Tokyo ropes in Winnie to clean up the toilet mess

By Carien Du Plessis 7 September 2011

Human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale looked flush as he announced that ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela would head his sanitation task team set up in response to the pre-election toilet saga. Which, of course, wasn’t his fault at all. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

There was a time when many reasonable people thought Tokyo Sexwale would be a good choice for president (the other two choices having been a third term for Thabo Mbeki, or corruption-charged Jacob Zuma) but nowadays he’s really only a human settlements minister talking crap.

No, literally. On Tuesday, Sexwale called a big press conference in his spotless, glam departmental boardroom to talk toilets.

Flanked by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – ANC MP seems too pedestrian a title for HRH Mama Wethu – in a white and black Coco Chanel-inspired jacket, Sexwale announced the team containing a medical doctor and ex-Truth and Reconciliation commissioner (Fazel Randera), the human settlements director-general Thabane Zulu, local government big shots and community workers, among others. Under Madikizela-Mandela’s leadership, the team will, for the next three months, look at problems with the delivery of sanitation and make recommendations on policy, budget and regulations.

Sanitation moved to Human Settlements in 2009, with the appointment of Sexwale, and bucket toilets is not the kind of legacy a future president – or any politician serious about his job – would want to leave.

Sexwale, who is smooth enough to sell sunshine to a South African, made it sound like the noblest of missions. People having to go to toilet in the veld “was happening, Mama, under apartheid, and you fought that as well,” he said, looking at Madikizela-Mandela, who was nodding in agreement. It’s a matter of dignity and human rights, he said.

Before the local government elections, when the DA and the ANC in places like Macassar, Magaqa and Harrismith scored equal own goals in the dirty saga of unenclosed and unfinished loos, “sanitation became a game of political football, so we decided to do something about that and appoint this task team” – which Sexwale would like us to believe is politics-free.

But the bullshit detector flashing: the task team was announced before it had even had its first meeting (the briefing was also the first time the task team members saw each other), and before its budget even had a figure (Zulu said the money was in the department’s investigations budget, but they’re not sure exactly how much the task team would need). Also, it was headed by Madikizela-Mandela on account of the fact that she’s a pro-poor activist and, in general, a mother (also to Sexwale, who made a point of emphasising that he had stayed with her as a son in Soweto for a while, before he ended in trouble for his politics).

The briefing was timed to coincide with the news lull in between ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s disciplinary hearing dates.

Sitting in that press conference, watching Sexwale and Madikizela-Mandela, all one could think about was the former television game show host’s future ambitions.

Madikizela-Mandela had been close to the Youth League, supporting Malema like her own grandson at his Afriforum hate speech trial, and Sexwale had been seen ambulance-chasing with her and Malema in housing and toilet hot spots in the past few months.

But Malema is now as good as gone and people need to reposition. Nobody still in the need for a future career would be seen dead with him now.

Sexwale had made it clear at the briefing that no questions outside sanitation would be allowed, so journalists couldn’t ask the question that was on everyone’s lips: When last did Madikizela-Mandela kiss Malema?

Asking difficult questions from Ma’Winnie is a bit like asking the Queen of England whether she is, well, regular. It’s very, very difficult.

So probing whether Madikizela-Mandela would be getting any extra pay over and above her MP’s salary for this position (this question was ignored), or whether she’d be able to fit it in with her busy parliamentary schedule (this question was met with a puzzled look), or what qualified her for the job, one was bound to get the double ply treatment.

Sexwale told us off with a smile in a somewhat indignant oration: “I would have hoped that you would never ask Winnie Mandela what she brings to the poor; for the first black social worker in South Africa and for someone who has stayed amongst the poorest of the poor; for a mother; for somebody who even if you drive into the hovels of Brandfort (where Madikizela-Mandela had been exiled by the Apartheid government), they build clinics there; for somebody who spent countless nights criss-crossing squatter camps to cover the wounds of the people – because we didn’t have a budget then to the extent that we do now to help change their lives…”

And then he suddenly interrupted himself: “I think she brings nothing here. She is a mother who must cover the wounds. Forget the freedom fighter, the social worker, as minister that is what I was looking for: a mother.”

The rest of the team was chosen because they were credible community workers and people with experience on the ground.

Madikizela-Mandela, calling Sexwale her “son”, had mixed feelings about the appointment. She insinuated it was a stinky present for her birthday, “on the 26th of this month, heritage, tourism and cultural month”.

Then she said all the right things, such as that it’s an honour for her to serve, that she had wanted to be at the forefront of such a project, particularly “as we are celebrating our (the ANC’s) centenary at 2012.

“We are hoping this legacy would be something for generations to be talking about. We are hoping to be helping the poorest of the poor.”

She and Sexwale were also asked how they would obtain information about sanitation hot spots, which Sexwale said was through telecommunications and the electronic media (hopefully he wasn’t referring to the pre-elections sewer-chasing by his department).

Asked why Madikizela-Mandela did not simply use her position as MP to ask party constituency offices for input, she said: “We hope we are here to serve our people. Some of the questions you are asking us, they least crossed our minds. The generation we belonged to, they roll up their sleeves and go to work. We are glad you asked us the questions you asked, because they sensitised us on what we will come up against”.

Then she emphasised that the task team was not based in Parliament, but that Sexwale would liaise on the issues there. “Us, we are just here to work.” DM

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