The paradox of the Eastern Cape

Anti-Apartheid legends painted around the EC Province Office of the Premier building in Bhisho.
Anti-Apartheid legends painted around the EC Province Office of the Premier building in Bhisho.
Image: RANDELL ROSKRUGE

Besides its name Eastern Cape, the province is also known as the Home of Legends. Its womb has produced outstandingly gallant sons and daughters who selflessly fought oppression to the bitter end. It has produced sharp-witted leaders with unparalleled leadership records.

The province did not earn its title Home of Legends from wishful thinking. It is the home of former president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, revered in SA as a selfless and fearless leader, globally as the embodiment of a peacemaker and human rights activist. A Nobel Peace prize recipient of note. Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, a son of the soil, was a one-man army against apartheid and a staunch Pan-Africanist. Thabo Mbeki, a man who, through his idea of African Renaissance, almost took Africa to new heights.

Tinashe Mutema
Tinashe Mutema
Image: SUPPLIED

The Eastern Cape has produced unforgettable stalwarts, including Walter Sisulu, Oliver Reginald Tambo, Albertina Sisulu, Martin Thembisile Hani, Raymond Mhlaba, Steve Biko and  Winnie Madikizela Mandela. The Eastern Cape is the calabash of SA leadership.

But how does a province that has produced such astute leaders remain in such a poor socioeconomic state? Isn’t it a slap in the face of the legacy of its esteemed leaders that the province remains so poor and underdeveloped?Twenty six years into democracy  the Eastern Cape pupils are still enduring the shame of learning in mud schools and suffering the indignity of pit latrines.

Hospital buildings are dilapidated, equipped with ageing infrastructure, understaffed. The rural road network is far from impressive. The crime rate is soaring, with fourth highest number of reported crimes in the country’s nine provinces (Crime Stats 2018/19).

Hospital buildings are dilapidated, equipped with ageing infrastructure, understaffed. The rural road network is far from impressive. The crime rate is soaring, with fourth highest number of reported crimes in the country’s nine provinces

According to 2017 statistics the Eastern Cape made the fourth largest contribution to the country’s 2017 GDP at 8% but with the least GDP per capita at R55,094 per person. The fact that the province is the fourth largest economy in GDP contribution but the lowest in GDP per capita reflects a heavily burdened economy that is overstretched.

The government is the largest industry in the Eastern Cape. This underlines its importance in driving economic activity. Nationally, the government is second only to finance and business services. The fact that the government is the biggest industry in the Eastern Cape begs the question, why has massive government expenditure failed to stimulate the economy?

The Eastern Cape has over the years notoriously earned a reputation for blatant corruption that is not only criminal but disgustingly immoral. A few years ago Eastern Cape government officials had no shame in converting the death of Mandela into a money-making scheme. The total expenditure on the funeral was soiled with inflated amounts and fraudulent expenditure items. Nothing was exempted from manipulation, from T-shirts and transport to catering. Everything that could be attached to a funeral was used to loot in the name of Mandela.

Corruption scandals in the Eastern Cape have gone from astonishing to provoking nervous laughter. Lately, the province has hogged the limelight with the procurement of scooters which remain unclear and seem shady to many, and a lease contract of 55,000 tablets meant for high school pupils at over  R400m that is yet to be convincingly explained by Eastern Cape officials. Then there was shock and disbelief at leaked invoices from OR Tambo municipality showing an invoice worth millions for a “door-to-door Covid-19 awareness” campaign at a time when it was illegal to leave one's home under level 5 lockdown. Such is the way things are done in the Eastern Cape.

This is exactly why the dominance of the government has failed to achieve tangible progress for the economy of the province: chronic corruption and dreadful mismanagement.

The province has over the years suffered massive brain drain. It continues to lose the best of its brains as they are not convinced it can satisfy their ambitions. Corruption and weak governance drive out reputable personnel of great integrity.

The province has seen a horrible decline in industry. Abandoned factory shells in Dimbaza and around the province tell a sad story of an industrial province that once thrived. Recently, the failure of Yekani Manufacturing shattered the the province's Fourth Industrial Revolution dream, leaving many wondering what went wrong. The owner cited lack of support from the provincial government but later withdrew the statement, fuelling more speculation.

If matric results are to be used as a barometer on the state of basic education in the Eastern Cape, the situation is dire. The Eastern Cape has had the lowest pass rate twice in the last three years. With such a pitiful performance it is unlikely the province will produce another golden generation of leaders anytime soon.

It is clear that the successors to that golden generation have not only failed terribly to emulate its impeccable record of people’s leadership; worse, they have embarrassed and reversed its legacy. There is an urgent need for deep cleansing and thorough sanitisation from the corruption and aggressive greed of Eastern Cape leadership at all levels if the province is to rise from its sorry state. Until then, the province will be relevant only for its past.

Tinashe Mutema is an economics graduate and an accounting student at the University of Fort Hare. He writes in his personal capacity.


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