Premier embarks on "listening tour" in the Karoo
Media release: Premier embarks on a “Listening Tour” in the Karoo.
As part of the Western Cape Government’s listening tour, this week Premier Alan Winde took to the road visiting communities in Prince Albert, Laingsburg and Matjiesfontein. A major aim of the tour was to see for himself the quality of government services offered to the public.
The Premier made unannounced visits to various sites which offer critical services to communities in the Karoo.
“It is important that we listen to what the public tells us about our services so that we can improve them. On this tour I have also engaged government staff tasked with working directly with the public, on what they believe will improve our services. This is a critical way to improve service delivery, especially in areas such as social welfare, health and the like. We are determined to get even better at what we do,” he emphasised.
Along with Western Cape Social Development Minister, Sharna Fernandez, Premier Winde’s first stop was at a Thusong service centre in Prince Albert.
At the local South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) office, which is a national government site, the manager appealed for more funds for outreach programmes.
Minister Fernandez said: “Our visit to the SASSA office at the Thusong centre provided us with an opportunity to interact with the manager, who indicated that he travels from Beaufort West to Prince Albert daily. Challenges raised faced by clients in rural areas are the lack of smartphones and laptops to access the online platforms for Social Relief of Distress applications; and that there is one doctor who serves the Central Karoo for disability applications, which causes delays.”
“We will need to raise this with national government and improve intergovernmental collaboration in order to address these challenges,” the Minister pointed out to the SASSA official.
The next stop was a Western Cape Department of Social Development office at the Thusong centre where a supervisor told the Premier and Minister, she identified the need for additional resources such as vehicles so social workers can reach more communities. The Premier lauded the DSD staff for the good work they do despite these challenges These requests will be looked into.
Fernandez added: “Interacting with our staff at our Prince Albert office, it’s clear that our teams are highly motivated to make a difference in the lives of their clients.”
A “mini-library” at the site was among the highlights. While it is small, the library assistant told the delegation many residents make use of the facility. “We would just like more books,” the library official told Premier Winde. The Premier appeals to the community of Prince Albert to deliver any used books in decent condition to the mini-library at the Thusong Centre.
At the Prince Albert Clinic, an outpatient said waiting times are not too bad. The clinic manager, though, told the delegation it is difficult to retain staff. The Premier told the doctor: “We have to constantly work on doing more to fill vacancies.” He promised the manager he would relay his message to the Provincial Health Minister.
The last stop on this leg of the listening tour was a Cape Access e-Centre, which staff there told the Premier is very popular in the community, especially among young people. These facilities, offered by the Western Cape Government, offer computer training and internet access to open doors to employment opportunities and education.
The delegation then moved on to Laingsburg, where Premier Winde met with a group of local farmers. Agriculture has proven to be among the most resilient sectors of the Western Cape economy. But the region is still gripped by drought and farmers appealed for more relief aid. The Provincial Agriculture Department has so far disbursed drought support worth more than R48 million over the 2021-22 financial year and remains committed to supporting farming communities in drought-stricken regions.
Safety was also a serious concern raised among those who attended the meeting. Premier Winde said: “We must become smarter when it comes to addressing crime. We need to innovate. The Department of Agriculture, working with the Department of Community Safety, has developed a specific Rural Safety Forum to address these concerns.” Farmers were thankful for him listening to them, with one man saying it gives him hope.
Premier Winde was then given a tour of a Gender-based violence (GBV) safe house in Laingsburg. Opened in March 2021, the safe house is one of six in the province, and has offered a place of safety for 25 adult survivors of GBV and 23 children. The Premier was deeply thankful for how well run the facility is. As he stood over a vegetable garden planted by women who have stayed at the safe house, Winde noted: “You can feel the care and hope offered by this facility. It is making a real difference to the lives of people in the Karoo who really need the help of government to overcome terrible circumstances, and I am thankful that we can provide this sanctuary of care.”
Minister Fernandez said: “When we launched this shelter in March last year, our aim was to ensure that those who experienced GBV could benefit from a safe, dignified space to start their journey of healing.”
The final stop of the tour was at a farm in Matjiesfontein. From the nearby N1 highway, it seems like just another farm. But on closer inspection, it has also been transformed into a spring water bottling plant. Matjiesfontein Karoo Mineral Water was started 3 years ago by a local farmer. It now employs 16 people. From extraction to bottling, the entire facility has become a self-sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystem, fitted with state-of-the-art machinery. One worker, who started as a bottle packer and is now a machine operator, told the Premier he is very grateful the factory was opened as he can now make a living and better himself.
Premier Winde thanked those who set up this venture for taking a chance by investing in the region and creating jobs.