Newly elected North West Premier Job Mokgoro says he will not rest until he fulfils the commitment he made to late former president Nelson Mandela to change the face of the country’s public service by prioritising skills development.
Speaking to the Mail & Guardian after the ANC’s announcement of his appointment on Thursday, Mokgoro said developing skills was essential to address North West’s service delivery crisis.
“I was among the first crop of directors general in 1994 and I still remember Madiba writing letters to us personally [saying]: ‘Please prioritise skills development.’ We ignored that and today we are paying a big price,” Mokgoro said.
“And I’m saying we’ve neglected this; we’ve become too arrogant. We’ve become a society that operates on a Lotto mentality. [We want to] get rich quick.”
Mokgoro is expected to be sworn in on Friday to take over from embattled former premier Supra Mahumapelo, who leaves behind a province riddled with poor governance issues.
In May, five North West government departments were placed under administration by the national government for failing to meet their public service obligations. Seven others have been warned to either execute their duties effectively or face the same action.
The 70-year-old Mokgoro has his roots in public administration, having served as the first director general of the North West government. He is also responsible for leading the Ikatisong National School of Governance in the province.
Although his focus will now largely shift from the governance school to ensuring the public service in the entire province is functional, he believes his new role might offer him an opportunity to execute his education vision on a larger scale.
“We need to revisit our whole attitude towards skills. And Ikatisong will become vital in addressing this particular challenge. We really need to beef up Ikatisong … and in this new responsibility that I have, I will be a total failure if I don’t do that,” he said.
A self-professed education enthusiast, Mokgoro believes good leaders are made by teaching them the relevant skills right from early childhood development level.
Mokgoro said part of the country’s service delivery problem has been caused by using an outdated linear, top-down model of leadership.
He said that, in his experience, there was often little communication between political heads who crafted policy and the administrators tasked with executing that policy. This, he believes, leads to policies being less effective than they could be when they are implemented.
“We need to change the culture of engagement. When public servants find themselves in the same room as political principals, they don’t talk. It doesn’t matter what brilliant ideas they have, they don’t talk,” he said.
“One time, I had to confront this issue and say [to the politicians]: ‘We are talking about service delivery and … the people who are at the interface are right here, and yet you are talking among yourselves?’”
Mokgoro expressed no opposition to cadre deployment, however, a system that has been blamed for ill-equipped public servants being employed over more capable ones, but said it needed to be implemented in accordance with a clear policy.
For the ANC, the process of selecting Mahumapelo’s successor has been a lengthy one. Its top six rejected a list containing the names of three premier candidates, presented by the North West provincial executive committee (PEC) in May.
The names of provincial secretary Susan Dantjie, former education MEC Johannes Tselapedi and agriculture MEC Manketsi Tlhape were rejected, allegedly because of their proximity to Mahumapelo and their failure to intervene during the crisis in the province.
The PEC was ordered to go back to the drawing board and present a new list of suitable candidates, compiled in collaboration with the ANC’s alliance partners.
That second process led to Mokgoro’s name being selected. Following the ANC’s decision to appoint him, leaders including secretary general Ace Magashule and Mahumapelo (who is still the ANC’s North West chairperson, despite no longer being premier) sang Mokgoro’s praises during a media briefing on Thursday.
Although some people have commented that Mokgoro is too old for the job, Magashule said the new premier still had the energy to lead the province effectively.
“He has been an administrator and he is an activist. Leaders are not just people who are elected in positions of power. Leadership is broad and, indeed, he is 70 years old, but you can see he has the energy to go and stabilise the situation,” Magashule said.
Mahumapelo said the PEC would offer Mokgoro its full support.
“We will also invite him to be part of the [provincial] structures of the organisation in an ex-officio capacity so that we can make sure we strengthen the links and communication among ourselves,” Mahumapelo said.
“As far as administration is concerned, he is one of the excellent administrators in this country. As former premier, I also worked with him when we started the fifth administration. He has at all times made sure we do our best to deliver the necessary services to our people.”
In order for Mokgoro to be sworn in, however, one member of the ANC caucus in the North West legislature will have to resign to make room for him. Even though Mahumapelo vacated his position as premier in May, he has remained in the legislature.
Party insiders have told the M&G that he had no intention of vacating his seat. Magashule, however, said there would have to be a resignation and could not rule out the possibility that Mahumapelo would be asked to leave.
“There will be a person resigning. Whether it will be Supra, we will discuss. But we were saying that comrade Supra should resign and focus on the work of the ANC,” he said.