Bright new views on Eastern Cape’s economic growth

FRESH views on how to grow the Eastern Cape's economy by tapping into the minds and energy of the province's brightest young researchers and scholars will be aired at a socio-economic policy conference in Grahamstown on September 28.

An initiative by the Eastern Cape's Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT), this annual conference pulls together emerging scholars and post-graduate students from the Eastern Cape's four universities.

Hosted by Rhodes University in 2015, the “Emerging Views on the Eastern Cape Economy: Conference for Emerging Scholars and Post-graduate Students” aims to showcase research work of the best students and emerging scholars from Rhodes, Nelson Mandela Metropolitian University, Walter Sisulu University and University of Fort Hare.

They will be asked some of the toughest questions facing the province, and the top eight papers from the event will then be published in a special edition of DEDEAT's Journal of Development and Leadership.

The academics will be challenged to use their brainpower to tackle various research topics seen as priorities for policy-makers and decision-makers in the provincial government to help guide future economic growth.

The emphasis of the initiative is to encourage emerging scholars to choose research questions which have policy relevance for the Eastern Cape and draw clear policy conclusions from their research.

A number of topics have been suggested for discussion and for the scholars to look into further.

One is the informal sector, which in light of the province's soaring unemployment rate, provides an important source of income for about 10% of the total employed. Questions include whether or not the informal sector represents opportunity or dead-end, and what the government should be doing to support it.

Then there are hard questions around industrialisation and trade, and if the national government's recent Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and the Eastern Cape's own Provincial Industrial Development Strategy (PIDS) are working. This may cover controversial subjects like how a liberalised trade regime has affected industry and if there are grounds for greater protection for key industries.

Another hot button topic is the local economic development (LED) programme, seen by policy-makers as central to economic planning to bridge the gap between national policy and local implementation, and frequently emphasises the need for growth which is “pro-poor” or “inclusive”.

But have Eastern Cape municipalities generated credible LED plans which have led to actual implementation? What kinds of LED projects have been successful and why?

The Eastern Cape is also the only province in South Africa that is home to two industrial development zones (IDZ), which the Department of Trade and Industry is converting to special economic zones (SEZ), and the possibility of a new Wild Coast Agro-Industry SEZ to be established in Mthatha.

The scholars will be challenged to find out how the IDZs in the Eastern Cape have actually performed, and the likely impact of the new SEZ policy. Does it adequately reorientate the existing IDZ framework? What are the keys for establishing a successful Wild Coast SEZ?

As expressed by Dr Justin Visagie, head of the department’s division for Economic Research: “Sponsoring such a conference is all about promoting the next generation of thinkers and putting them to work on the province’s most pressing policy issues.”

SOURCE: Press Release from Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (SA)