EC symposium to tackle province’s competitiveness

NOVEMBER 21, 2015

A sustainable growth path for the Eastern Cape must be based upon industrialisation says the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT) in the lead-up to the fifth economic symposium to be on 27 November at the East London International Conference Centre.

“In recent years, the symposium has been a platform where key stakeholders take stock on the economic imperatives of the province and position the Eastern Cape as the go-to province for investor confidence,” says DEDEAT Head of Department Bongani Gxilishe.

Some of the critical topics expected to draw vigorous debate among attendees are industrialisation with greater access by black industrialists, industrialisation in the agriculture sector together with building robust regional economies.

Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the symposium’s keynote speaker Mzwandile Masina’s presence at the symposium adds an exciting dimension to the debate says the Department since “a real compact of black industrialists will be instrumental in driving the Eastern Cape and the South African economy forward”.

The symposium comes at a time when the Eastern Cape’s socio-economic position has improved greatly, largely driven by social grants and related retail spending rather than through manufacturing and industrial developmentCurrently, the industrial base accounts for less than 20% of the total regional economy which is in stark contrast to the 71% for retail and services sector.

This has also been a contributing factor to the province’s growth rate dropping to 1.1% in 2013, the lowest of all the provinces and some way off the national growth rate of 2.2%.

The Department says that another major contributor to the province’s slow growth has been the historical inadequate investments in regional industrial infrastructure including logistics and energy. For many years, the Eastern Cape was treated as merely a labour sending region.

Turning the tide of marginalisation and low growth means addressing a historical backlog of infrastructure and developing competitive industries. Already there has been encouraging support from national government and state-owned entities in port and rail infrastructure.

This is encouraging particularly as it coincides with the big drive to leverage a “very large opportunity in agriculture and agri-processing development in the province. This is deeply concerning because the natural resource potential for agriculture is one of the best in the country. Agro-processing is then important to capture the full value along the value-chain.

However, agro-processing is not viable unless the primary agricultural inputs are competitively available,” explains Gxilishe who says that the agri-industrialisation topic will begin with an discussion by MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform Mlibo Qoboshiyane.

In order to benefit from a robust agri-industrial sector and create economic hubs in rural Eastern Cape, the Department is stimulating debate on what is happening in different regions in the province and how these activities can further benefit the growth of the province’s economy.

The symposium also plans to explore the link between the potential growth of special economic zones and manufacturing sector growth as well as growing the Eastern Cape’s regional economies.

It is expected that over 400 industry leaders, members of public and private enterprises, economic think-tanks and academia will attend the symposium to debate how the province can accelerate provincial growth and development whilst simultaneously challenging deeply embedded structural patterns of race, class and inequality.

Other speakers include the Government Technical Advisory Centre’s Kate Phillips, Chris Hani Development Agency CEO Tukela Moshologu and Centre for Small Town Regeneration Director and former Amathole Development Agency CEO Phila Xusa. -