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How precisely does the South African Government regard State-Owned Enterprises?
President Jacob Zuma gave the answer to this question in his State of the Nation Address in February this year.
He said: “SOEs are not regarded as a panacea for solving all challenges of South Africa, but are an added strategic and catalytic state instrument for transformation, growth, development, service delivery and employment creation.”
SOEs can also make a significant contribution towards attainment of the Developmental State, he added.
Yes, but what about young people and the acquiring of skills? Perhaps the best explanation of what SOEs can do to change young lives was given in George by Public Entreprises Minister Lynne Brown when she spoke at a Career Expo in March.
She told the born-frees about another country that was foreign to them.
“When your parents and grandparents were your age there was not much encouragement for them to do well
at school.
“The apartheid government said it was senseless to teach black children subjects such as science or maths because they didn’t need such knowledge to work in gardens, supermarkets and factories,” Minister Brown said.
These policies were gone by the time her audience was born, said Minister Brown, and there was a democratically-elected government in place.
However, she said, the consequences of apartheid policies were still evident. “In impoverished homes and communities, in the massive divide between rich and poor, and in the masses of unskilled and unemployed people.”
But the big difference between then and now, however, was that a framework has been established to give young people the power to address their circumstances. “To extract yourselves from the poverty trap, to add dignity to your parents’ lives – and, collectively, to drag your families and communities with you.”
She continued: “This power is something you should treasure; it’s something your parents and grandparents didn’t have. It’s your ticket.”
Minister Brown told the young audience there were critical imbalances in South Africa society and still-skewed economy. The unemployment rate was increasing, but the country was still suffering from skills shortages, while there were precious few jobs available. However there were lots of vacancies for those who have a grounding in mathematics and science.
It was for this reason, said, Minister Brown that on a previous visit to George High and Thembalethu High, as part of government’s Back-to-School campaign, she spoke to the principals about their schools’ most pressing needs.
“But, more importantly, I promised to return with representatives of some of the State-Owned Companies in the Department of Public Enterprises’ portfolio to host a career expo. I told you about a similar visit to Gugulethu a couple of years ago, where
we recruited six matriculants to train as pilots. I want similar outcomes here,” said Minister Brown.
Challenging the learners she said South Africa does not need more unskilled labour but required doctors, lawyers, accountants, biologists, physicists and mathematicians. SOEs wanted engineers, geologists,
foresters, pilots
“They need systems designers and analysts, software writers, project manager. They need the chief executives and chief financial officers of tomorrow.”
She told learners of the six SOEs that report to her. “Eskom and Transnet, alone, control assets worth more than R800 billion. They are giant companies, employing tens of thousands of people – and are arguably the hard spine of South Africa’s economy.”
Brown also explained difference between SOEs and private companies, which she said, were solely interested in making profit for their shareholders.
She said SOEs must similarly account on the bottom line to their shareholders’ representative – the Minister of Public Enterprises – but they were also called on to play a role in the country’s developmental and transformation objectives.
“They therefore have a very real interest in your development and advancement. The stronger you are, the stronger they will be.”
SOEs in the portfolio of the Department of Public Enterprises have refocused their Corporate Social Investment Programmes to help shape the competitive business environment in which we operate.
Now the main focus of their support was on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects to create a pool of new job-seekers with the requisite skills to plug the skills’ shortage.
“Between April and September 2016, these State-Owned Companies collectively spent over R81 million on Corporate Social Investment projects benefiting nearly six hundred thousand people.”
Sharing good news, Minister Brown said Eskom will be awarding 10 bursaries to George learners to study engineering and medicine next year.
“But, as they say in the adverts, that’s not all,” Minister Brown added.
Eskom would also install intercom systems at the four schools to create safer and more effective learning environments.
Denel, continued Minister Brown, has also come to the party, agreeing to create a winter school camp for matriculants at the four schools. “The camp will provide learners with the opportunity to work with specialist experiential educators, and build inter-generational relationships.”
Another SOE, Transnet, has pledged to improve conditions at George High’s hostels in the coming financial year and they would also donate four libraries.
“And my department has donated sanitary towels and school uniforms. There is also a process from my Department to repair the fence at Thembalethu High.”
However, said Minister Brown, she was not in George to play Mother and Father Christmas.
“We are here to urge you to get the
results you need to enter the careers our economy needs.”
As Lynne Brown said in his recent State of the Nation Address, President Zuma set out a forthright government agenda of radical economic transformation that emphasized the importance of growing a dynamic and competitive economy.
“It begins with closing the skills gap, with piercing the false ceiling that continues to down press us. It begins with you,” said Minister Brown.
And that is the challenge to young people: SOEs are creating opportunities to learn but they have to be hungry, ambitious and dedicated enough to get them.