve on their MIG spending before the end of the financial year.
Housing
The Premier made mention of the intensification of the programme to reduce the housing backlog and restore the dignity of Limpopo’s people. “In this financial year as a province we have managed to build 9 561 rural housing units. In the same period we have also managed to build 211 disaster housing units. An additional 286 abandoned housing units were rectified, completed and handed over to the beneficiaries.” He expressed the opinion that it was a milestone achievement given the challenges the provincial government had in the past two years that impeded them from delivering houses. He gave the undertaking that over the coming five years the focus would be on the programme to upgrade informal settlements around mining towns.
Basic services
With reference to municipalities continuing to carry out their constitutional mandate to deliver basic services to their people, Mathabatha quoted from Stats SA’s General Household Survey stating that Limpopo was well on track with providing its people with water. “To date, 78,8% of our households are connected to functional water services.
“In terms of electricity, 1,4 million households have been connected to the grid and a further 105 000 households are connected to the non-grid. This translates to almost 93% of households with functional electricity connection.” In relation to access to functional sanitation services, they had been able to move from a mere 38% in 2011 to 54% in 2015, Mathabatha said.
He then referred to the recent Exco lekgotla having resolved that, among others, all vacant strategic positions at municipalities should be filled as a matter of urgency with people with requisite qualifications and skills.
Employment gains
Sharing his views on the economic front, the Premier said the average growth rate of the provincial economy for the period 1996 to 2015 was 2,8%. “The last Stats SA growth rate analysis shows that our province grew by 1.1% in 2012, 2.4% in 2013 and 0.8% in 2014,” he said with reference to the Stats SA Labour Force Survey for Quarter 4 having been released on 14 February.
“We are pleased that Limpopo has recorded the second highest employment gains. In the fourth quarter alone, Limpopo has managed to create 64 000 new jobs.
“According to Stats SA’s year-on-year analysis, a 103 000 people who were unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2015 had secured employment by the fourth quarter of 2016.” Jobs gained were mainly in the areas of construction, mining and agriculture, Mathabatha pointed out.
“With this increase in employment in Limpopo, the rate of unemployment has also reduced to 19,3% in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to 19,8 % during the same period in 2015,” he said.
Special Economic Zones (SEZs)
Turning to the issue of Musina-Makhado having been declared an SEZ, Mathabatha expressed confidence that the other strategic growth point of Tubatse would also be declared an SEZ in due course. According to him the two SEZs were expected to attract investments of over R44 billion, the Musina-Makhado SEZ to create a projected estimated 20 800 direct jobs and the Tubatse SEZ approximately 2 000 permanent jobs.
Economic growth and development
Mathabatha went on to say the private sector continued to play a major role in the effort of the provincial government to put Limpopo on a higher trajectory of economic growth and development. In this regard he said that with the private sector they had identified ten major projects for investment worth no less than R46 billion, expected to go a long way towards helping to expand the productive capacity of the economy.
Knowledge economy
He yet again touched on Limpopo Connexion, a subsidiary of Limpopo Economic Development Agency (Leda), assigned to begin in earnest with the roll-out of infrastructure for Limpopo’s broadband telecommunication programme. He stressed that programme implementation had been planned over two phases, of which the first was expected to commence in the second quarter of the 2017/18 financial year. The first phase, according to Mathabatha, would roll out broadband infrastructure in Polokwane, including identified key provincial growth points, whereas the second phase would cover 80% of the provincial population as per the provincial spatial development framework.
Agriculture
The Premier raised the issue of the 2015 Stats SA General Household Survey showing that the province was doing well in terms of household access to basic food, showing that 91,8% of households in Limpopo had adequate access to food. “This is quite encouraging, given the rural nature of our province.”
“We have also supported over 3 000 households to produce their own food in their backyard gardens by the end of the third quarter of 2016/17. We hope to increase this intervention and support to over 5 000 households in the coming financial year.”
The Ilima/Letsema conditional grant continued to be one of the funding sources to improve productivity of emerging farmers in Limpopo, he said. “By the end of the second quarter, the Ilima/Letsema conditional grant had supported 47 projects benefiting a total of 2 333 beneficiaries. A total of 680 farmers were assisted to access the markets.
