Too often in small towns across the country unemployment is rampant and workers migrate to bigger cities in search of a way to make ends meet. In the Garden Route, however, there are a number of big name employers coming to the party to provide jobs and community support, not least of which is government.

WORDS Yolande Stander PHOTOGRAPHS Desmond Scholtz

While it comes as no surprise government and parastatals are the largest employers in the Southern Cape, a growing business sector bids well for the economic future of the region.

The Western Cape government employs 13 458 people across several departments, with the regional Department of Education leading the way with 4844 jobs followed by the Department of Health’s 1679 employees. The latter has increased its workforce by 6.4% over the past four years.

Next are local and district municipalities. The George Municipality employs 983 officials across various skill levels. Municipal economic development manager Carli Bunding-Venter says as the Garden Route’s services hub, the town is also the “seat of government in the area so to speak”, with both the Eden District Municipality and various provincial and national government offices located here.

She says in 2011 government contributed 13% to the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the town’s economy and 18% to total formal employment. “The government sector also showed good growth of around 5% in the period 2009 to 2011, which helped us weather the storm during the recession. While it gave us a good safety net, it is not ideal to have such a high dependency on government in a productive economy, and ideally we would like to see private sector contribution to GVA and employment growing further in relative terms.  The economy should be driven by other economic activity, such as manufacturing, which adds more into the tax pot, rather than government salaries, which, if representing a bloated workforce, is a drain on the fiscus.” In Mossel Bay the municipality employs 828 people while Knysna Municipality currently employs 726 people and sustains an average annual workforce growth-rate of 3.04%. “The Knysna Municipality also appoints on average 150 temporary employees on contracts ranging from one day to three years and has become the third largest sector in the town’s economy, contributing on average 9% to the area’s growth,” says municipal manager Grant Easton.

While its headquarters is in George, the Eden District Municipality employs 574 people across the municipal district.

The smallest of the Garden Route local authorities is Bitou Municipality (Plettenberg Bay and surrounds), which despite its size brings a substantial boost to employment figures in the area with more than 400 workers. This excludes temporary positions.

The protection and development of the Garden Route’s extensive natural resources not only attracts hundreds of thousands to the region each year, but also supports hundreds of jobs.

SANParks Garden Route National Park employs 375 people across three sections in Wilderness, Knysna and Tsitsikamma. CapeNature has a total of 104 staff members working in the Garden Route. CapeNature’s staff numbers have grown considerably since 2011 when they only had 54 employees. “This is made up of staff from our George regional office as well as the Goukamma, Robberg and Keurbooms Nature Reserves, which are all very popular tourist destinations. Careers range from positions such as field rangers, nature conservators, administration officers, tourism officers and managers to tourism liaison officers, conservation managers and senior managers,” says CapeNature spokesman Justin Lawrence.

Over and above direct employment, the Garden Route National Park also manages various labour-intensive conservation projects including the Biodiversity Social Project which employs 2033 people. “The Farleigh Eco-Furniture, Working for Water and Working for Ecosystems programmes employ a further 1571 people while the Working for the Coast project has created an additional 462 jobs,” says park communications manager Nandi Mgwadlamba. She says about 80% of these are permanent positions.

“We also make use of 70 contractors on the Garden Route as well as 27 more for the Working for Coast programme. SANParks spends over R20 million on suppliers locally, including accredited contractors, individual companies, services provided by small enterprises and trade creditors, as well as regional and local media. About 77% of this amount went to companies that are BBBEE accredited.”

Another example of the direct and indirect impact of large employers is PetroSA, which employs 2060 workers at its gas-to-liquid (GTL) refinery in Mossel Bay. “Through our operations in the area we have created more than 10 000 indirect jobs as we make use of many service providers and contractors, for instance marine divers and engineers. Our security company is also local. We try as far as possible to support local enterprises, but when we do bring in people to work here from elsewhere this also benefits the local hospitality industry, for example accommodation establishments and restaurants,” says PetroSA spokesman Russel Mamabolo.

The company also invests heavily in community development initiatives in the Mossel Bay area. “This year alone the company will be spending more than R30 million in upgrading three clinics and constructing a new one in Asla, constructing a centre for children with disabilities and upgrading a school sports facility.”

Another large employer that invests heavily in its surrounding communities is Nestlé. Company spokesperson Millicent Molete says the Mossel Bay factory not only employs more than 250 people across various fields, including quality assurance, safety, health and environment, supply chain and human resources, but also makes adding value to society a core strategy. “We focus on three key areas; nutrition, water and rural development.”

One of Nestlé’s initiatives has been reducing water usage by more than 50% by re-using water recovered from its milk evaporation process. The company also adopted the Indwe Secondary School in Mossel Bay and funds two numeracy and literacy tutors. It has upgraded the school’s computer laboratory and library. Nestlé sources milk from 120 farmers locally, nurtures local diary producers and has supported emerging farmers by providing diary infrastructure such as milk tanks, sheds, electricity, water supply and technical support.

Another player on the Garden Route is Transnet, which has freight rail and port operations in the region and through these operations employs 106 people. There has also been a consistent growth in employee numbers, with a 53% increase over the past five years. “Among the skills we employ in our operations in the area include train drivers, engineers, technicians, tug masters, and marine pilots,” says Transnet spokesman Viwe Tlaleane. Training is also a top priority, with three training centres including the School of Rail, School of Engineering and the Maritime School of Excellence.

Sentraal-Suid Co-operative Agriland, the operators of the increasingly popular Tuinroete Agri shops across the Southern Cape, has been providing employment to the region for 84 years. “Through the years the business has flourished and prospered and now employs more than 1300 local people and boasts an annual turnover of about R3 billion,” says SSK Agriland human resources specialist Annelie van Wyk.

The company has retail branches in 23 towns, nine grain silo complexes, three mechanisation and two packaging material depots as well as short-term insurance branches.

Entertainment and lifestyle activities are also major drawcards for the region, giving rise to several large employers in this sector. One of the oldest and most prominent is Fancourt Hotel and Lifestyle Estate in George. Human resources manager Vesta Booysen says Fancourt employs 368 full-time employees and another 26 fixed-term workers, 20 of them trainees.

Other large employers in the region include timber industry operators such as CapePine, Steinhoff/PG Bison and Houttek loventus as well as diary producers Lancewood and Oakhurst Insurance. Information regarding their employment figures was not available at time of going to print.

Employers at a glance (permanent fulltime jobs)
Western Cape Government 13 458
PetroSA indirect jobs 10 000
SANParks projects and programmes 4066 (80% permanent)
PetroSA direct jobs 2060
Sentraal-Suid Co-operative Agriland (Tuinroete Agri) 1300
George Municipality 983
Mossel Bay Municipality 828
Knysna Municipality 726
Eden District Municipality 574
Bitou Municipality 413
SANParks Garden Route National Park 375
Fancourt 368
Nestlé 250
Transnet 106