Des van Rooyen: Show me some respect

Taking care of a nation is a serious assignment, and former Umkhonto weSizwe fighter Des van Rooyen, who was finance minister for four days, wants to focus on that. But he would like some respect in return, too.

“Wherever you are deployed, you must perfect [the job] without necessarily allowing other sideline issues to distract you.

“You must focus on the job at hand, more especially a serious assignment like taking care of the nation, because being a Cabinet minister is a very serious assignment. And I think it should, of course, be reciprocated accordingly,” he said on the sidelines of a visit to the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, where the ANC is to launch its election manifesto on Saturday.

The controversy surrounding his four-day stint as finance minister in December, followed by a move to the co-operative governance and traditional affairs portfolio, has seemingly not knocked him off course.

But the media scrutiny of his one-day trip to Dubai in December seems to have annoyed him. It was private and self-funded, he said, and he didn’t have the money to stay a week.


“As much as one appreciates that I’m a public figure, [does] that simply suggest all of a sudden my private life is something for public scrutiny?” he said, adding that the visit, which coincided with one by members of the Gupta family, was organised before he became minister.

Cleaner city
On Monday, he set foot in Port Elizabeth to check up for the first time on his department’s intervention in the municipality, in terms of section 154 (1) of the Constitution.

He spoke as though it was he, and not his replacement Pravin Gordhan, who discovered the mess that provoked complaints about the city’s rubbish removal service and prompted government intervention.

“Already I have noticed that the city is looking cleaner,” he told a press conference earlier in the day, at which he heaped praise on mayor Danny Jordaan and his team for the metro’s turnaround.

Van Rooyen is no stranger to local government pains. As mayor of Khutsong, west of Johannesburg, his house was burned down by a mob angered by plans to move the small municipality out of Gauteng.

His tips for conflict-ridden municipalities? Public participation, he said: “Democracy can be expensive”, it involves travelling and accommodating 11 official languages in council plans and communications.

“I did my thesis for my first masters on issues of public participation in the IDP [municipal integrated development plan] and one thing that I have realised is we still need to invest a lot in public participation mechanisms in institutions.”

Proper funding
He said communities were mostly involved in the inception and report-back stages, but less so when it came to explaining budgets and processes.

A comprehensive public participation system “must be properly funded, because I know it is very expensive”, he said.

Most people understood that the government had limited resources and that the backlog went back to “many, many years of deprivation, of exclusion, of being denied exposure to such services”, he said.

From the interview Van Rooyen went on to a hall in the Helenvale Resource Centre, where he and Jordaan spoke to about 100 residents, many of them local activists and community development workers from one of Port Elizabeth’s mainly coloured neighbourhoods.

He apologised for his Afrikaans, in which he could barely greet.

“Unlike my friend [Jordaan] here, my Afrikaans is nie goed nie [my Afrikaans isn’t good]. Don’t be disturbed by my surname, Van Rooyen.

“My Afrikaans is not good. If you learn Afrikaans under difficult circumstances, when you’re in the bush fighting apartheid … I spent a lot of my youth days fighting apartheid in exile, so I didn’t have a chance to learn Afrikaans,” he said.

‘Be happy with us’
Van Rooyen told residents, who complained about broken street lights and the worsening gang problem (a policeman had been shot there by gangsters the day before), to “be happy with us, because your metro, unlike other metros, is named after a very powerful individual, Nelson Mandela”.

“Why can’t you be happy when hosted in such beautiful facilities?” he said, gesturing at the centre, built with the help of a German grant.

Van Rooyen reassured the people that his department was doing what it could to help the municipality, but he asked them to help, too.

“You have been denied better lives for more than 300 years. We can’t do it alone. We want you to come to the party, to be part of us as we strive to improve your lives.

“We are a government of the people, by the people. This is your facility; you must take care of this facility.

“Join Nelson Mandela metro under the leadership of Danny Jordaan to improve your lives. Do we have a deal?” he shouted. The residents replied with a resounding “Yes!”

There were one or two yellow ANC T-shirts seen in the audience, but only a plainclothes off-duty postman would declare who he’s voting for in the municipal elections on August??3: “DA, because the whole system, including the party, must change. I haven’t seen any change.”

By that time Van Rooyen and Jordaan had already left the building, in luxury vehicles.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Convict Andile Lungisa resists calls to quit city council

Former youth league leader Andile Lungisa cites ANC constitution, and argues assault is not corruption in a bid to keep his party membership

Hard-hit municipalities brace for more deaths

South Africa’s Covid-19-related deaths have been comparatively lower than the rest of the world. But municipalities are preparing for the worst

A reimagined school is embedded in its community

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing us to respond to issues that were around before Covid-19, including at schools in poor areas

Eastern Cape fails tracing and testing

With the shift to lockdown level three on Monday, details are emerging of how the previous relaxation added pressure to the already poorly performing Eastern Cape Covid-19 response

Eastern Cape’s PPE shortage endangers healthcare workers

Health workers on the front line in one of the poorest provinces are struggling with a shortage of protective equipment and accuse the health department of being unprepared for the pandemic
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…