Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of this year has just been released and, while it doesn’t make for good reading in general, the jobs numbers for the Western Cape are encouraging. With several provinces losing jobs during the quarter and others adding relatively small numbers, the Western Cape was responsible for the majority of new jobs. Of the net gain of 165 000 jobs nationally, 123 000 were in the Western Cape.
However, this doesn’t mean that the DA-led provincial government created those jobs. On the contrary, almost all of these jobs were created by the private sector, mainly in the trade and services industries.
But what it does mean is that the Western Cape government has done a number of things right over the past decade to enable the private sector to create these jobs. We can and must start replicating three of these things elsewhere in South Africa if we are to tackle our massive unemployment crisis.
Firstly, the provincial government identified the areas with the biggest potential to create jobs. The jobs engine room of the Western Cape is tourism and agriculture, each of which provides about 300 000 jobs.
Importantly, many of these are low-skilled jobs. It made sense to focus attention and resources in these sectors, along with the energy sector with an eye on the future. This is how Project Khulisa came about four years ago – it is a programme aimed at maximising the province’s competitive advantage in tourism, agriprocessing, and oil and gas.
The successes that came out of this project are too many to list here, but just the tourism wins alone make Khulisa a runaway success. The Air Access project, which sought to unlock leisure and business tourism in the province by attracting more direct international routes to Cape Town International Airport, has had astonishing results.
Fourteen new routes have been added since 2015, which has translated into an extra 750 000 inbound seats. There has been a 20% increase in international arrivals in the past two years, and there has been a 40% growth in trade associated with these flights. Today, a quarter of all tourism-related construction in the country is happening in Cape Town.
Secondly, the provincial government recognised the real heroes in job creation – the people and companies who take the risks by investing their capital in ventures across the province.
The provincial government made it a priority to help these investors succeed, because the success of these businesses is also the success of the people they employ.
Again, it is important to remember that government’s role is often to simply not be an obstacle to running a successful business. In other words, to let those in the business of growth and employment do the heavy lifting, and to try to make it as smooth and painless as possible for them to run their operation.
The Western Cape government’s Red Tape Reduction Unit is a prime example of this. Established in 2011 to help identify and eliminate snags such as delayed planning permissions, transport permits or any bureaucratic regulations that could trip a business up, it is estimated that this unit has already saved the province’s economy R1 billion. Over the past four years, the unit has handled more than 8 000 cases and undoubtedly contributed to the Western Cape’s jobs success.
Another crucial intervention in making the province business friendly is the InvestSA One Stop Shop, where new investors can seek assistance in dealing with potentially daunting issues related to the SA Revenue Service, the department of home affairs and business registration, all under one roof.
This is a national government initiative, but when it comes to rolling out the red carpet for investors, there are no “your plans” and “our plans” – there are only good plans and bad plans. The InvestSA One Stop Shop is a good plan, which is why the provincial government fully embraced it.
Thirdly, the provincial government simply tried to be better at the basics of governance. Nothing can happen without a capable state, and this is something that must be actively worked on all the time.
In the Western Cape, the first five years after 2009 were mostly spent improving the governance side of things – weeding out corrupt officials, appointing the right people, and putting the checks and balances in place that ensure the administration’s clean and efficient running.
Investors will go where they have confidence. They don’t care for ideology or history, they simply want to be sure that they have mitigated as many risks as possible. They want to know that the government they will be dealing with is clean and transparent.
They want to know that they won’t be expected to bend laws and pay bribes. They want to know that they can rely on uninterrupted and affordable services like electricity, water and broadband.
They want to know that their business will be safe and their property protected by law and by the Constitution. These are the conditions the Western Cape government sought to provide, and the jobs data suggests it is succeeding.
If we want to solve our unemployment crisis nationally, we must look to where things are working and follow this example. Populist rhetoric around “radical economic transformation” won’t create jobs. The Western Cape’s economic opportunities minister, Alan Winde, has his own version of this slogan. He tells people to “just radically do your job”. This seems to be a far better plan.
* Mmusi Maimane is the leader of the DA. Views expressed are his own.
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