Mayor Her­man Mashaba dreams big for Joburg

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Her­man Mashaba never thought “in my wildest dreams” that he would be­come a politi­cian, least of all the DA mayor of Jo­han­nes­burg, “do­ing the last job in the world that I want”.

Per­haps that is why he is not overly re­strained in speech or in ac­tion by po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions, and why he doesn’t feel com­pelled to cam­ou­flage what he says in the fin­ery of sophistry as many in the po­lit­i­cal world may do, all the bet­ter not to burn their bridges be­fore dou­ble-cross­ing them. So, for ex­am­ple, where the politi­cian might dwell on the his­tor­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal fac­tors that con­verged to make Ja­cob Zuma pres­i­dent, Mashaba just al­lows him­self a hearty chuckle — and goes for the jugu­lar.

“I re­ally used my com­mon sense to know my coun­try is in big trou­ble,” he says at the start of our in­ter­view at the may­oral of­fices on the hill in Braam­fontein as he ex­plains his tran­si­tion from busi­ness­man and freemar­ket cru­sader to politi­cian.

“Be­cause how on earth would any­one think of a guy like this, who is in fi­nan­cial trou­ble, some­one who was charged for rape, some­one with so many wives, and you put him as pres­i­dent of a coun­try in a demo­cratic en­vi­ron­ment? I re­alised we are in trou­ble, we’re in trou­ble, we’re in trou­ble.

“Ja­cob Zuma is a crim­i­nal if I have to de­fine it in sim­ple terms. Crim­i­nal­ity and him are the same thing . . . so how do you put some­one like that as a leader of a coun­try, some­one who was broke, you put him in charge of the na­tional purse? . . . We’re in trou­ble. All these ANC peo­ple who voted and pushed got Ja­cob Zuma, and they can’t tell me they didn’t know who he was.”

Dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the ANC

Mashaba says this apro­pos of his own po­lit­i­cal jour­ney, and how his dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the ANC af­ter the Man­dela years drove him into op­po­si­tion, and into bed with the DA. In some ob­vi­ous ways it was a po­lit­i­cal jour­ney that mir­rors the com­ing of age of a black mid­dle class which, in the last lo­cal govern­ment elec­tion at least, did the pre­vi­ously un­think­able, and voted for the DA with a mod­ernising black leader in Mmusi Maimane at its head. It is no co­in­ci­dence that one of the DA’s dom­i­nant lo­cal elec­tion themes was the “be­trayal” of Nel­son Man­dela’s legacy. So much so that Mashaba refers to the 1994 elec­tion, and the ap­pre­hen­sive­ness be­fore it, by say­ing: “For­tu­nately enough, Man­dela brought about this magic.

“Thabo Mbeki came out with the African Re­nais­sance, which I im­me­di­ately em­braced and pro­moted openly. I was ex­cited with this con­cept of the African Re­nais­sance, talk­ing about ac­count­able govern­ment, about democ­racy. Then, dur­ing his ten­ure, Zimbabwe started col­laps­ing, ac­tu­ally not col­laps­ing, Mu­gabe started his evil poli­cies and I was to­tally shocked when Thabo Mbeki was one of the peo­ple that sup­ported him. I thought: ‘What the hell is go­ing on?’ Mak­ing mat­ters worse was for the ANC to re­move Thabo Mbeki from power be­fore his time and elect­ing Ja­cob Zuma. That’s when I re­alised my coun­try is in big trou­ble.”

And it’s that “big trou­ble” that’s shack­led Mashaba with the may­oral chains of Jo­han­nes­burg, where he rules courtesy of an ar­range­ment with the EFF and smaller par­ties, mak­ing the city govern­ment the jewel in the DA’s lo­cal govern­ment crown, even if the crown is slightly tar­nished by hav­ing to be shared with the EFF. So far, at least, the EFF has played ball with Mashaba, de­spite the re­ver­ber­a­tions from the fall­out at the DA-dom­i­nated Nel­son Man­dela Bay metro.

With his be­ing new to the game of pol­i­tics, Mashaba’s crit­ics, es­pe­cially in the ANC,

Ja­cob Zuma is a crim­i­nal, if I have to de­fine it in sim­ple terms The ANC be­lief is that the only way they can con­trol peo­ple is to keep them ig­no­rant

have at­tempted to paint him as a po­lit­i­cal novice, an­other busi­ness­man-turned­politi­cian who doesn’t un­der­stand the trade-offs and nu­ances (and pet­ti­nesses) of pol­i­tics, and who’ll soon aban­don a brief and un­pro­duc­tive so­journ in pub­lic life for a re­turn to the sim­ple cer­tain­ties of the business world.

