The Eastern Cape Presidential Project was initiated through a discussion between Eastern Cape Premier Raymond Mhlaba and Minister Jay Naidoo, Minister in the Office of the President, mandated by President Nelson Mandela in October 1995.
An elaborate consultative process involving the national and provincial governments, business, labour and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) was undertaken, culminating in the formulation of a project management team. The team was constituted in administration, finance, private sector, labour, security and technical areas.
The basic principle guiding the functioning of the Presidential Project Team was that various national and provincial departments and local authorities would retain the responsibility and accountability of their line functions. The team's work was an interventionist strategy designed to enhance the capacity of statutory bodies to perform their functions in an efficient and effective manner.
At that stage, the poverty rate in the Eastern Cape stood at 73% which was the highest of all provinces. In Transkei alone, the poverty rate had increased to 92%. So even though the Eastern Cape Presidential Project included all aspects for the development of the province, its initial thrust was concentrated on regions D, E and part of B (formerly known as the Transkei). Four areas were selected for priority action: Mthatha, Butterworth, Cala and Mt Ayliff.
Among others, the tasks of the Presidential Project Team were to:
- Carry out a situational assessment and analysis of all government structures with a view to creating a detailed budget for all infrastructure projects;
- Enhance the benefits of all government projects aimed at uplifting communities in the region;
- Restore administration in key areas;
- Facilitate and expedite the completion of existing projects;
- Develop an effective and efficient strategy of security;
- Restore confidence in the criminal justice system;
- Promote the role of the private sector; and
- Promote a healthy, environmentally sensitive development.
Although quite a lot of good was done by the Presidential Project Team, the problems in the Eastern Cape were of such a systemic nature, that the Project Team had limited success with some of the major problems facing the Eastern Cape. In some instances the Task Team was also seen by other departments as meddling in areas where they should not. One of their major successes was the support they provided to the final integration of departments from the five different public services.
This task team was also hampered by the fact that it had been constituted during the RDP period of the South African Government. With the introduction of GEAR, the national support diminished and by the time the 2nd general election was held the task team had been disbanded.