By the end of this week, the people of KwaZulu-Natal and different parts of the country will have a sense of the effectiveness of the African National Congress as a governing party in KZN. On the 26th February, His Majesty will officially open the Provincial Legislature with Willies Mchunu presenting the last State of the Province Address on the 27thFebruary as the fifth Premier. Leaders of the ANC and other political parties have always appreciated the prestige bestowed by His Majesty on both days.
Recently, speaking to more than 6 million listeners on a national radio station, Mchunu expressed his gratitude to the people of KwaZulu-Natal and leaders of society for the support he has received over the years. He pleaded with listeners to support the new premier and his executive council after the general elections to be held on the 8th May. It should be remembered that on the 1st July 2016, Mchunu hosted a business breakfast convened to introduce the new members of the provincial executive council.
Addressing more than 2000 guests who attended, Mchunu pointed out that since he became an elected public representative, he had sought to serve with honesty, the people of KwaZulu-Natal irrespective of political parties of their choice. On this day, he said he had invited captains of industry and leaders of society because he believed that without them, the creation of a prosperous province would remain a pipedream.
He stated that his main focus was to unite society behind a common goal of creating a winning nation capable of dealing with any socio-economic challenge. He stressed that KZN is blessed with many capable leaders across all sectors of society who have a vision for a prosperous future. However, he pointed out that “what is urgently needed is to choose the right path that will enable all of us to reach our destination.”
Clearly, this Sopa will give a clear picture of the distance the people of KwaZulu-Natal have travelled to reach their destination. KZN government envisions that by 2035, KZN will be a prosperous province, with healthy secure and skilled people, acting as a gateway to Africa and the World. It is true that more than 25 years into our democracy KZN has taken great strides in unshackling the majority of citizens from the yokes of poverty and underdevelopment.
Will this be the main focus for Mchunu on Thursday when delivers the speech? Judging from all commentary in the public media and in the social media outlets, but more so, the suffering and palpable poverty in communities, job creation will be the main issue that Mchunu will focus on.
In introducing the new MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Sihle Zikalala during that business breakfast in 2016, Mchunu said his main task was to ensure that all members of the executive council channeled their energies towards ensuring an equitable distribution of economic opportunities in order to uplift our people who are leaving below the poverty line.
Mchunu was quick to point out that Zikalala, who is also the Leader of Government Business, had been the custodian of all the policies of the ANC in his previous capacity as the ANC Provincial Secretary. During Sopa, there is no doubt that Mchunu will highlight all programmes, led by Zikalala, that have been implemented in order to mobilize the private sector to invest across the corners of the province in a manner that serves the overall development imperatives.
There are efforts which were outlined early in 2014 which focused on infrastructure revolution, stimulating black industrial development, reviving all the decaying rural towns and making them attractive for more investments. These will probable receive much attention during Sopa. Another interesting area of focus for Mchunu will be agriculture. Many people believed that the deployment of Themba Mthembu as the MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development was aimed at ensuring continuity as he was the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Rural development.
When he assumed office, there are issues outlined by the ANC that required urgent attention. These include working with the farming community to ensure that agriculture becomes a solution to both food insecurity and unemployment. In 2014, the provincial executive council, as directed by the ruling party, prioritized the deracialization and the redistribution of wealth in the agricultural sector. This province has a total of 6.5 million hectares of land for farming purposes of which 82% is suitable for extensive livestock production and 18% is arable land.
In view of these issues, it remains to be seen whether the agrarian reform programme has been receiving much needed attention over the past five years. Mchunu is therefore expected to highlight progress in this regard. Critically, over the past five years government has been emphasizing the importance of ensuring a clean bill of health of its finances. Belinda Scott was given was tasked with the responsibility of achieving this as the ANC believed that a clean bill of health would not only attract investors, but it would improve the public image of KZN government.
The MEC for Co-operative governance and Traditional Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube had a mammoth task of increasing the number of municipalities with clean audits. Her mandate included strengthening service delivery in municipalities through the deployment of the finest talent. This is an area that Mchunu will be judged very critical on given the fact that service delivery happens at municipal level.
On the education front, this term of office started when this province was experiencing a downward which was not only embarrassing to ANC government but a cause for concern to the people of KwaZulu-Natal. The attitude of the teacher towards the school and the attitude of the teacher towards the leaner became the major focus of the new MEC for Education Mthandeni Dlungwane.
KZN government, through Operation Sukuma Sakhe Cabinet Days, embarked on a campaign aimed at mobilizing teachers, parents, learners and the entire community to rally behind the education of every child, for in every child lies a talent to be discovered. Readers of Mercury must expect the Premier to reflect on achievements around education and skills revolution in general.
On the health front, KZN has been facing challenges caused by burden of diseases on the healthcare system. It should be noted that the nursing profession in this province has withstood the test of time. During this term of office, KZN hosted the International Aids Conference with delegates heaping praises on the work of KZN government in the fight against this pandemic.
In the area of the provision of houses, KZN excelled during this term of office with national government giving the department of human settlement several awards for the acceleration of the delivery of houses. An area that has been a challenge during this term of office is an increasing number of vulnerable groups such orphans, youth in distress, homeless children, those from unstable families and those in conflict with the law. Mchunu will undoubtedly spend a great deal reflecting on what the department of social development did in creating safety nets to save children from joining the pool from which hardened criminals recruit.
Closer to Mchunu’s heart have been programmes focusing on creating stability, peace, reconciliation and the end of conflicts in KwaZulu-Natal. These were sustained throughout the term of office in order to create an atmosphere in which to restore normality in the lives of the citizens of the province. The MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Mxolisi Kaunda, who was the chair of the portfolio committee took over from Mchunu following his deployment as Premier.
Towards the end of this term of office, there was a launch of a huge program of social mobilization to help re-define the common identity of the people of KwaZulu-Natal. Mchunu is expected to elaborate how the department of Arts and Culture has been successful in ensuring the building of the moral fibre of society, and whether government has achieved social integration to the extent that we can confidently state that we now have a national democratic society.
Whether Mchunu will succeed or fail to satisfy his critics when he presents his last Sopa, the programme to heal the wounds and rebuild community fibre should be sustained by all moving forward. There is a need of lots of love, compassion and caring to build the nation.
Ndabezinhle Sibiya is the Head of Content and Knowledge Management in the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government Communications. He writes in his personal capacity.