Changes could be good for Gauteng
Our preoccupation with the ANC conference in Mangaung means we frequently pay little attention to the provinces, where there are often underreported skirmishes.
We ignore the provinces at our peril because it is there that textbooks are delivered, our hospitals and clinics are managed and where the government provides housing for those who cannot afford to buy houses on the private market.
Essentially, the people who run the provinces are the people who run our lives in a much more visible and direct way than the national government. Hence we should pay attention to Gauteng, where a little man with little regard for public money was shown the door last week. Local government and housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi represented one of the province’s worst-ever appointments: the man was not only reckless with public funds and property, but was also horrible as a public representative. More than once, in public halls, he was seen trying to argue with crowds who differed with him. “When have you ever seen an MEC argue with a crowd?” an ANC member once asked me.
Mmemezi should never have been an MEC. The truth is that Gauteng has been misgoverned for the past few years. Historically, the provincial government led the way and, although not immune to corruption allegations, was always stable and ahead of the others with its vision and innovations.
But this has not been the case since Nomvula Mokonyane took over, although it is not necessarily her fault. The roots go down to a problem the ANC identified years ago – “two centres of power”, as it was called. President Jacob Zuma insisted on appointing Mokonyane as premier in 2009, although the ANC in the province wanted Paul Mashatile.
In the build-up to Polokwane the party had correctly recognised that, when a government leader is not the party leader, there is a danger of endless tension and paralysis in government. Post-Polokwane the situation was supposed to have been addressed, but clearly it was not – and Gauteng is the perfect example.
Mokonyane has had to look over her shoulder constantly while making decisions and appointments – and Mmemezi was such a compromise. He was brought into the executive because he brought in votes from the West Rand, where he was a regional leader, which helped the Mashatile group to win control of the ANC in Gauteng.
So the poor residents of Gauteng were burdened with a gift from Mashatile in the form of Mmemezi. The ANC in Gauteng is aware that it is one, or at most two, elections away from the point when its overall vote could dip below 50% if it does not improve its performance. The Democratic Alliance is constantly sensing that, with a greater effort, it could topple the ANC in Gauteng and the Northern Cape, and sooner rather than later. This can happen – look at how the Inkatha Freedom Party’s huge majority in KwaZulu-Natal disappeared and how the ANC ended up in opposition in the Western Cape.
Following Mmemezi’s resignation, Mokonyane has taken the opportunity to reshuffle her executive council. Several people have been moved around and Hope Papo is now in the health portfolio, for example.
The new appointments seem to be pretty solid. Few people are as committed to the ANC as Papo. Many people know him as a serial caller to radio talk shows to defending the ANC and government.
A disciplined man
I first met him in the early 1990s when he was a member of the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco). Then he was as dedicated as he is now, but he also had a wonderful sense of humour. I remember him entertaining us for an entire trip from Johannesburg to Pretoria, where we were going for a Sasco march to the government offices.
When we met again he was a member of the ANC in Gauteng and ANC spokesperson, and he spent most of the time denying stories that later proved to be true.
But Papo is a disciplined man. I just cannot associate him with greed, corruption and the perks that will come with his position. But he has been given probably the most difficult post in the provincial cabinet: health is mired in poor delivery and the misuse of funds.
Nkosiphendule Kholisile is another of Mokonyane’s new appointments – he takes over the economic development portfolio.
I first saw him in action on the ground in Khutsong, where he filled a vacuum created by the community’s rejection of the ANC during the demarcation battles in the mid-2000s. He delivered the Khutsong community into the hands of the South African Communist Party (SACP), which became the custodians of the struggle for Khutsong to be returned to Gauteng and expanded its membership on the West Rand.
Kholisile is now engaged in a battle to stay in the SACP, because some Gauteng party leaders want him expelled.
Like Papo, Kholisile is independent and outspoken. He got into trouble for opposing the leadership style of SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. He styles himself as a “principled Bolshevik”, but if he is to succeed in his new portfolio, he will have to be a lot more pragmatic. He will have to drop his Marxist-Leninist rhetoric and deal with some hard economic policy choices.