Keynote address by honourable Thobile Mhlahlo, MEC for Safety, Liaison, Roads and Transport at the Walter Sisulu University's second graduation ceremony, Walter Sisulu University Great Hall, Mthatha
"Building a human resource base for a better South Africa"
It is indeed a great honour for me to get an opportunity to address this august occasion, which marks a turning point in our human resource development programme.
Before I proceed with my address let me take this opportunity to congratulate all the graduates for their achievement which in my view is an achievement of the entire nation.
You are now joining a new and young generation of the working people which will be a motive force that is expected to steer the future of this country.
The new life that you are beginning today is not about you, it is about the impact that you will make as an individual into a collective effort.
"The birth of a transformed nation can only succeed if the people themselves are voluntarily participants in the process towards the realisation of the goals that they have themselves helped to define." Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) White Paper.
We are all aware of our painful past when the Eastern Cape province was the main distributor of the migrant labour force for the entire country; as a result our province remained underdeveloped with no human resource capital.
On their return back to this province our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters were unable able to plough back due to ill health, inadequate skills and other reasons.
As we march together in this second decade of our freedom we remain acutely aware of our collective responsibility to address the challenge of poverty which continues to haunt our young democracy.
Central to any effort to overcome the scourge of poverty is the development of the human potential of our people through education and skills development.
Drawing on the short term interventions which are envisaged in the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) and those being co-ordinated under the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa) we need to step up the ongoing work to ensure access to affordable, quality and economically relevant education for all.
It has been a widely accepted fact that to achieve and sustain 6% plus growth in the economy, we need to invest heavily in education and skills among other things.
Of the critical areas which the JIPSA project seeks to address urgently are:
* high level, world class managerial, planning and engineering skills
* town, city and regional planning skills
* artisan and technician skills
* management and planning skills for public health and education
* mathematics, science, information and communication technology (ICT) and language competence teaching in public schools.
Targets have been set at an additional 1 000 graduate engineers a year and 50 000 new artisans by 2010. This means that institutions of higher learning must generate an average of 2 500 graduate engineers a year.
The remaining task that we need to collectively respond to is the process from graduation to becoming a professional engineer and retention of these professionals in practice.
It has already been recognised that there is a disturbing shortage of engineers in South Africa.
Alyson Lawless' publication "Numbers and Needs" highlights the facts of an ageing engineering industry in which the average age of an engineer is 56. Her research also found that there are very few experienced engineers between the ages of 35 and 45 leaving two distinct groups, one old, experienced and nearing retirement age, the other young and relatively inexperienced.
It is only logical that capacity will need to be built amongst graduates and young engineers in order to fill the ranks.
The question of unemployed graduates remains a challenge in a number of ways. It highlights the mismatch between skills supply and demand in the economy.
As a consequence of the apartheid education system, the historically disadvantaged institutions continue to generate a surplus of skills with no demand in the economy, which then requires aggressive re-skilling programmes.
The Jipsa intervention has identified four training pathways for artisans which include apprenticeship, learnerships, recognition of prior learning and Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. Government will soon come up with a set of requirements for becoming an artisan in each of these pathways.
The pinch of skills shortage, particularly engineering skills, continues to haunt government especially municipalities.
A recent comprehensive survey by the South African Institute of Civil Engineering (SAICE) showed that 79 of the 231 local municipalities in the country had no civil engineers, technologists or technicians.
Our Provincial Growth and Development Plan (PGDP) compels government and its social partners to embark vigorously on programmes that seek to attain such skills. Institutions of higher learning have been identified as key partners in building that capacity.
Walter Sisulu University is a strategic partner of the Department of Roads and Transport and 23 students have received bursaries from the Department to study engineering at this university since 2003.
Already, we have three interns in the Department's rail and maritime directorate from this institution, who are expected to graduate next year in civil engineering.
In an effort to encourage rural learners to massively participate in mathematics and science in order to benefit from our bursary scheme and other opportunities within the transport sector, 150 learners from the King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipal area are already benefiting in our maths and science project which the department is running in partnership with this institution and Engen.
As we prepare for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, government is spending billions of rands in infrastructure which includes stadiums, roads, rail, airports and other facilities that would contribute in making the tournament a success and present our people with a lasting legacy.
This massive investment requires technical expertise and by the look of things our country especially the engineering industry, is not able to cope due to the scarcity of such skills.
We have further solicited advice and expertise from outside the country including Germany which held this tournament last year.
In our midst we have three transport experts from Germany, Professor Walter Luders, Professor Jurgen Follmann and Professor Klaus Habermehl of Darmstadt University of Applied Science.
Their assignment during the one week stay with us was for them to share ideas and possible scenarios towards co-ordinated planning of a proposed Provincial Transport Demand Management Plan for 2010.
They shared their experiences with the transport working group which include representatives from different authorities as well as the municipalities such as the Nelson Mandela Metro, our host city, Buffalo City and King Sabata Dalindyebo.
