Minister Maynier's speech at the Premier's Diplomatic Event 2021
[The following remarks were delivered by Minister David Maynier at the Premier's Diplomatic Event 2021 which was held on MS Team.]
When we held this event in the gardens of Leeuwenhof last year, the mood was one of cautious optimism, having heard from President Cyril Ramaphosa a frank assessment of what he called the “stark reality” facing South Africa.
He recognised that people were struggling, and that things were tough and may get tougher.
But at the same time, he also provided some hope in South Africa’s “unbounded potential” which was certainly on display right here in the Western Cape.
However, that “cautious optimism” was quickly put aside when a month later we identified our first case of Covid-19 in the Western Cape.
We could not have imagined the size and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic which was just on the horizon, nor the impact it would have, or will continue have on the future.
What government, and the people in government, have achieved in the fight against Covid-19 is nothing short of extraordinary in the Western Cape.
We need for a moment, to “press pause” and reflect on last year and remind ourselves of what we achieved.
We saw diplomats at their best, working around the clock in reflector jackets, serving their citizens, many of whom were distressed and panicked as they suddenly found themselves far from home with flights stopped and borders closed.
What we achieved together - the Diplomatic Corp, the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town – to ensure that thousands of foreign nationals were able to safely return home is something we should all be proud of.
During that time, in the heat of the battle against the pandemic, we built new partnerships and strengthened existing partnerships.
And I’d like to express my thanks to all of you who were involved in what, by any measure, was an extraordinary achievement right here in the Western Cape.
Rebuilding our Economy
We are now through the first and second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and are focused with urgency on the vaccine procurement and rollout, and our economic recovery.
There is no doubt that the economy in the Western Cape has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and businesses continue to face significant challenges resulting in considerable job losses.
The second wave of Covid-19 over our peak tourism season had a significant impact on our economy and on jobs as the lockdown level 3 regulations directly affected some of our key sectors including tourism, hospitality and agriculture in the Western Cape.
Which is why we welcome the announcement by President Ramaphosa last night that national government will be extending the Covid-19 UIF TERS Fund until the 15 March 2021.
This will be a welcome lifeline that businesses and employees need to sustain their operations and save jobs in the Western Cape.
But there is much work that still needs to be done, and so we are moving forward with our recovery plan which will focus on growing the economy and creating jobs by:
- Accelerating the ease of doing business;
- Boosting investments and exports;
- Boosting infrastructure;
- Scaling up work opportunities and skills for people without jobs; and
- Building economic resilience in the Western Cape.
We are, most importantly, as Premier Alan Winde said in his Special Address last year, exploring, “for the first time in the history of this province, the possibility of borrowing money from financial institutions to specifically invest in infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and job creation.”
And, Premier Alan Winde will be providing more detail on our recovery plan during his State of the Province Address, next week.
The Western Cape’s Investment Offer
Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the Western Cape still has a good story to tell.
- The gateway to Africa, with excellent road infrastructure, three international harbours, and award-winning international airport, voted Africa’s best airport five years in a row;
- Africa’s Tech Capital with one of Africa’s largest open-fibre networks, over 22 active incubators and accelerators and more than 30 co-working spaces where innovation and creativity are fostered;
- Home to four internationally accredited universities with two of the top five on the African continent located here, as well as six TVET colleges that contribute to the skills base in the Western Cape.
We are a resilient region, proven through our internationally recognised management of the drought, and management of both peaks of the Covid-19 waves.
And, while some economic sectors have been hard-hit, there are glimmers of hope and opportunity evident in some sectors that have shown great resilience.
- We’ve seen a greater demand for our best-in-class oranges, grapes, apples and related fruit and vegetables as a result of global awareness of healthy living;
In business services:
- We’ve seen a greater demand for our ICT and tech services as more people work from home, and our BPO sector boomed last year, creating 5 000 additional jobs;
- We’ve seen a greater demand for niche products such as marine vessels, as well as other niche manufacturing enterprises;
And in green energy:
- The Atlantis SEZ will present an attractive incentive to green and energy related manufacturers looking to invest in the Western Cape.
