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KWAZULU-NATAL is a province coming of age. Now in the black, it is also poised for growth on a massive infrastructure and job creation programme that will take development well into the next decade.
The nuts and bolts of this extensive programme was spelt out by Premier Zweli Mkhize in a two-hour state of the province address yesterday.
As a premier of a debt-free province with R3,6 billion in the bank, Mkhize spoke with confidence as he outlined a rail, road and ports upgrade programme. He went on to spell out a host of other projects including what is to be done to boost agriculture as well as the economies of small towns.
The infrastructure upgrade programme will include R80 billion to be invested in the refurbishment of the Durban and Richards Bay ports in the next seven years. Durban is to be developed into the largest container port on the African continent, while Richards Bay is to become Africa’s largest coal terminal, in preparation for coal mines expected to open in Limpopo.
“For Limpopo to prosper Richards Bay must grow and for Richards Bay to grow, Limpopo must prosper.” he said. Rail developments will include the modernisation of the passenger and freight rail systems.
On roads, the premier gave the assurance that there was a pothole patching programme and that road projects that had been delayed or stopped would be resumed.
He also announced improvements around King Shaka airport, focusing specifically on the Dube Tradeport, the creation of an “aerotropolis” stretching from Umhlanga to Ballito.
“This new city within a city will create a world-class physical and operational environment … This will require investment by both government and the private sector.
“This requires investment in appropriate strategic infrastructure and facilities to be initiated within the next 12 months.”
Mkhize said that the fact that over 75% of the economy was generated through Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Richards Bay was testimony to the critical role of the transport and logistics sector.
“This is the reason why we are paying particular attention to issues of harbours, roads, rail and air transport since their efficiency constitutes our competitive edge,” he said.
Mkhize went further than the transport infrastructure programme, and announced a plan to boost the maritime industry as well.
The premier acknowledged that the agriculture potential of the province was under-utilised. “This province can produce sufficient agricultural products for own consumption and export. However, South Africa remains a net importer of many agricultural products. This sector, which once was a major creator of jobs, has consistently shown decline. Bold steps are needed to turn it around.”
For the sector to recover, partnerships needed to be formed and farming and entrepreneurial skills needed to be enhanced. He was upbeat that the province was moving in the right direction and referred to the unlocking of Ingonyama Trust Land for development, in line with the announcement made by King Goodwill Zwelithini at the opening of the provincial legislature on Monday.
He also spoke of economic development zones in different areas and of plans to enhance rural development. He announced an investment of R179 million in small town development, much of which will take place on Ingonyama Trust land.
According to the premier, there is going to be an integrated approach to providing both government and commercial services and as a result, rural development will in future be based in his office.
Business welcomed the premier’s address. Durban Chamber of Commerce CEO Andrew Layman said KZN is in for a great decade.
Layman said the importance of projects such as the upgrading of the ports and developing the Gauteng- Free State-eThekwini corridor cannot be overestimated. However, he warned that for the projects to succeed, there needed to be greater integration and communication among the different sectors.
Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO Melanie Veness summed up the mood after the address, saying: “There is an energy, a passion, and excitement, everything sounds positive and the fact that our finances are so sound, gives a wonderful sense that ours is a province that is going places.”