With local government elections just over a month away on 1 November, the ANC is unlikely to replace newly elected Johannesburg mayor Jolidee Matongo, who died in an accident on Saturday, mere weeks after the death from Covid-19 of his predecessor Geoff Makhubo.
Despite having been born in South Africa and his mother being a citizen, Matongo’s first few weeks in office had been turbulent after his appointment triggered a barrage of xenophobic social media abuse over his father’s origins from neighbouring Zimbabwe.
In his inaugural mayoral speech in August, Matongo said he would look at resuscitating a desk in the city to deal with foreign nationals, a polarising issue among locals, some of whom accuse immigrants from other African countries of rampant crime and stealing jobs.
In the controversy, Matongo found a defender in opposition Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema who has often called out xenophobia.
“The ANC is clear on its policy positions,” said Matongo, who had risen through the ANC ranks as a youth leader and was the preferred choice of the ruling party’s coalition partners to replace Makhubo as mayor.
“If, people are from other countries, they are documented and if they have the papers we don’t have a problem … We have to revive the migrant desk so that we are able to interact with the representatives of the various communities,” he said, also vowing to take a hard line against corruption and underperforming municipal officials.
Prior to being elected unopposed, Matongo had been touted as the front-runner to take over as Johannesburg mayor in a tussle between two regional leaders from different factions of the ANC. His opponent was deputy chair and member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for health Eunice Mgcina.
In a profile he sent to the Mail & Guardian shortly before he took office, Matongo said one of his proudest achievements was having been part of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas), who advocated for the scrapping of examination fees for learners finishing high school.
He went on to become the ANC Youth League regional secretary, the spokesperson for the greater Johannesburg region, and also served as MMC for finance in Makhubo’s administration.
Matongo met his death on Saturday after having spent most of the day campaigning side by side with President Cyril Ramaphosa during voter registration for the local government elections.
“Nothing could prepare any of us for this sudden loss, which has deprived our nation’s economic centre of its second executive mayor in two months,” Ramaphosa said.
“Mayor Matongo has been taken from us at a time when he was totally immersed in improving conditions and creating opportunities for all the people of Johannesburg and stakeholders in the metropolitan economy. Like all of us, he was looking forward to the forthcoming election, and we saw in person today that he had put his heart and soul into mobilising the people of the city to make their voices heard on 1 November.”
ANC leaders in the region were said to be mourning Matongo’s death on Monday and there had been no talks on who would succeed him.
“It’s hard to even think of tomorrow so these talks will not happen now,” one regional source told M&G. Another said the party would most likely call on one of the mayoral committee members to stand in as mayor until the 1 November elections.
“Everyone is on the ground, the focus is on the elections so selecting a new mayor becomes a task we will have after the elections. There is no vacuum that will be created,” another party member in the provincial executive committee said.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) lauded Matongo as having “served with a fervent spirit and the utmost dedication to the citizens of Johannesburg”.
“His loss is felt not only by members of his family and his political organisation, but the rest of the citizens of Gauteng,” IFP Gauteng chairperson Bonginkosi Dhlamini said.