We are making visible and decisive advances in the aviation sector in preparation for the movement of people and goods.
The Bhisho and Mthatha airports are currently under renovation and discussions are taking place between the Department of Roads and Transport and various companies for the establishment of a second airline to service the Johannesburg to Mthatha route.
An important goal is to link Port Elizabeth and Mthatha via Bhisho with the service geared for faster movement between the three areas which have been identified for the 2010 World Cup.
A future link to Durban from Mthatha is envisaged as soon as the correct type of service is developed.
The under-utilised rail infrastructure and excessive road damage caused by heavy road freight suggests that rail freight transport is an option to pursue in order to support socio-economic development and growth in the province.
This presents a major challenge which has prompted the Eastern Cape government to adopt the "Move Back To Rail" policy.
The national freight logistics strategy released in 2005 projected that the Port Elizabeth Corridor would carry 39% more freight than it did in 2003 by the year 2020 and the East London corridor 31% more.
In both instances more than 90% would be carried by road and between 6% and 9% by rail.
We have already started with the Kei Rail Project between East London and Mthatha which is expected to commence its passenger service before the end of July 2007, followed by a cargo service in 2008.
The area between East London and Umzimvubu has been declared as the Kei Development Corridor with Kei Rail as one of the anchor projects.
Some of the socio-economic benefits identified in this corridor include:
* 28 000 jobs will be created over 20 years
* saving in road haulage costs
* saving in road maintenance costs
* avoiding road accidents.
A siding facility will be constructed this year at Zamukulungisa outside Mthatha in order to process timber and other raw materials from the former Transkei region before it is ferried by rail to the East London Harbour for export.
A freight demand study has been conducted and formed part of the feasibility report to ascertain current freight movements in the Kei Development Corridor.
Analysis of data showed an estimated freight tonnage of 7,5 million per annum and potential rail eligible freight was separated from this total volume.
By implementing a diversion model based on international and local studies, the study estimates the potential road to rail diversion of between 250 000 and 400 000 tons per annum in the short to medium term.
Other than freight, the possibility of train tourism in this most scenic part of the province will be investigated.
Specific projects in the corridor cover mega projects and various sectors such as agriculture, tourism and industry.
These include the Wild Coast Meander, N2 Toll Road, Tolling Strategy, Kei Rail itself, Ugie-Langeni Road and mass food production.
The award winning road between Ugie and Langeni Forest has cost the provincial government R491 million. This is the best designed road so far as it negotiates between mountains to avoid the destruction of natural resources. It forms part of the Kei Rail project.
The construction of this road has already attracted major investment for the forestry industry within the region. Already contracts have been signed.
The investor, Steinhoff, is pumping R1,3 billion in the development of a chipboard factory.
The government has committed more than R56 million in critical infrastructures such as power lines, water and sanitation. The project will create 3 000 direct jobs and 10 000 indirect employment opportunities.
In agricultural sector, specific projects are livestock improvement projects, irrigation schemes, macadamia nut production, tunnel farming.
One of our AsgiSA projects in the province, Umzimvubu Basin Water Project is expected to create 300 000 jobs.
Tourism projects are the Nelson Mandela Cultural Precinct, Nelson Mandela Cultural Corridor, Tsitsa Falls Nature Reserve, Greater Kei Holiday and Cultural Village Development.
Industrial projects are integrated food crops, Canola bio-fuel industry, Small Medium and Micro Enterprise (SMME) and co-operative development, essential oils, cement importing and blending and timber processing.
In an effort to build our capacity in order to sustain this project, the Department of Roads and Transport will open a Rail Centre of Excellence in this campus in October 2007 in partnership with the Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA), Walter Sisulu University and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
The opening of this centre will give impetus to our "Moving Back to Rail" strategy.
This means more opportunities for the people of the region as they are going to acquire skills on rail related studies at this centre and contribute in the sustainable development of rail infrastructure in this province.
As part of turnaround of the road infrastructure in the Eastern Cape, tolling option is one of the available strategies that we intend to introduce under the prevailing circumstances.
One of the main strategic priorities in our infrastructure investment strategy is to make our coastal route, including the Wild Coast available as a natural resource.
The Department of Roads and Transport is undertaking investigation on a possibility of tolling certain strategic routes and the priority is R72 between East London and Port Elizabeth running through the Ncanarha interchange on the N2 to the Nahoon interchange on the N2 in East London. This is a vital arterial road that supports both industry (East London and Coega Industrial Development Zones (IDZs)) and tourism and is important for the 2010 transport plan.
These are some of the opportunities for young engineers to test their skills and talents, while simultaneously changing the face of our province and growing the economy.
In conclusion, I would like to wish all the best in your new careers hoping that you will contribute in our social transformation programme and play an active role in the growth of our economy.
I thank you!
Province Or State