Ensuring a blue-sky future for Mpumalanga
Tourism and economic development go hand- in-hand. Maximising the synergy between these two sectors is the mandate of MEC Eric Kholwane, who is determined that the citizens of Mpumalanga benefit from the province’s natural beauty .
Mpumalanga means the place where the sun rises and the provincial Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDT) is working hard to ensure that the province’s future is as bright as its name.
DEDT’s overarching mandate is to drive inclusive and robust economic growth that is able to create a significant number of new jobs for the people of Mpumalanga.
The department is responsible for supporting five prioritised economic sectors, namely agriculture, for the promotion of agro-processing; mining, for value addition through beneficiation and the energy industry; manufacturing; information communication technology, for connectivity; and tourism and cultural industries.
According to the Mpumalanga MEC of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, Eric Kholwane, the department achieves its mandate by influencing development growth patterns in the province to build and accelerate a sustainable, equitable and inclusive economic growth path.
It also ensures a participatory economy where the youth, women, workers, rural masses and people with disabilities benefit from the region’s natural wealth and enhances regional partnerships – including public-private partnerships – to increase trade and investment in the province and sub-region by leveraging on the Maputo Development Corridor. Another focus of the department is infrastructure delivery to enhance the development of small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) create decent job opportunities and enable community participation through the promotion of co-operatives.
“The development of these priority sectors will be done through the establishment of a Special Eco- nomic Zone (SEZ), Mpumalanga International Fresh Produce Market (MIFPM) and the forestry and agricultural and petro-chemical technology parks.
“We will also focus on identified priority products and opportunities for them to be manufactured in the province, taking advantage of the SEZ and technology parks,” said MEC Kholwane.
The department’s milestones over the past financial year include the finalisation of the Mpumalanga Industrial Development Plan and feasibility studies for the Forestry and Agricultural Technology Park and the Petro-chemical Technology Park. It has also completed a study on the informal sector and its con- tribution to the provincial economy, finalised the green economy plan and finalised the re-establishment of the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Advisory Council.
According to MEC Kholwane, the department coordinated the Government Nutrition Programme, which puts SMMEs and cooperatives at the centre of state procurement, and signed a partnership agreement with Standard Bank of South Africa, which established the Mpumalanga Enterprise Develop- ment Fund to support SMMEs.
Another significant achievement was the declaration by the United Nations Educational‚ Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) of the Barberton-Makhonjwa Mountains as South Africa’s 10th World Heritage Site and the province’s first.
“The department signed an Implementation Protocol with ourpublic entity – the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency – representative landowners and the Barberton Chamber of Business to facilitate the development and completion of the nomination dossier on 30 March 2015,” explained MEC Kholwane.
Following the appointment of the Barberton Tourism and Biodiversity Corridor as the implementing agent to facilitate the submission of the nomination dossier to Unesco, the department contributed R4.2 million towards the success of this important conservation project for the province and the country.
“The province is ready to get the ball rolling on this conservation mission. The next step is for the Minister of Environmental Affairs to publish in the Government Gazette her intention to declare the Barberton-Makhonjwa Mountains a World Heritage Site and call for comments. We will then immediately establish a management authority and allocate budget for administrative and operational activities.
“The intention is to officially launch the World Heritage Site in September, during Heritage and Tourism Month,” added MEC Kholwane.
Heritage and Tourism Month
The province will implement various campaigns, in conjunction with the tourism industry, throughout the province during Heritage and Tourism Month in September. “Heritage and Tourism Month helps us to refocus our attention on the industry and reignite communities’ interest in travelling locally, to experience the magnificent tourism attractions in our area,” noted the MEC.
“This year, we plan to roll out activations that seek to deepen the understanding of the importance and power of technology and social media when it comes to promoting our local tourism hotspots,” he added.
The department also aims to create awareness around tourism and other areas that can assist in growing the number of visitors to the province. This includes educating communities on how to become good tourist hosts.
International market tourism spend in Mpumalanga for 2017 increased by 10.6 percent to over R5 billion, from just over R4.7 billion in 2016 while domestic spend increased by 57.6 percent to over R2.7 billion in 2017, from just over R1.75 billion in 2016.
“The province is implementing various initiatives to improve infrastructure in our reserves, to attract and retain visitors to the province. “There are also private sector initiatives that will assist us to grow the sector and its contribution to the province’s economy,” said MEC Kholwane.
The department is increasing tourism awareness campaigns to encourage people to travel more. “We are collaborating with stake- holders to provide new growth opportunities, by building new and improving the conditions of existing products. The process of developing the Liberation/Heritage Route is ongoing and we are putting a new focus on townships and rural tour- ism that will benefit communities directly,” he added.
Some of the projects that will improve tourists’ experience in the province include the Skywalk, cable car and the Barberton-Makhonjwa Mountains World Heritage Site.
The Graskop Gorge Lift Co., a private development with funding from the National Empowerment Fund and built on land leased from Thaba Chweu Local Municipality, is a welcome addition to Mpumalanga’s tourism offering and a great add-on for visitors to the Kruger National Park and surrounds.
The centre boasts Africa’s first viewing lift which travels 51 metres down the face of the Graskop Gorge and into the Afromontane forest below. Tourists can delight in the beautiful forest environment, which is explored via a 600-metre circular trail consisting of elevated boardwalks and suspension bridges. The centre, which is perched on the top of the cliff edge with spec- tacular views of the Motitsi waterfall, also has a restaurant and bar, contemporary African art gallery, colourful African fashion clothing shop, curio shop and community craft market.
“Tourism contributes to improving socio-economic conditions for our people and communities benefit directly and indirectly through job creation and learnership opportunities.
“Everyone is a tourist. Let’s travel locally and experience the scenic beauty that lies right on our door- step. Most importantly, let’s give our visitors the warmest welcome so that they stay longer in our prov- ince,” he urged.
In good shape
According to the MEC, Mpumalanga continues to manage its resources within the confines of the law.
“The province’s financial position is sound; hence we are able to meet all of our obligations to suppliers. The department, which is the custodian of the public purse – the Mpumalanga Treasury – has maintained a sound system of accounting as evidenced by the clean audit outcomes received to date.”
“We have also improved our own revenue collection every year, since 2015, which has partly assisted to offset the reduction in baseline allocation to the province,” said MEC Kholwane.
He is adamant that corruption cannot be allowed to deepen the crisis of scarce state resources, thereby robbing the poor of a better life.
“Provincial Treasury takes the lead in fighting corruption as it undermines service delivery and radical socio-economic transformation.
The department works within the established framework to address the challenges of crime and cor- ruption in the province. Cases that are reported, through the hotline established by the Integrity Office in the Office of the Premier, are followed up regularly.
“We will and must win the war against corruption to sustain transformation and growth into the future,” he said.