The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in the Free State welcomes the State of the Province Address delivered by Premier Mxolisi Dukwana on 28 February 2023. We take note of the intentions of the address and hope they will go a long way in winning the hearts of the workers and the community. Acknowledging the failures of government is commendable, however, proper implementation of mechanisms to address the countless shortcomings in the province is needed. If this is not applied, the commitments made in the address will turn into empty promises.
We would like to reflect briefly on the points below:
* We need to ramp up our disaster response plans and to ensure that the disaster response coordinating structures of the province and municipalities involve the most critical element which is organized labour in its composition. The reality is that every decision made in these structures have to be implemented by workers and yet their voices are not given space at the decision making table.
* Deliberate focus on reviving the economies of the former homelands which remain essential labour reserve camps and the mining towns which are fast transforming into ghost towns. We expect that the provincial as well as the departmental budgets to move deeper into this space and to turn the situation around.
* Provision of incentives for business to invest in the local areas should be explored so that we bring employment to the former homelands. Tending to the infrastructures in such areas would also work as a catalyst for such investments.
* We are unhappy with the little focus that has been given to the Xhariep district which was red-flagged even in the ANC PEC Lekgotla as the ‘forgotten cousin.’ We would like to see more focus in Xhariep in a form of government expenditure like in any other district.
* The provincial government has performed poorly in supporting locals SME’s and we need this matter to change drastically and urgently if we are to create job opportunities for our people. The fact that the provincial budget has consistently been spent on companies that are not local even when there are available and capable local skills has dealt our province a very serious blow.
* We need to boost our capacity in manufacturing and processing. We have natural resources which we can be utilized as a catalyst towards enhancing production capacity. Working together with institutions of higher learning as new information generators can work highly in our favour. We need to ensure that we utilize the information and capacity within the borders of our province first to boost our capacity to create decent jobs which remains the responsibility of the current government.
* The land audit has become like a broken record now and needs to be finalized. We need timeframes for the conclusion of such. As workers we need land to build our own houses at our own pace. We need access to serviced sites so that we can start the process! This needs to be finalized urgently so that when workers are granted access to a portion of their retirement savings in April 2024 (if things go according to plan) such monies can then be used by workers to develop their own properties.
* We observe that the ‘official unemployment figure’ is a technical term that does not reflect the reality that we get to confront every day when we commute to work and every evening when we go back home after work. The unemployment figure could be as high as double that figure if we were to engage in a headcount! That should serve as evidence to how serious the problem is and that we need all hands on deck by the government and state to resolve the problem.
* We acknowledge the intention to close out the internal and external syndicates that have bedevilled infrastructure environment. We believe that such would open that sector for participation by local businesses which would have ripple effect on the provincial economy. We believe that this is noble idea, and we would support it!
* We welcome new creativity in terms of implementing 24 hours construction cycle. However, there are several points that may need to be clarified prior to engaging in such. The possibility of the exclusion of women in the process due to safety concerns during the night is but one of the realities that may surface.
* Operating clinics on a twelve hour basis would need to be thoroughly discussed at the relevant bargaining council so that all the implications are taken into consideration. That would include security and transportation for those professionals in the outposts and rural areas.
* We believe that closing of potholes should be a state function. There is capacity within the state to implement such both at provincial and local level. It is just the obsession with outsourcing even when it not necessary that has rendered this employee redundant. They are occupying offices without tools to do the work and yet when the preferred service providers fail, they are called upon to rectify the mistakes!
* There needs to be a plan to help the municipalities which may be declared as indigent as they may never have capacity to repair potholes on their own.
* The Provincial Government should explore the possibility of declaring Maluti-A-Phofung as a provincial town and the services in that area be rendered form that level.
* We need clear plans for the just transition towards the ushering in of the 4IR in the workplaces. The reality is that workers who are currently in the workplace needs to be assisted and re-skilled to be able to adapt to a new workplace. The reality is that they can’t just be replaced.
* PACOFS should be repackaged and decentralized to render services in all the five districts of the province to provide a platform for the development of creative arts across the province. Institutions like Mmabana should be resourced to become a platform for creative arts to bloom! This should be a platform for the establishment of the film industry for the province! It cannot be that Free Staters have to travel outside of the province in search of exposure all the time!
* We welcome the establishment of the Fraud and Corruption Task Team. We will be waiting for the clarities in terms of the terms of reference so that we can know how to interact with the structure.
* We needed to hear progress made in assisting the Jaggersfontein disaster victims. There were commitments that were made last year already and yet when we speak to members in that area, we get a sense that no delivery has happened. What worries us the most is that the money that was set aside by the company has not been delivered to even one immovable structure!
* We support the idea of rejuvenating the inner-city. We are on the verge of witnessing hijacked buildings with the rate of abandoned buildings particularly in Bloemfontein CBD. The workers need to find living spaces close to the workplaces, as they are spending a huge portion of their income on transport.
* We would like to see more doctors, nurses, social workers and other health care professionals to be appointed to professionalize the public service. Many of these professionals are sitting at home without rendering service to the community that has spent so many resources for their training.
* Permanent appointment of the community health care workers should be a priority as well as the fulltime appointment of the staff that was appointed during Covid-19 pandemic disaster.
* We agree that we need to focus more on the product, human resources that have been able to produce over the years and have been exporting it across the country. We need a clear plan on how to skill our labour for the future so that they can continue to contribute wherever they are and most importantly be able to assist the province to develop.
* We call on the provincial government to protect the workers who due to their material conditions they found themselves in the space of the Expanded Public Works Program who have become the most vulnerable. Sometimes they are paid late, their wages are not consistent and many serve at the whims of some powerful and connected individuals.
* We need to focus on uprooting racism in our province. We have to come up with a system that would render the current system of institutionalized racism in-effective.
When the premier listed basic services he mentioned water, sanitation, roads and refuse removal. Provision of electricity should be part of the basic services whenever they are listed. We hope it was an omission and not a deliberate matter.
We are encouraged by the spirit of the SOPA, and we hope and trust that we will see positive results from the implementation of the commitments made in the speech. We pledge our support to the Office of the Premier when the positive things are done for the benefit of our members and the society at large and at the same time would react when we feel that things are not going okay.
We note the commitment towards the notion of Batho Pele principle and we support such with a rider that government as an employer should also take its responsibility serious to create an enabling environment for workers to serve the communities.
We need a firm stand against the growing lawlessness in the province. The government and the state should move with speed to create a safe environment for the workers and the community at large.
The struggle continues!
Issued by COSATU Free State
Enquiries Provincial Secretary Monyatso oa Mahlatsi @ 051 447 5499 or 076 115 9923