Key roleplayers in the business sector, organised labour and non-profit organisations have given the creation of a Western Cape economic development forum a thumbs-up – provided it creates jobs, investment and growth.
Phillip Dexter, the forum’s interim co-ordinator, launched the new initiative on Friday, with high hopes that it would transform economic development in the province.
Dexter said a number of community members and organisations, as well as business representatives, had expressed concern about the lack of income and job opportunities.
“The voice of poor people and communities has been excluded from a number of initiatives. This initiative is an attempt to create the enabling conditions and the institutions to allow for inclusive economic development,” he said.
Dexter said economic development in the province had been slow in recent times, with small businesses getting almost no assistance.
He blamed this on the shutting down of dialogue and democratic consultation structures in favour of “elitist” structures focused on the interests of big business and the wealthy.
Asked whether the new forum would simply be a duplicate of the existing Western Cape Economic Development Partnership, headed by Andrew Boraine and launched in April, Dexter said this was not the case. They had not been invited to any partnership meetings, but as a forum, they were open to ideas.
Boraine’s model is influenced by cross-sector partnerships, and also focuses on co-ordinating and driving the economic development system towards achieving more inclusive and resilient economic growth.
Dexter stressed that the process must be people-centred and include everyone in the province, irrespective of their political affiliation.
“Our aim is to replace the idea that the winner takes it all, and that development is merely for profit only.”
The forum hoped to promote social dialogue, grassroots involvement, and ensure a broad consensus and a co-ordinated approach on issues such as BEE, women and youth empowerment, service delivery, infrastructure and enterprise development, and skills development and training.
Although ANC bigwigs, including ANC provincial chairman Marius Fransman played a big role in bringing key organisations and individuals together to launch the forum, Dexter stressed it was not an ANC structure.
He said members of other political parties, including Cope, the PAC and the DA, were present at the launch.
Regional forums have already been initiated in the Cape Town metro area, West Coast, Karoo, Boland and Overberg. The Southern Cape forum is expected to be launched soon.
Dexter said the next step was to launch local forums.
“These structures, at provincial, regional and local level, must lead the processes of economic development to ensure that the patterns of development and under-development are overcome, and the socio-economic reality of the people of the Western Cape transformed.”
Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich described the forum as an incredible initiative. Economic problems ultimately affected workers directly. It was the workers who had no alternative income to soften the blow of any economic crisis.
“We’ve got to find a way to break down the divides that exist between us, and no matter what the political party, what your business and other interests may be, the only way to make the Western Cape work is for us to forge a real partnership, a partnership that understands that we can’t continue to do things in the way we’ve always done it.
“There’s got to be a new way to do it. But even though we want to come together, we’ve got to find a way in which what underpins our togetherness is a sense of common values.”
Ehrenreich warned that if the relationships were only transactional, the forum would miss the boat.
“Many people in the city and in the province would like to have things continue as they are at the moment, because the reality is that if you do nothing, those who benefit from our inaction are those who currently benefit from the economic structure.”
It was not about either being white or black, but about understanding that those who were either included or excluded in the past “have got to come together and build the kind of partnerships that take us forward”.