By Bongani Tshabalala
BLOEMFONTEIN-Democratic Alliance legislator Karabo Khakhau made an impassioned rebuttal on Premier Sisi Ntombela’s State of the Province Address on Thursday 4, arguing that Free State youth have for the longest time ‘bathed in unemployment’.
Khakhau lambasted Ntombela for not presenting any tangible solutions to combatting the problems in her State of the Province Address (Sopa). The province is currently facing an unemployment rate of over 34% excluding discouraged work-seekers.
Khakhau also had some harsh words for Ntombela and her executive regarding the provincial bursary programme, which has long been a source of pride for the provincial government.
“Those who were recipients of bursaries from the Premier’s office are either left stranded on campuses with late payments over their tuition and allowances or come back from abroad after having sweated for their qualifications only to be told their qualifications are not accredited and hold no value,” said Khakhau who added that Free Staters, the youth, in particular, are in fact abandoned by the government.
The plight of students abroad on bursaries of the Free State Government came to national attention when the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, as many students were left stranded in the Hubei Province in China, where the virus was first detected. The situation turned so desperate that anxious parents of bursary recipients were called to a briefing by the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China, Tang Zhongdong, at the President Hotel in Bloemfontein to allay their concerns.
Some of the other issues raised at the time, included the provincial government owing the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) R25 million, resulting in allowances not being paid into student accounts in time, a shortage of masks, as well as allegations that students are not receiving nutritious food.
Some of the students ended up boarding a chartered flight from Wuhan City in March 2020, a month after the briefing at a local hotel. The flight touched down in Polokwane where the passengers were promptly taken to the Ranch Resort which falls under the Protea Hotels. It is yet to be determined how many of them returned back to Wuhan to continue with their studies.
On the other hand, the MEC for Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (Destea), Makalo Mohale, lauded Ntombela for delivering a people-centred address which aims to address rampant joblessness and corruption. Mohale lamented not all of corporate South Africa is committed to transformation and the ANC government cannot be blamed for that.
He further warned against the notion that the provincial government is using the pandemic as a scapegoat, arguing that the Free State had availed R60 million for small, medium enterprises, saving 4000 jobs in the process.