Eye witness

December 11, 1998

Post-apartheid South Africa continues to face serious economic and social problems as it rebuilds its divided society.

The gap between expectations among the non-white communities and the reality of widespread black unemployment is as wide as ever.

But time is fast running out for the government's integrated economic strategy, centred on a plan to create 400,000 new jobs a year by 2000. Many workers will be recruited from technikons, which provide vocational education in partnership with commerce and industry.

This week the European Union announced a Pounds 6 million grant to support a project developed by three European universities and four technikons.

The Technical and Business Education Initiative in South Africa is aimed at building entrepreneurship. Jane Conlon, from Coventry University, said:

"South Africa has a massive need for scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs...but the country has a shortage of trained lecturers to educate the next generation and of appropriate materials. The initiative tackles that."

John Humphreys, pro vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich, who developed the initiative with Dr Conlon, said it was not one-way: "We're learning from the South Africans. Access to education, widening participation, vocational learning - these are all issues at the top of the agenda in the United Kingdom."

The EU money will help start and support businesses. One operation is producing a cheap but environmentally friendly water purification system invented by a technikon chemistry lecturer. Another, pioneered at the ML Sultan Technikon in Durban, has accountancy students doing the books of informal taxi firms, allowing them to interact with the more formal economy.

The four technikons are in areas designated by the government to build commercial and industrial development.

Other areas pioneered by the initiative are being funded by the UK's Department for International Development, the British Council, Eskom, the South African electrical company, and the AngloAmer-ican/DeBeers Chairman's Fund.

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