Gauteng Premier David Makhura talks of radical change, but will the stars in his eyes blind him to reality?
Will Gauteng fall to the opposition under the inexperienced and untested David Makhura, or is he the ANC’s last hope to save the elusive province?
Much will depend on the execution – and not style or orotund delivery – of the premier’s intentions, to be revealed in the state of the province address on Friday. But the rest is beyond his control.
He has spent his first month in office trying to fix predecessor Nomvula Mokonyane’s mess, trying to restore the fading trust between the ruling party and communities.
He has told his Cabinet that their days will be spent on the streets, in the shacks, in the alleys of the townships and in community halls, trying to mend the tenuous relations that exist with angry constituencies.
It all sounds like sophistic promises from an overzealous, activist novice who is yet to learn the trappings and the paralysing effects of bureaucracy and partisan politics.
Remnants of romance
For Makhura, though, there still seem to be the remnants of a romance with the electorate. He is exploiting the last days of the honeymoon. He has to repair the damage done under the Mokonyane administration unless he wants to be remembered as the last ANC premier to rule Gauteng.
According to a provincial official, Makhura has spent the last 30 days “engaging [with] the communities, making the angry Bekkersdal people understand that we are here to serve them”.
“He has been to Bronkhorstspruit. He is going to do surprise visits as part of his campaign of being on the ground. He has told his MECs: no spending time attending long office meetings,” said the official, who cannot be named because he is not authorised to speak for the premier.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday, Makhura confirmed that “we want to be the government that listens to its people. That’s why we are having our state of the province in [the Ekurhuleni township of] Thokoza.”
But what’s new? The first Gauteng premier, Tokyo Sexwale, used to do street walkabouts, swapping his fancy suits for blue-collar workmen’s gear in downtown Johannesburg. So, what has changed?
Makhura’s approach is “radical”, the new word in the lexicon of the fifth government.
“There’s going to be a radical shift in the way the government works,” he says. “We need the nurses that visit patients at home. We need teachers that visit children at home. We need policemen and women who spend more time in communities. The station commander must be known in the community.”
At 46, he’s the youngest ever Gauteng premier. When he was a student leader in the mid-1990s, those who would precede him as premier were already experienced politicians: Sexwale was a premier, Mokonyane and Mathole Motshekga were in the provincial legislature and Mbhazima Shilowa was a Cosatu leader.
It is understood that he has consulted all his predecessors “and promised to work closely with them”.
As the longest serving ANC provincial secretary, Makhura’s responsibilities included monitoring the performance of premiers, even though some defied him.
Restricted to the party
His focus and area of responsibility were restricted to the party. He now has to think about the entire province, its socioeconomic dynamics and expectations, and its limited budgets overseen by (in some cases) incompetent politicians and corrupt officials.
Makhura has already told his executive team and officials that corruption is his number one enemy, according to a staffer in his office.
Whereas many believe that he is sincere about clamping down, others point to his alleged association with political allies with business interests in state contracts.
“He will find it difficult to lose such allies, especially with the bruising succession battles in the ANC, unless he has the stamina and energy to fight on and lose friends,” says a Gauteng ANC politician.
If he wins the fight against graft, Makhura is faced with multifaceted battles: unemployment, the high cost of living, poor services and poorly performing municipalities, as well as poverty and other socioeconomic ills in Gauteng’s slums and townships. And don’t forget grumpy suburbia.
“There’s going to be an unprecedented focus on growing the township economy,” says Makhura. “We must have small businesses in townships producing bread for us to supply to schools. The state will use its buying power in the township.
“The way to grow this economy is by supporting small businesses. The era of big factories being the driver of economic growth is over. We will still support big businesses like the automotive, ICT, tourism and financial sectors, because there are jobs there.”
First acid test
The local government polls in 2016 will be the first acid test of his leadership and his delivery on promises.
Makhura leads the commercial centre of the country, which generates a third of South Africa’s GDP. So Gauteng attracts millions from other provinces and countries – yet the province’s economic growth is as sluggish as that in the rest of the country.
In his state of the province address, Makhura will be resolute about his government creating jobs, growing the economy, making Gauteng safer and improving the quality of its services. The people, not his words, will be the judge. And he can’t use his inexperience as an excuse. He has a master’s degree in public policy, after all. – Additional reporting by Moshoeshoe Monare