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The Expanded Public Works Programme

Government has developed a n expanded public works programme to create employment and skills opportunities for the unemployed and marginalised. This guide has the following sections:

  1. Unemployment: The problem in our society
  2. 2003: The Growth and Development Summit (GDS)

2.1 The GDS: Key agreements

  1. The Expanded Public Works Programme – creating a million jobs over 5 years

3.1 EPWP strategy: Employment and skills
3.2 EPWP: participation
3.3 Sectors: Work opportunities
3.4 Local communities and EPWP: The role of development workers

  1. Unemployment: The problem in our society

Unemployment is one of the most critical problems we face as a society today.   Millions of people, are poor and cannot provide for themselves and their families because they cannot find work and earn an income.   Around 40% of working age South Africans do not have formal employment. The problem is even worse amongst the youth – more than 70% of young men and women are unemployed.  Every year this figure grows, because few school leavers are able to study further or to find a job.

Here are some of the reasons for the unemployment crisis: 

The economy does not grow fast enough to create enough jobs for all those who are unemployed and for new school leavers. 

  1. 2003: The Growth and Development Summit (GDS)

To overcome the problem of unemployment, we will need the active participation of government, business, labour and communities.  

During 2003 Government convened a Growth and Development Summit (GDS), bringing together different social partners to address the problems which lead to unemployment.  Government, business, labour and the community constituency agreed to a range of steps to ensure that we address the economic problems facing our country.  The social partners all agreed that one of the most important issues is to address the problem of unemployment. A government-led Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) was one of the measures agreed upon at the GDS to address the problem of unemployment.  

After the GDS, government started planning for the EPWP, looking at some of the experiences with public works in government over the last decade.  For example, Working for Water, a programme of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry has been run as a public works programme since 1995 and has provided tens of thousands of people in rural areas with temporary work.  Local government and the public works department also created temporary jobs where people build houses, clinics, schools, etc through programmes such as the Community Based Public Works Programme.  Provinces also initiated public works programme – in KZN through the department of Transport, where rural communities maintain roads, the Zivuseni programme in Gauteng and a few others in other provinces.

The main problem is that these programmes provided temporary relief and did not reach large enough numbers of unemployed people.  All of these programmes together during the 2000/1 financial year only produced 80 000 jobs.

2.1 The GDS: Key Agreements

The GDS partners agreed that government cannot provide a solution to the problem of unemployment alone.  At the summit, in addition to the EPWP by government, other social partners made practical commitments to work for more jobs, better jobs and decent work for all through:

The partners agreed to encourage investors to direct up to 5% of their investments to special financial instruments that encourage job creation and development.

They also made specific commitments to advancing equity, developing skills, creating opportunities for all and extending services.

  1. The Expanded Public Works Programme – creating a million jobs over 5 years

After a period of consultation within government and with other social partners, the new Expanded Public Works Programme was unveiled.  The Expanded Public Works Programme said President Mbeki in a speech to Parliament in August 2003, aimed to create “a million jobs over a period of five years.”  

The EPWP is seen as one of the short to medium term initiatives to bring more people into the economy, by giving them opportunities or skills to effectively participate and earn a living.

3.1 EPWP strategy: Opportunities and skills

The strategy, which was adopted by Cabinet (November 2003), has two pillars:

All government departments and state owned enterprises will create productive employment opportunities by: 

Making it possible for people to earn an income after leaving the EPWP either through finding a job or starting a business by:

3.2 EPWP: Participation

The programme targets the unemployed and marginalized - this includes:

3.3 Sectors: Work opportunities

Public works programmes are normally in infrastructure related projects.  Although the Expanded Public Works Programme will provide work mainly in infrastructure projects, it has been expanded to include other sectors like tourism, coastal care and home based care.

The departments of agriculture and labour will also run programmes and learnerships to develop new enterprises.

A list of the types of programmes is provided in the table below:

Sector and Types of activities

Targets over the five years: 2004-2009

Coordination and Skills development

Infrastructure development:

  • Upgrade rural and municipal roads, and
  • Upgrade municipal pipelines, storm water drains and sidewalks.
  • Labour intensive provincial and municipal infrastructure programme

Over five years, work opportunities for 750 000 unemployed people to build:

  • 37 000 km of roads,
  • 31 000 km of pipelines,
  •  1500 km storm water drains and
  • 150 km urban sidewalks. 
  • Average 4 month jobs.
  • Resources allocated in the budget:  R15 billion
  • All 750 000 workers will receive training funded by the Department of Labour
  • 500 emerging contractor learnerships, funded by CETA, Local councils with help from Public works

Other infrastructure programmes such as:

  • maintenance of government buildings,
  • Trenching in the electrification programme (still being developed.)
  • A further 150 000 work opportunities for unemployed persons over five years.
  • Average four months jobs.
  • Resources in the budget: 
  • Public Works, with local councils, ESKOM and other departments where relevant.

Environmental and cultural programmes

  • Agriculture department:
    •  Land care programme
  • Dept of Environment and Tourism:
    • Clean up SA and
    • Tourism programmes
  • Dept of Water Affairs and Forestry:
    • Working for Water,
    • Wetlands,
    • Fire programmes.
  • Dept of Arts and Culture: programmes being developed.
  • Work opportunities for 200 000 unemployed
  • Create 400 sustainable SMMEs.
  • Environment targets:
    • control invasion of alien plants on 1 million hectares of land,
    • Improve 1200 km of coastline.
  • One year average jobs.
  • Resources allocated in the budget:  R4 billion

Relevant national and provincial departments mentioned.


Social sector

  • Health:
    • home based care – community based health workers
  • Social Development:
    • Community based care and support workers.
  • Education: 
    • Early childhood development workers.
  • Social sector average two years jobs.
  • Resources allocated in the budget:  R600 million
  • All social sector programs will include on the job experience, as stipend, and training for a period, leading to NQF qualifications.
  • Department of Social Development is the lead dept, with relevant national and provincial dept working on plans. 
  • NGOs and CBOs main delivery agents of social sector programs, funded by government and business.

Economic programmes

  • Department of Trade and Industry is working on a sector plan.  Possible economic sector activities include:
    • Community production centres (Dept of Agriculture)
    • Community cooperative income generating projects (GDS)
    • Enterprise learnership programmes (Depts of Labour and Trade and Industry)
  • 3000 learnerships over 5 years, 3 employees per learner.


  • Learnerships for 18 months average.
  • Resources allocated in the budget:  Still to be decided.
  • Registration on full-time SETA-funded learnerships, class room training funded by SETA.
  • Practical work experience (depts Allocate learning contracts to learners through government procurement.)
  • Mentoring (business)
  • Access to micro finance.

3.4 Local communities and EPWP: The role of organisations and development workers

Each province has a process of identifying the EPWP projects and a recruitment procedure based on national guidelines. Existing provincial public works programmes will be expanded

Local municipalities can also, using their capital budgets, decide to do their infrastructure and other projects on a labour intensive basis. They can then apply for guidance from the National Public Works Programme, and link up with the Department of Labour on training for participants.

The role of development workers is to find out plans and projects that will be implemented in their areas. They should help communities access opportunities and assist departments and local municipalities with identifying target groups for recruitment.

Where new plans are being made in terms of IDP or LED programmes, projects that use local labour and skills unemployed people should be prioritised


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