Travelling north of Gauteng, perhaps the most important economic centre in South Africa is the City of Polokwane, meaning “Place of Safety”.
The city is the capital of Limpopo province and was previously known as Pietersburg, gaining world-wide recognition as one of the host cities for the 2010 World Cup.
Located within the Capricorn District, Polokwane Municipality is reported to be home for as much as 10 per cent of the Limpopo population and serves as the economic hub for the province.
In October 2013, President Jacob Zuma officially unveiled the R81 road, which links the rural town of Giyani and the city of Polokwane.
The fully completed road shortens travelling time and reduces the cost of doing business between Polokwane and Giyani, which is not far from the Kruger National Park.
The unveiling of the road is part of government’s programme of rolling out infrastructure projects.
Polokwane’s proximity to Kruger National Park has of course helped to establish a flourishing tourism economy and when one also factors in the history of the region and the closeness to neighbouring countries Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, it is an ideal starting point for many travellers.
The story goes that in the 1840s, Voortrekkers under the leadership of Andries Potgieter established the town of Zoutpansbergdorp. However, this settlement had to be abandoned because of clashes with the local tribes, resulting in the foundation of a new town in 1886, which was called Pietersburg in honour of Voortrekker leader Petrus Jacobus Joubert.
The town officially became a city on April 23, 1992; on February 25, 2005, the government declared the official name of the city as Polokwane, a name that was generally in use by the speakers of Northern Sotho.
The Municipality’s website describes the modern day eclectic mix of people as following:
“Polokwane is rich with a diverse mix of ethnic and cultural groups, such as Pedi, Venda, Tsonga, Ndebele, Afrikaners and English. Yet all embrace and share a common, warm and friendly philosophy of “motho ke motho ka batho” meaning “you are a human being because of other human beings.”
“The city and its surrounding areas boast the world’s largest reserves of platinum metals, chrome and vanadium, as well as copper, nickel, iron ore and titanium. It is also one of South Africa’s richest agricultural regions, with vegetables being the most significant crop. All the agricultural commodities produced in the province are sold at affordable prices to the people throughout the city’s market places.
“The city’s monuments and heritage sites are many and perfectly preserved to reflect the sense of great civic pride, responsibility and strong partnership ethos between the government and its citizens.
“For business and incentive travellers, Polokwane has excellent conference and team building facilities – and is also the commercial and administrative hub of the province.”
One of the goals for the area has been to attract investment and business and the Limpopo economy has continued to grow at a rate in excess of the national growth.
Its climate, topography and geographical location have given the region a definite advantage, as the website continues:
“With Polokwane as its business capital, Limpopo has easy access to African markets and borders Zimbabwe, Mocambique and Botswana. This fast growing province boasts the world largest reserves of platinum, vanadium, chrome, titanium and copper.
“The moderate climate and magnificent natural environment, wildlife and archeological sites offer innumerable tourism opportunities and the continued interest in investment in this sector has seen the establishment of new venues, development and upgrading of the game industry.
“It is one of the wealthiest agricultural regions in the Southern Hemisphere and currently supplies a large percentage of the countries fruit and vegetables.
“The adoption of the Provincial Growth and Development Strategy (PDGS), which provides the framework for programmes that advance the growth of the economy, which not only attract considerable investment, it has seen the improvement of living conditions for the people of Limpopo and the creation of jobs in an area where unemployment was the highest in South Africa.
“With targets and clearly defined objectives, the PDGS, using the wealth of agriculture, tourism and mining has put Polokwane and Limpopo in the spotlight and the area has become the favoured investment destination for those who recognize the many untapped advantages that there are on offer.
“Capricorn District Municipality (Polokwane and surrounds) which is the nerve centre for the regional economic development saw the opportunity for growth and its concentration and strategic planning to upgrade airport services, rail stations, bus routes and transportation, continues to give Polokwane the competitive edge.”
Even with these advantages, the social-economic challenges of modern South Africa mean there is still plenty of work to do.
Delivering his 2013-14 Budget Speech, Executive Mayor of Polokwane Municipality, Councillor Freddy Greaver, stated:
“The 2013/14 Multi-year Budget seeks to address our hopes, our aspirations, our commitments and our vision to continuously strive to address the imbalances of the past and deliver a better life for our communities. This budget aims to speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all those who are discouraged, to rekindle hope, speak out for justice and stand up for the poor and destitute. We table this budget at a time when the City is awaiting our African community to ascend to the City of Stars to witness yet an exciting time of the African Cup of Nations Football. These are exciting times.
“We can only attain our vision if we tighten our belts and roll-up our sleeves. It is vital that we curtail all the expenditure that will not translate into service delivery imperatives and commit ourselves to robust and vigorous maximisation of the collection of the debt owed to the municipality. We are aware of this challenge and we will not be apologetic in tackling this matter, we will leave no stone unturned. Management termed this initiative “Operation Hlasela”
“The need to drastically improve our customer relations cannot be over emphasised. The aim is to reduce the number of unresolved queries on our billing system and improve our ability to collect revenue. Accurate billing of services is a critical aspect of sound and good governance aimed at ensuring that all who benefits from municipal services pay for these services timeously.
“During the compilation of the 2013/14 MTREF operational repairs and maintenance was identified as a strategic imperative owing to the aging of the Municipality’s infrastructure and historic deferred maintenance. For the 2013/14 financial year, 63.3 per cent or R79.1 million of total repairs and maintenance will be spent on infrastructure assets. Electricity infrastructure has received a significant proportion of this allocation totalling R15.5 million, followed by road infrastructure at R11 million. Community assets have been allocated R45.7 million of total repairs and maintenance equating to 36.5 percent.
“Honourable Speaker, the social package assists households that are poor or face other circumstances that limit their ability to pay for services.”
For Polokwane, with its resources and ambitions, the next 5 to 10 years are full of promise.