“For the 2017/18 financial year, the Ilima/Letsema conditional grant will be utilised to support a total of 90 projects with an estimated budget of over R67 million. The grant will benefit 15 538 emerging farmers. Included in this will be 2 718 smallholder farmers, 12 791 subsistence farmers and 29 black commercial farmers.
On the effects of the invasion of the infamous fall army worm at a time of the province implementing measures for recovery from the 2015 drought, he said the government had convened and instructed a team of experts to further trouble-shoot the problematic situation and they are receiving frequent reports and update. He also called upon farmers to promptly report any strange pest for urgent intervention.
Infrastructure
By referring to last year’s Sopa that spoke of a commitment to establish the Provincial Infrastructure Hub to help coordinate the delivery of strategic social-economic infrastructure across Limpopo, Mathabatha said the project was in place with 68 professionals already appointed.
Over the next three years Road Agency Limpopo would upgrade 296 kms of gravel roads to tar and further rehabilitate 303 lane kms of surfaced roads, he indicated.
“Investment in the development and maintenance of water infrastructure is top of our priority list as government. Adequate and reliable water infrastructure will bring a multitude of economic and social benefits.
“With the support of the National Department of Water and Sanitation, major water projects valued at approximately R1,5 billion are currently being implemented in the province.”
Health
Turning to health matters, Mathabatha said that in line with the imperatives of the National Health Insurance initiative, we are currently implementing the Ideal Clinic Programme meant to ensure a systematic improvement and correct deficiencies in public healthcare facilities. To that end 77 of the healthcare facilities in the province were meeting the ideal clinic status, he said.
The continued acquisition of state-of-the-art ambulances and the recruitment of advanced life supporters that he alluded to would go a long way in saving lives, he opined in addition.
“After a four-year long battle, the province has managed to reduce the maternal HIV vertical transmission from 2% to 1,1% against a target of 1,4%,” was another point raised.
“Our (tuberculosis) TB treatment success rate is at 82%, whilst our Multi Drug Resistance TB treatment success rate is at 87.7%.
“We have also managed to reduce the malaria case fatality rate from 1,68% in the year 2014/15 to 1,04% in the year 2015/16. In the same period, malaria cases declined from 8 045 to 1 538.
Mathabatha said the undertaking by the Minister of Finance to work with his counterparts on the planning of both the Limpopo Academic Hospital and the new medical school would speed up the process. Equally pleasing was the fact that Polokwane Municipality had made available land for the construction of the academic hospital, he remarked and said it was believed to go a long way towards achieving the commitment to ensure quality healthcare in the province.
Fight against crime and corruption
According to Mathabatha the fight against crime and corruption was high on the agenda of the government which was relentless in its commitment to fight it, both in the public and private sectors. It was in that context, he said, that they were strengthening the Provincial Anti-Corruption Forum with a view to bring on board all stakeholders in the fight against corruption.
Performance theatre for Lim
Having expressed the intention of the provincial government to construct a state-of-the-art performance theatre during his 2016 Sopa, Mathabatha took the opportunity on Friday to announce that it would be built in Polokwane. He believed the project would, among others, help ignite the cultural industry, promote the rich and diverse cultures of the province and create job opportunities.
Youth development
The Premier indicated that they had begun with the process of crafting the Limpopo Youth Development Strategy, which would clearly define the youth development agenda in the province. At the same time he informed his audience that they planned to convene the Provincial Youth Development Summit by no later than October this year for young people to come together under one roof to determine their own future.
Administration
Before addressing the recent appointment of Limpopo’s Director-General and heads of all government departments, with the exception of Sport, Arts and Culture that should be finalised by the end of next month, he said efforts to build an administration that was responsive and sensitive to the needs and aspirations of the people had begun to take shape. He continued saying they were also stabilising governance by putting in place systems to ensure that they were able to discharge their constitutional mandate.
He concluded saying they had come that far working together as a people and had to continue, united in action, to make Limpopo a better place to live in.

Story: YOLANDE NEL
>>observer.yolande@gmail.com