By Aphiwe Ngowapi
Despite the cold weather, leaders from various sectors, both public and private, including Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, gathered at Makhanda’s 1820 Settlers Monument for the much-anticipated Sarah Baartman District’s Growth and Development Summit on Wednesday, 19 July.
Since Covid-19, this was the first growth and development summit themed “We are an Engine for Growth”. The Summit focused on economic strategies and solutions for the District and province, which is set to pave the way for a prosperous future.
“We are free; we are liberated, yes we are led by the government of the people by the people, but we know very well that we have huge challenges on the socio-economic outlook and benefits for the previously disadvantaged people,” said Mabuyane.
Highlighted at the Summit was the District’s Economic Development and Public Investment overview. Topics covered were renewable energy; infrastructure to unlock the sector’s growth; agriculture development and growth opportunities; and the tourism and creative industry.
Municipalities and public investors are encouraged to join forces and work together to find the drivers and solutions of underdevelopment for most of the population’s well-being. Potential growth areas include the National Arts Festival, adventure activities, bird watching, or internationally recognised tourism such as game reserves. “We must capitalise on this distinct identity to attract meaningful investment,” says Mabuyane.
About investment opportunities, he adds that the recent visit from United Arab Emirates president and ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, who landed in the Bulembu Airport in Bhisho earlier this year, was to test whether the Boeing jets could land in the can ultimately be an international cargo hub. Mabuyane added that the 2.5-kilometre-long airport runway is the country’s hidden gem as it is the only airport where a Boeing could land and is underutilised. This opens up investment opportunities for the province, alluded Mabuyane, speaking about the airport project, which was started twenty-six years ago.
Mabuyane added that the progress on some roads, like Fort Beaufort to Makhanda and Makhanda to Port Alfred, does not go unnoticed, although a great deal still needs to be done to routes such as the Alicedale gravel road. Mabuyane suggested that the municipalities should work with tertiary institutions to research opportunities for development for the district and get funding from the national government.
Endowed by tourism and culture, the province is rich in land and best for tourist attraction. Mabuyane said that leaders from local governments need to take accountability for their actions and anything that happens around them. This will lead to development and a conducive environment for local development.