Free State: A province on the move, forging a new economic path

PUBLISHED: Wed, 05 Oct 2016 19:03:17 GMT

Presented by: Free State Global Investors Trade Bridge 2016

The Free State, dubbed “The Province on the Move” is on its way to affirming that notion. In union with the annual Mangaung African Cultural Festival (MACUFE), the central province hosted the Global Investors Trade Bridge in the City of Roses, Bloemfontein.

A lively discussion on how trade and investment opportunities could be unlocked in the province as well as ways in which partnerships between the Free State and the rest of the world could be forged, set the agenda.

CNBC Africa’s Gugulethu Cele moderated the panel discussion with the province’s Premier Ace Magashule, Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu, former MEC for Economic and Small Business Development‚ Tourism and Environmental Affairs Sam Mashinini‚ MEC for Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation Mathabo Leeto, former MEC for Butana Komphela for Police‚ Roads and Transport and the Executive Mayor of Mangaung Metro Municipality Olly Mlamleli.

Their discussion unpacked the main objective behind the trade bridge which is to form inter-continental and international investment relationships.

“It is important for the province to work with surrounding countries, as well as countries like Mozambique and Angola in order to make sure we integrate the economy,” says Magashule.

The Free State aims to bring local government with international representatives together, in the hope of growing the province’s divisions like education, tourism, infrastructure, sanitation, mining and agriculture.

Mashinini adds that a critical part of this is to make sure its people are well skilled. He highlights that through the province’s relations with countries like China and Cuba, this is being done.

“To date, we have managed to take several students abroad to go study medicine and other professions. Skills development plays a pivotal role within these investment bridges because when the students return as graduates, they can contribute positively to the Free State economy with the skills they acquired abroad,” he says.

Premier Magashule affirms that the province carries great growth potential because of its central location in the country which already puts it ahead in attaining a variety of investment opportunities.

One such development that has opened investment opportunities is the logistics hub, also referred to as the Special Economic Zone located in the Tshiame, about 10km west of Harrismith in the Eastern Free State.

Magashule explains that this industrial hub will formally be known as the “Durban – Free State- Gauteng Corridor” and thus far, the first phase of construction has been fenced off. The 1030 hectares of land has fencing of 26km erected around it.

Previous reports on the hub say the project is expected to be fully functional between 2030 and 2050. An article dated in 2015, quotes the Project Director of Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) Mzwakhe Shoba, saying the zone will be the Activity Based Centre of Gravity, where everything will come from Durban or Johannesburg to the hub and possibly be distributed for export purposes. 

The Free State also hosted China Week last year, where Chinese investors interacted with the city’s business owners, governmental delegates, budding entrepreneurs and Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (SMMEs) during a week-long forum. Investment opportunities and future working relationships were discussed during that week.

This year, hosting the Global Investor Trade Bridge during the province’s biggest festival that sees thousands of people attend from all over the world, was a well-thought move.

According to the MEC for Department of Sport Art Culture and Recreation Mathabo Leeto, even though MACUFE is a Free State brand it has become internationally recognised.

“MACUFE contributes positively to both the economy of South Africa and the Free State. A recent economic study showed that MACUFE has thus far injected R91 million into the metro. Also, in keeping with the Premier’s assurance to support local artists, we are happy that 80 to 90 per cent of the artists at MACUFE are from the Free State,” she says.

MACUFE provides a great platform for initiatives like the Global Investors Trade Bridge to take place efficiently because the festival also sees Small and Medium Enterprises SMMEs attend in droves in the hopes of making sizeable profits and meaningful investments.

Minister of Small Businesses Development Lindiwe Zulu says SMMEs are the next best thing to growing our economy and she’s pleased that the Free State is taking advantage of the relations South Africa has established with the international community.

The Executive Mayor of Mangaung Metro Municipality Olly Mlamleli voices her excitement with the progress the metro has made and what the future holds. The Free State has about 33 per cent unemployment rate and so job creation remains a priority.

“Bloemfontein is the economic hub of the Free State, and our future plans include having the defunct factories in Botshabelo re-open, the N8 Corridor from Mangaung to Lesotho as well as agro-processing in Thaba ‘Nchu,” she says.

MEC for Butana Komphela for Police‚ Roads and Transport adds that the Free State is the 3rd province in the country with the best kept roads and has been number one, for five years running as the safest province in the country.

From these discussions, the Free State is hastily opening its doors to investors from Africa and beyond, to ensure an affluent province for all.

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