Chaos erupted during the official opening of the Free State Legislature at the Vista Campus of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein on Tuesday. This follows after EFF MPLs tried to raise a point of order at the start of Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s State of the Province address that marks the opening of the legislature. This move by the EFF mimics the situation in Parliament last week when the party’s MP’s interrupted the State of the Nation Address and delayed proceedings for more than an hour. Speaker of the legislature, Mamiki Qabathe, however, refused to acknowledge or entertain issues raised by the EFF and called in security to escort them out of the building.
Magashule’s speech was highly anticipated because it comes at a time when the province is facing a serious financial crisis with two of its biggest departments – health and education – being under administration. Municipalities also had to face possible power cuts due to their outstanding debt to Eskom. This follows after they already received their equitable share late from national treasury at the beginning of the financial year. The equitable shares were withheld until municipalities could submit payment plans to Eskom and the waterboards, but with just weeks to the start of the new financial year – when they are due to receive their equitable share again – they defaulted on the payment plan. The drought and the water crisis in the province lead to Mangaung Metro being the first municipality to implement water restrictions. Magashule was therefore expected to announce action plans to address all the issues at hand. His speech was, however, criticised by opposition parties as political rhetoric and electioneering. Here are some of the announcements he made during his address and the expectations of opposition parties, with their comments afterwards.
1. Magashule announced the building of four new stadiums in the province as part of the provincial government’s efforts to transform sports in the province.
2. He also announced that a further 400 students from the province will be afforded the opportunity to study abroad.
• 133 will study medicine and nuclear science in Russia
• Another group wil pursue agricultural and veterinary science in Bulgaria
• 48 wil do artisan-related courses in Germany
• 4 post graduate students will go to Germany to study Geology
• 50 students will study engineering economics and international trade in Turkey
3. Several construction projects – including the establishment of a Solar Farm at Theunissen, Bloemfontein, Fauresmith and Hoopstad – is going to boost job creation in the province.
4. The building of a multi-purpose centre that forms part of the Naval Hill Development.
5. The building of a precinct on the N3 with filling stations, a truck stop and a police station.
6. He said 850 job opportunities will be created through these projects.
7. Magashule promised to take steps against government officials who do not pay invoices in 30 days.
8. Provincial and national government are also warned to pay their outstanding municipal debt.
9. Magashule said the outstanding debt of municipalities to Eskom – that leads to threats that the electricity supply to towns will be cut – is also receiving attention.
10. Teams of officials will be deployed to municipalities to assist with the development and implementation of turnaround strategies
Bloemfontein Courant spoke to opposition parties in the province about the issues at hand, as well as their hopes of what Magashule should address in his speech that is expected to set the tone for provincial departments’ new financial year and the upcoming elections.
DA Leader in the Free State Legislature, Roy Jankielsohn, said most importantly Magashule should address the local drought crisis. This, according to him, is the biggest problem facing the province and up to now provincial government has offered very little aid to the agricultural community. He said in response to the speech that although the premier acknowledged the crisis, he did not offer a plan of action on how to help farmers to ensure food security.
According to Jankielsohn the province is also facing an Eskom crisis with numerous municipalities crippled by accruals, with over R1 billion collectively owed to Eskom.
Chairperson of the EFF in the Free State, Kgotso Morapela, said a dedicated plan must be announced on how the government will address water shortages in a number of municipalities. He said answers are also needed about the Free State Development Corporation’s involvement and how it assisted South African Airways. The party wants to understand how people of the province are going to benefit in this regard. He hoped that Magashule will explain if more than R200 million provided by the corporation helped with problems at the national carrier. None of these issues were addressed by Magashule and the EFF was escorted out of the venue after they tried to raise a point of order.
Freedom Front Plus’ MPL, Wouter Wessels, expected Magashule’s address to be filled with political rhetoric. He, however, hoped Magashule will prioritise the financial woes in which the provincial education, health and to a larger extent, social development, find themselves in. Magashule did not say anything about the financial woes of the department of health and the department of education. – Cathy Dlodlo & Christal-lize Muller