Some have even at­tempted to make com­par­isons be­tween Mashaba and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, al­though a pen­chant for straight talk and the pass­ing sim­i­lar­ity in wealth (Mashaba was es­ti­mated by Forbes mag­a­zine in 2015 to be worth a net $100-mil­lion) may be the end of the like­ness. For one thing, Mashaba was brought up in bor­der­line poverty, and he writes in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Black Like You, about “cel­e­brat­ing” the ar­rival at home of a bag of Ace maize meal, which his mother, a live-in do­mes­tic ser­vant to rich whites, had man­aged to buy for the month. Trump can hardly make the same claim. Skim­ming through Mashaba’s ac­count of his early life in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, one can’t help but be struck by the sim­i­lar­i­ties with EFF leader Julius Malema’s own child­hood, and with whom he is now in a part­ner­ship to keep out the ANC from the city govern­ment. Which is pos­si­bly why he can man­age only a dry chuckle be­fore ad­dress­ing the mat­ter of his crit­ics dar­ing to call him anti-poor.

Al­though Mashaba doesn’t ap­pear to be one to wear his bit­ter­nesses (if any) on his sleeve, he cuts the pro­file of the en­er­gised African­ist leader, a man not so pre­oc­cu­pied with ap­peas­ing whites and white opinion (in a South African con­text) that he for­gets his “own peo­ple”. He is scathing be­yond the merely po­lit­i­cal about what he be­lieves the ANC has done, and which he has made it his mis­sion to roll back, in Jo­han­nes­burg at least. “The ANC has over the past 20 years taken that God-given gift of black peo­ple be­cause they’ve made them think that with­out govern­ment, with­out the ANC, they are not ca­pa­ble of do­ing any­thing for them­selves. And on April 27 1994 one of my ex­cite­ments was that we were go­ing to see an ex­plo­sion of black en­trepreneur­ship. But on all fronts we have failed. Our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is even worse than the apartheid sys­tem we hated.

“It’s de­lib­er­ate, be­cause the ANC be­lief is that the only way they can con­trol peo­ple is to keep them ig­no­rant. So this is not a mis­take. That is why Ja­cob Zuma has made clear his ha­tred for what he calls clever blacks, his deep ha­tred for clever blacks. Why do you think an ANC govern­ment would hate clever blacks when any coun­try in the world wants clever peo­ple? When peo­ple are ed­u­cated they are able to de­cide for them­selves and that’s what the ANC would not want.

“For the first time in the City of Jo­han­nes­burg we have passed a pro-poor bud­get, 60% of our capex is go­ing into poor com­mu­ni­ties. They tried to use this against me in the elec­tions, but the job I’m do­ing to­day is be­cause of poor South Africans, be­cause I’m from that back­ground and the only way you can get poor peo­ple out of poverty is to give them op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s not to give them fish. If you want to de­stroy a na­tion, give them fish and that’s what the ANC is do­ing and that’s what I’m fight­ing.

“When I took over, all of Joburg’s sec­tion 56 man­agers were ANC cadres, be­cause the ANC ap­points in se­nior po­si­tions purely 200% on cadre de­ploy­ment. It’s got noth­ing to do with ef­fec­tive­ness, so imag­ine these are the peo­ple you have to op­er­ate with.

“You had to be naive to think that these peo­ple would overnight be pre­pared to work with me. They were more work­ing for Luthuli House than work­ing for my govern­ment. I don’t know if you know the process of fir­ing se­nior peo­ple in govern­ment?” Mashaba asks. He out­lines a long and com­plex process, the essence of which re­quires coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the par­ties to agree to take dis­ci­plinary ac­tion af­ter proof of cor­rup­tion is found.

“This is why, if you look at ANC mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, all of them, peo­ple will be on sus­pen­sion or they move them some­where else in­stead of deal­ing with that chal­lenge.

“I’ve man­aged to get rid of seven and in the next few months I’ll be get­ting rid of 14.”

