The Wild Coast special economic zone, earmarked for Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, could become a reality as early as February next year if the province’s leaders have it their way.
The ambitious plan to transform the eastern part of the Eastern Cape was discussed this week during a round table at the Savoy Hotel in Mthatha.
The meeting about the project – which is set to result in millions of rands worth of investments in Mthatha and surrounding towns – was hosted by the MEC for finance, economic development, environmental affairs and tourism, Oscar Mabuyane.
The discussion was also attended by mayors from various municipalities that are likely to benefit from the economic zone, which is set to be the first such zone to be established in a rural town.
The province’s other special economic zones are located in East London and Port Elizabeth.
Mabuyane said the aim of the roundtable was to serve as a launch pad for making the special economic zone in Mthatha a reality and ensuring that hundreds of jobs would be created for the region.
“We are working closely with the department of trade and industry (the dti), and other sector departments, to ensure that the special economic zone is realised,” he said.
“We are pushing for it. We have been planning for it ... We want it to finally be realised.
“This special economic zone is going to be a game-changer. At last, we are going to see the full potential of industries such as agriculture and primary and secondary production, right up to logistics packaging. We are, indeed, going to be a major exporter here in OR Tambo and in our surrounding municipalities.”
“We already have some catalytic projects here which, we believe, will be anchor projects, such as the Umzimvubu multipurpose dam, which includes a hydropower component; the N2 Wild Coast toll highway; and a couple of other projects that will realise our aim of broadening the area’s economic scale,” Mabuyane said.
He said the resuscitation of the Magwa and Majola tea plantations in Lusikisiki would tie in well with the zone.
“We want to consolidate all these initiatives under the special economic zone to ensure that we go beyond just industrialisation to also look at developing agriculture and manufacturing. This area accommodates 3 million people who contribute massively to the community, but many of them end up leaving the province in search of jobs elsewhere.
“We want to our people to remain here and be developed careerwise where they live,” Mabuyane said.
The MEC said that, in addition to creating an environment conducive to attracting investors, they were also working towards reporting on progress made at next year’s Eastern Cape investment conference.
“We are making it a reality that the Eastern Cape is a province able to move forward and make things happen. Some things have been conceptualised and planned. Now we have reached the point where these things must be implemented,” Mabuyane said.
OR Tambo Mayor Nomakhosazana Meth expressed her satisfaction at hearing from the MEC about how the provincial Cabinet was focusing on the Eastern Cape.
“It comes as a relief to hear that, because in terms of backlogs in our social and economic infrastructure, we have been found wanting,” she said.
“So, we welcome the initiative. We have been talking about the special economic zone since I assumed office in 2013. It was a hot debate then and a study was conducted. We were excited about the plan. But then time passed and nothing happened.
“We were left wondering when it would happen. But now, with the commitment and leadership that the MEC is displaying, we – as the district municipalities of OR Tambo, Alfred Nzo and Amathole – are confident that this initiative will finally be a reality,” Meth said.
She echoed the sentiments of President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had expressed the hope that the OR Tambo region and Mthatha would become the country’s food basket.
“This special economic zone is going to be a game-changer. At last, we are going to see the full potential of industries such as agriculture and primary and secondary production, right up to logistics packaging. We are, indeed, going to be a major exporter here in OR Tambo and in our surrounding municipalities,” Meth said.
The special economic zone will be located near the recently revamped Mthatha Airport, making it easy to move goods in and out of the region.
Dumani Zozo, the mayor of King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality, also welcomed the project. The municipality comprises the towns of Mthatha and Mqanduli, which are likely to be the economic zone’s biggest beneficiaries as the zone will be based within their boundaries.
“The special economic zone project is one of the anchor tenants, both in terms of investment in this municipality and in attracting and helping businesses, particularly agriculture,” said Zozo.
“We have a huge dam, Mthatha Dam, which is 8.5km long. So, if the economic zone is situated near Mthatha Airport, as has been said, the fields around there and the farmers will benefit – because their produce will go directly from the farm to the packaging facilities and be exported.
“King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality will be connected to the rest of the country and to the world, and we will be able to compete with the market in terms of being a food basket for the country,” Zozo said.
Nkosi No-Italy Mtirara, the traditional leader of Ncisa Village – which forms part of the area earmarked for the special economic zone – said his community welcomed and supported the development.
Mtirara said he would ensure that any fears the community held about the zone would be addressed and resolved so that the project would not be stalled.
In September, City Press reported how the planned Wild Coast special economic zone was gaining momentum.
Ncedo Lisani, spokesperson for the economic development, environmental affairs and tourism department, had told City Press at the time that during the first phase of the zone’s construction, it was anticipated that 6 420 direct job opportunities would be created, and then 2 578 operational jobs.
“A suitable site has been identified for the proposed Wild Coast special economic zone in Mthatha, after a number of land parcels were considered,” said Lisani.
“A project management office, funded by the dti, was set up and has been operational for some time now. A number of intergovernmental planning structures have been set up to deal with coordination and the leveraging of resources from various organs of state. These engagements have taken place with the private sector.”
Lisani said the special economic zone would focus on promoting agro-industry in the province and take advantage of the high levels of domestic demand.
“This understanding is informed by feasibility studies that were conducted by the project management team. The studies include infrastructure assessments on things such as electricity and water needs, and other bulk infrastructure requirements.
“A business plan for the proposed project has also been developed,” said Lisani, adding that the zone would focus on developing value chains in the agro sector, taking into account the comparative and competitive advantage held by the region.
“In this regard, processing and value addition will be premised on some of the following products, but not limited to them: essential oils, macadamia nuts and livestock, including sheep, goats and cattle. This is consistent with the National Development Plan,” he said.