Building Energy Resilience
We will continue to work hard to build energy resilience in the Western Cape.
- Worked with our municipalities to drive the uptake of Solar PV - 24 municipalities now allow small-scale embedded generation, with 19 municipalities also have approved feed-in tariffs, where a business or homeowner can be financially compensated for feeding excess electricity back into the grid.
This initiative has led to approximately 167MW of small-scale embedded generation being installed to date across the Western Cape.
- Through our partners GreenCape, provided support to 1,307 businesses advising them on how they can improve their water or energy resilience or grow their green economy sector business,
And we have:
- Launched our innovative Municipal Energy Resilience Project which aims to assist municipalities to take advantage of the new energy regulations, so they can generate, procure and sell their own power.
As announced recently, Stellenbosch Municipality, is a candidate municipality for the Municipal Energy Resilience Project, and we hope to announce the other participating municipalities soon.
However, there is only so much we can do given the current legislative and regulatory framework within which we operate as a provincial government.
And so, we welcome the announcements by President Cyril Ramaphosa on emergency power, on municipalities purchasing from IPPs, on bid window 5 and on increasing the licensing threshold for embedded generation.
Not all these commitments are new, but we are glad to hear that they are still on the table.
And we hope the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, switches to “warp” speed to deliver on them.
And if he does not, perhaps the President will take my advice from the SONA debate last year when I, tongue in cheek, suggested that if he wanted to keep the lights “on”, perhaps he should consider switching the Minister Gwede Mantashe, “off”.
A line which caused even Minister Gwede Mantashe, at least to have a good laugh.
Tackling Barriers to Growth
We continue to work hard to tackle barriers to economic growth.
Last year, I shared with you that we had established a task team to tackle congestion issues at the container terminal at the Port of Cape Town.
I am pleased that, despite the challenges of Covid-19, this task team has achieved much success, resulting in a considerable increase in the average container moves per day, and a considerable reduction in the period for berthing of vessels at the Port of Cape Town.
And I’m delighted that the CEO of Transnet Port Terminals, Velile Dube, announced at our Port Stakeholder Workshop last year that he would be considering international private sector partners to invest in port operations.
These bold steps by Transnet Port Terminals management will be critical to ensuring a competitive and world-class Port of Cape Town.
We recognise that to create an enabling environment, we need to work in partnership with the private sector and with our international partners.
And that’s why I’m pleased that, last week the Acting US General Consul, Will Stevens, and I announced a trade and investment promotion partnership that will build on the existing economic relationship to proactively promote and increase bilateral trade and investment through various engagements, events, and high-level interactions.
This is a model that we hope to emulate with other Consulates so that together we can explore opportunities to increase trade and investment promotion between our province and your countries.
There has never been a more important time to build and strengthen partnerships.
Myths about the South African Variant
In fact, one way that you can assist us now is to help dispel myths about the so-called “South African” variant as the current international narrative has potential to do great reputational damage to our economic recovery, particularly for our hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors.
In fact, it is only as a result of the great viral surveillance work by scientists in South Africa that the 501Y.V2 variant was discovered.
And while it was first discovered in the Eastern Cape, we don’t know for definite where it originated as this variant has already been found in more than 30 other countries, with largely no history of travel to South Africa.
As with the negative perceptions of ‘Day Zero’, we are working with our partners at Wesgro to counter this narrative, and I am confident that the resilience of the Western Cape will win out in the end.
We are locked in a global struggle between a vaccine and a virus, and for or now, at least, the virus is winning.
To defeat the virus, and its devastating effect on lives and livelihoods, will require strong partnerships with the international community in the Western Cape.
We have a plan, and we are working hard to deliver it, and we remain committed to working together with our international partners to beat Covid-19 and rebuild our economy in the Western Cape.
I thank you.
Spokesperson for the Provincial Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities
(Responsible for the Provincial Treasury and the Department of Economic Development and Tourism)
Cell: 071 087 5150