Mashaba says he called all the se­nior man­agers to­gether when he took over, and asked them whether they recog­nised the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics that had top­pled the ANC from power in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“I said I’m com­mit­ting the next five years, if I sur­vive, to es­tab­lish­ing a pub­lic ser­vice. I said to the se­nior man­agers: ‘Are you guys pre­pared to work with me? You’re not work­ing for the DA, you’re work­ing for the res­i­dents of the city of Joburg. Your role is to serve any govern­ment as long as that govern­ment is le­git­i­mately elected.’ Un­for­tu­nately some of them have re­fused and some are still re­fus­ing, and that’s the rea­son why I’m get­ting rid of them. I’ve al­ready fired seven peo­ple and, I think, 300 oth­ers be­low. To­day, by chance, I’m fir­ing an­other 21 se­nior peo­ple. The thing is if I don’t do that I am go­ing to al­low the govern­ment to be sab­o­taged.”

Mashaba is clean­ing up in the city cen­tre, too. His move on the no­to­ri­ously lawless city cen­tre and its hi­jacked build­ings was dealt a set­back re­cently when ca­ble thieves plunged the city into dark­ness, and he had to find emer­gency fund­ing just to have the lights switched back on.

“Just be­fore you came, I was speak­ing to [lo­cal govern­ment min­is­ter] Des van Rooyen, be­cause I need an emer­gency meet­ing for them to as­sist me with this trea­son. There are peo­ple steal­ing our in­fra­struc­ture. If you look at the 22 peo­ple ar­rested [over the ca­ble theft], out of the 22 only one said he is South African. The rest are here il­le­gally.

“This is some­thing I don’t un­der­stand. When I re­port this, am I be­ing xeno­pho­bic? When I ar­rest 22 peo­ple who’ve caused mas­sive dam­age, R50-mil­lion in di­rect dam­age plus the dis­rup­tion to the econ­omy, and I re­port I’ve ar­rested peo­ple, for­eign­ers, is that be­ing xeno­pho­bic or must I say they are our friends?

“Here in the city of Joburg I have young girls, eight or nine, be­ing turned into pros­ti­tutes, be­ing given drugs by drug syn­di­cates, young chil­dren be­ing brought up in these un­hy­gienic build­ings.

“The city of Joburg over the last 136 years was built around mi­grants, and no coun­try in the world can ever make it with­out mi­grants. But you can­not grow an econ­omy in a chaotic en­vi­ron­ment.

City is hi­jacked

“I’ve de­clared the in­ner city a huge op­por­tu­nity for us to kick-start our city to ad­dress this mas­sive hous­ing back­log that I’m sit­ting with. And now the city is hi­jacked by crim­i­nal el­e­ments so I’ve got to get them out of the city. It’s go­ing to pro­ceed in a week or so’s time. Af­ter the next coun­cil meet­ing we are go­ing to be is­su­ing pro­pos­als to the pri­vate sec­tor. We’ve al­ready iden­ti­fied 84 or 85 build­ings that I’d like to of­fer to the pri­vate sec­tor to de­velop low-cost hous­ing for our peo­ple.”

As the raids are stepped up, says Mashaba, those dis­placed will be of­fered tem­po­rary and al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion. “How­ever, I will only pro­vide ac­com­mo­da­tion to South Africans. If you’re not South African, it can­not be my re­spon­si­bil­ity. You can’t ex­pect to go to Amer­ica, to go to Zimbabwe, and ex­pect the Zim­bab­wean govern­ment to find ac­com­mo­da­tion for you.

“I’ve got South Africans on a long wait­ing list who’ve been on the wait­ing list since 1995-96. Am I go­ing to al­low a for­eigner to come here and jump the queue? It’s not go­ing to hap­pen un­der my watch. No court of law is go­ing to force me to do that be­cause then I want that court to ex­plain to South Africans why they ex­pect me to al­low a crim­i­nal to jump the queue. If you go into a coun­try with­out go­ing through the nor­mal chan­nels, if you don’t have doc­u­ments, you’re a crim­i­nal.

“Don’t just tell me I must build houses for peo­ple. I’ve never seen houses be­ing built from fresh air.”

Later, as our in­ter­view con­cludes, Mashaba seems irked by com­par­isons with the DA-led city govern­ment of Cape Town, and how much more Joburg is be­ing asked to achieve in more dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. He says he looks for­ward to the city cen­tre be­com­ing a “con­struc­tion site” over the next 18 months. He also says he is hold­ing off on re­nam­ing streets for a while, “un­less they’re re­ally of­fen­sive, like Ver­wo­erd. I must spend money chang­ing street names when so many of our peo­ple have never even had streets?" No ways, he says.

Pic­ture: Sim­phiwe Nk­wali

Jo­han­nes­burg mayor Her­man Mashaba sur­veys the city sky­line from the roof of his of­fices in Braam­fontein.


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