‘I am no for­eigner’

CityPress - - News -

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon, a throng of jour­nal­ists gather at Ruth First House in Sax­on­wold, Jo­han­nes­burg, for face-time with the newly an­nounced may­oral can­di­dates for the ANC in Gaut­eng. It is packed, al­most as if the pres­i­dent him­self might make an ap­pear­ance.

Tsh­wane may­oral can­di­date Thoko Didiza cer­tainly looks pres­i­den­tial, dressed in a black coat with pearls in her ears and draped around her neck. She is re­gal, deny­ing that the chaos of the week wore her down.

Didiza finds her­self at the cen­tre of a con­tro­versy af­ter the gov­ern­ing party de­ployed her as a “com­pro­mise” can­di­date.

At the press con­fer­ence, the provin­cial ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the ANC in Gaut­eng, along with na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber Aaron Mot­soaledi, are at pains to con­vince ev­ery­one that once the peo­ple of Tsh­wane know who Didiza is, they will em­brace her.

When she is in­tro­duced and all eyes are on her, she waves her hand and keeps a se­ri­ous, dig­ni­fied look. But seem­ingly chang­ing her mind at the last minute, she flashes a smile and ev­ery­one sud­denly laughs, in­clud­ing her.

Do the ap­par­ent re­jec­tion and sub­se­quent protests in Tsh­wane stem from the fact that she is a Zulu from KwaZu­luNatal? Or that she is a woman? Or per­haps that she is not cur­rent mayor Kgosientso Ramok­gopa? Th­ese are all claims that have been thrust her way. As Joburg mayor Parks Tau ram­bles on about the “cor­ri­dors of free­dom”, Didiza grips the back of Premier David Makhura’s chair as if for sup­port.

Fi­nally, Tau is done and Didiza steps up. If she is freak­ing out, she is be­trayed only by a thin sheen of sweat on her up­per lip.

Her voice strong and au­thor­i­ta­tive, she tells jour­nal­ists that she has never – in her 25 years in Gaut­eng or 19 years in Tsh­wane – felt “alien or for­eign”.

Af­ter the press con­fer­ence, the mother of five, who loves to cook (she once ran a ca­ter­ing com­pany in Tsh­wane called Thoko’s Kitchen), tells City Press that she doesn’t see local gov­ern­ment as a “lesser sphere of pub­lic ser­vice”.

She speaks warmly, often about her grand­moth­ers, who raised her when her par­ents were away at work (she uses the word “ma­tri­arch”), and her about 85-year-old mother, who lives with her and has been her pil­lar of strength.

“My mum has been a pil­lar be­cause when I went to Par­lia­ment in 1994, the three kids were in pri­mary school. The other two came when I was al­ready in Par­lia­ment and I would see them over the week­ends. She nur­tured and sup­ported them. The kids have not felt that mum is away, but I have tried to make sure that when I’ve got an op­por­tu­nity to be home I take it, es­pe­cially dur­ing school hol­i­days. I drive them to school and pick them up, look at their home­work and see what I can do.

“My par­ents al­ways sup­ported what­ever I be­lieved to be my call­ing, which made for a good re­la­tion­ship. Ex­cept for when I wanted to be a jour­nal­ist, then my dad said over his dead body be­cause he thought of them just as abantu abathanda izind­aba [peo­ple who like gos­sip].”

She has a master’s de­gree in higher ed­u­ca­tion man­age­ment, which she com­pleted last year.

Af­ter speak­ing about her fam­ily for some time, she bursts out laugh­ing and says in isiZulu: “You are mak­ing me do some­thing I have never done be­fore,” re­fer­ring to speak­ing about her­self out­side of the ANC, where she has served in the ex­ec­u­tive for al­most 15 years.

“I love my foot­ball, so dad and I would oc­ca­sion­ally go and watch soc­cer,” she says abruptly, as if sud­denly re­mem­ber­ing.

Thoko Didiza

“I sup­port Kaizer Chiefs.” ANC Women’s League founder Char­lotte Max­eke is a leader she has al­ways looked up to. She be­lieves the late for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela paved the way for her as a fe­male leader in a male-dom­i­nated party.

“Pres­i­dent Man­dela was ex­em­plary, in my view, be­cause he ap­pointed women in ar­eas of re­spon­si­bil­ity that would or­di­nar­ily not have been seen as po­si­tions that women would hold if they were in the ex­ec­u­tive,” she says.

When asked which of the ANC women she leans on in stress­ful times, she says: “Com­rade Baleka Mbete is one of those women un­der whom we have grown. Some­times when there are dif­fi­cul­ties, you are able to go to her and Thandi Modise and say: ‘Hey, what now?’”

Of her time in Par­lia­ment, she is al­most re­luc­tant or un­de­cided as to what she will miss there, but fi­nally set­tles on “the friend­ship, the ca­ma­raderie and the col­le­gial­ity we have built over time, re­gard­less of our dif­fer­ences”.

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PHOTO: TEBOGO LETSIE

Thoko Didiza dur­ing the ANC’s an­nounce­ment of its Gaut­eng may­oral can­di­dates

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