All Power to the People; JZ's First 100 Days Scorecard

Billionaire capitalist Tokyo Sexwale visited the squatter community of Diepsloot (Gauteng) in his first PR media gig as minister of Human Settlement. This is the same chief who held his first meeting with his provincial ministers at the JSE (Sandton) and pledged that he will hold future meetings there to symbolize that governance was as demanding of performance as business.
Tokyo’s boss Jacob Zuma visited Balfour (Mpumalanga) in the aftermath of intensive service delivery protests and a village in the outskirts of Giyani (Limpopo), two weeks apart. This was after spending his Saturday with villagers in the Free State, the province that spent approximately R9 million on cars for chief politicians.

Interviewed about his thought-provoking book Architects of Poverty and commenting on the first 100 days of Zuma’s administration, which has been characterized by labour protests and strikes, author Moeletsi Mbeki (brother to deposed president Thabo) was frank. He told Vuyo Mbuli on Morning Live that all those visits by ‘the political elite’ were for mere symbolic reasons and had nothing tangible for the residents. He said they were cosmetic and carried no promise for the aggrieved residents. Moeletsi questioned why Zuma didn’t inquire about the murder of two protesters in Balfour but pretended that the highlight of his visit was to have found the mayor off-guard while what was causing the uprising stood beckoning.

I don’t always agree with Moeletsi, especially on his rants which often get published in Sunday Times. However this time Moeletsi is right; these poor communities don’t want mere courteous visits by ‘the ruling elite’ but power. They want power (vested on them not party) to fire incompetent councilors and mayors who don’t pitch to work or make an effort to address them on their grievances. Power to decide who (not what the party) should govern them. They don’t need power in doses as if it was some strong medicine.

If indeed it’s a strong medicine then why are political leaders and ‘the political elite’ going for it full-throttle? If it corrupts let us all be corrupt and call that national empowerment. Why do politicians like Sexwale and Zuma retail it with a humungous mark-up while they got it wholesale?

Residents want the same power to decide which house they want to live in – add to that the power to choose their neighbours. They’ve seen government officials refusing to live in state houses but golf-estates and hotels. They want to be able to decide which two German models they would like to drive – add to that who should pick them from the dealership. Imagine if we were all allowed the carte blanche to choose two sedans of our choice worth R1, 3 million? Wouldn’t we be nicknamed an ML63, S600, 7-Series Nation. We can finally get rid of the patronizing Rainbow Nation when a rainbow does not even have a Black colour which in South Afrika is highlighted.

And such power doesn’t come with Tokyo taking a nap (maybe even playing chess with his billions on his Blackberry) in your shack surrounded by a legion of bodyguards and a plethora of middle-class support staff. It doesn’t come with Zuma catching the mayor of a dorpie off-guard while Rome is burning. It also doesn’t come with incompetent officials (Jacob Dladla) at Mbombela Municipality being suspended for 18-months with full (R100 000, 00 a month) pay but shown the door as per council recommendation.

That’s what power is; all this visits to villages, townships, informal settlements, tough talk on policing, threatening to place under administration non-performing municipalities, threatening to repossess unproductive farms, threatening to make Western Cape ungovernable unless Helen Zille implements quotas are just pure hot air. ‘Better to be ignored than patronized’, so rightfully said former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, although she was a neo-con.

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