/ 8 May 2006

Stella Sigcau dead at 69

Minister of Public Works Stella Sigcau has died at Durban’s St Augustine hospital, ministerial spokesperson Lucky Mochalibane said on Monday.

He said Sigcau (69), who was appointed public enterprises minister in the first post-apartheid government in 1994, died of a recurring heart problem on Sunday. It was unclear when Sigcau was admitted to the hospital.

”The minister was a person of few words and many deeds,” Mochalibane told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday morning. ”The department is on its way to becoming an efficient and effective department thanks to the directive of the minister.”

Calling Sigcau a ”champion of rural development”, Mochalibane also praised Sigcau’s leading of legislation on the transformation of the construction industry and her work on the expanded public works programme (EPWP).

”She will be sorely missed,” he said.

Minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan, interviewed on Cape Talk radio on Monday morning, sent ”profound condolences” to Sigcau’s family. ”She has been ill for some time now … It was not too much of a surprise, but it is something very sad,” he said.

The African National Congress said in a statement on Monday it was deeply saddened at the passing away of Sigcau, who ”will be remembered as a widely respected leader of the democratic movement and a committed Cabinet minister who served the people of South Africa with dedication in three successive democratic administrations, from 1994 to 2006”.

The Presidency said in a statement that Sigcau devoted her working life to the service of the people of South Africa. ”In her ministerial roles, Ms Sigcau made a significant contribution in advancing the government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme, black economic empowerment and the promotion of women and rural communities.”

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa extended condolences to Sigcau’s family and friends, saying she was a mother figure for many. ”[This] was a role she took seriously and I recall that she would always call me ‘young man’ whenever we met.

”I have no doubt that she will be sorely missed by the many people who knew her. Indeed government has lost one of its most experienced and longest-serving Cabinet members,” Holomisa said.

These sentiments were echoed by the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco) in KwaZulu-Natal. ”We believe that she would be missed for the great job and the service she gave to this country since the beginning of a democratic government. We shall miss her contribution in our movement and in the struggle of nation building,” a statement from Sasco read.

Sigcau was appointed minister of public works on June 17 1999. She was the third prime minister of the former Transkei for three months in the late 1980s before General Bantu Holomisa — the chief of the defence force at the time — ousted her.

She was born at Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape on January 4 1937 and was a widow when she died.

In 1954, she obtained a teacher’s diploma from the Lovedale Institute, and in 1959 a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Fort Hare. She was a teacher at several schools in the erstwhile Natal administration. She entered politics during Transkei’s 1968 election and won a seat for Lusikisiki.

Sigcau became Transkei’s interior affairs minister after that homeland’s independence. She led the Transkei National Independence Party for 13 years until 1990, when she disbanded the party.

At the time of her death, she was an executive member of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, a member of the African National Congress Women’s League’s Natal executive council; and chairperson of the league in the Transkei.

In the Mail & Guardian‘s Cabinet report card at the end of last year, it was noted that Sigcau — visibly weakened with a heart ailment — had spent a large proportion of the year on sick leave. When she made public appearances, it was to cajole business into assisting with the public works programme; and she spent a lot of time in the places she loved best — the rural backwaters of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

”The rest of the Department of Public Works then deserves credit for a year well-spent. For starters, the department received its first ever unqualified audit,” the M&G said.

Sigcau’s team also completed the audit of the state’s huge property portfolio and put a figure to the maintenance backlog. ”The reason that police stations, home affairs and our courts are in such a shoddy state is because of this backlog. It will cost R12,5-billion to pull things straight and next year, Sigcau will request R2,5-billion a year from her finance counterpart, Manuel,” the report card said.

Team ”Stella” also claimed the EPWP was on track to meet its target of creating a million job opportunities between 2004 and 2009.

”But it’s worth remembering that an EPWP ”job opportunity” lasts an average of four months and pays about R600 a month. Does it really make a dent in unemployment, we have to ask ourselves? What else has [the Department of] Public Works done? It is far ahead of other departments in weeding out front companies who compete for government work,” the M&G said.

”The Scorpions are probing 63 companies, which a Public Works probe found had created fronts to qualify for black economic empowerment [BEE] work. The department’s also spearheaded BEE charters in property and construction; Sigcau pushes and supports women-owned companies in the sector.

”But the fight between public works and education about who is responsible for more efficient school-building continues.”