Energetic on the economy but soft on corruption. That’s the general assessment of the nine-year premiership of Mbhazima Shilowa, who stepped down this week.
DA chief whip in Gauteng Glenda Steyn praised Shilowa for emphasising economic growth. ”His concept of the Global City Region showed he had a bigger picture economically,” Steyn said.
The city region strategy aims to ensure that different spheres of government cooperate in areas such as job creation and infrastructure development, including transport networks.
The creator of the Gauteng Barometer, Ryk van Niekerk, said private sector activity exploded during Shilowa’s tenure. ”Shilowa did play a critical role in creating a favourable business environment for existing or new businesses.”
The agencies Shilowa put in place to foster economic development, principally the Gauteng Economic Development Agency (Geda), Gauteng Economic Propellor (Gep) and Blue IQ projects, all answering to provincial finance minister Paul Mashatile, are seen as creating a space for investors. But critics complain that their effectiveness was hampered by red tape.
Housing has also been a plus. The Institute of Race Relations praised Gauteng last year for building the most houses of all the provinces — 470 228 — using government subsidies. The 2007 Community Survey results showed that since 2001 20% more households have access to running domestic water and an additional 9% have electricity. More than 70% of poor households receive free water.
However, the South African Communist Party’s Gauteng chair, Nkosiphendule Kolisile, pointed out that the province has natural advantages as South Africa’s economic hub.
Van Niekerk said Geda, which aims to lure foreign investors, ”has been a bit of a disappointment. The body has leadership issues and has not drawn the international investments it should have.”
Blue IQ infrastructure projects, designed to make Gauteng more attractive to investors include the Innovation Hub in Tshwane; a project called Gautengonline to help schools become more internet-savvy; and the development of the Cradle of Humankind as a world heritage site.
But the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller was also disappointing, said Van Niekerk. It was intended to help small businesses off the ground by providing business planning expertise and access to finance. Van Niekerk said it had also become mired in bureaucracy, resulting in delays which small businesses could not afford.
Critics point to a lack of accountability for inefficiency and corruption as a key failing of Shilowa’s tenure. He is seen as being reluctant to hold his ANC management team, including Mashatile, accountable. Shilowa’s persistent line on Mashatile was that he was never found guilty of wrongdoing.
Also the butt of criticism are service delivery failures under Shilowa’s watch, which Kolisile blamed for numerous township protests in the province. The bucket system is still operational in some communities, including Kliptown in Soweto.
The DA complained about wasted expenditure during Shilowa’s reign. ”Too much money was spent on political projects such as the Gauteng Youth Commission, which has a R60-million budget this financial year,” said legislature spokesperson James Lorimer.
Lorimer said that Shilowa’s biggest project, the R25-billion Gautrain, trumped other urgent mass transport priorities, including Metrorail. Shilowa insisted Gautrain was not a waste. ”Close to 50% of people say they will use it to commute between Tshwane and Johannesburg, reducing cars on the road by half,” he said.