South Africa

David Makhura: The trust deficit between government and citizens must be closed

By Ranjeni Munusamy 7 June 2015

Gauteng Premier David Makhura has been in office for just over a year after the ANC retained control of the province by a narrow margin in the May 2014 elections. He made his debut in government with a bang with his announcement to set up a panel to review the impact of e-tolls on the people of Gauteng. Now he has initiated what he calls an “activist government” that takes politicians to the coalface of state services, and is rolling out plans for new post apartheid cities and settlements. Makhura is one of a few leaders in the ANC who can explain what “radical economic transformation” is, and is actually implementing it through the programmes of his government. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

David Makhura, deputy chairperson of the ANC in Gauteng, was to be a headline participant at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering this week. He is no longer able to attend due to a rescheduled meeting of the President’s Coordinating Council. Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile, also destined for greater heights in the ANC, will now participate in The Gathering. As a consolation prize, Makhura gave Daily Maverick a few hours of his time to explain the work of his government and where he wants to take Gauteng.

Makhura has been the consummate organisational man, serving in the structures of the student movement, the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union and Cosatu, the ANC Youth League and the ANC at national and provincial level. He made his debut in government last year at the highest position in the province. His approach was that he could not just continue from where the previous administration left off but hit the reset button.

“One of the key issues was to focus on getting the machinery of government to implement the new electoral mandate of the ANC. The centrepiece of that new electoral mandate is radical socio-economic transformation.” Makhura said this required government to be repositioned as it was not feasible to continue operating the same way. His time as provincial secretary of the ANC, from 2001 to 2014, helped him understand the socio-economic and political landscape of Gauteng “pretty well”, as well as problems of different communities.

“You develop an understanding of which problems are as a result of government not responding or addressing community issues and which of those are as a result of internal fights in the movement and of the alliance,” Makhura said. From a distance, you complain about the bureaucracy, he says, but in government, things do not move as fast as you want them to.

“In the last year, we spent a lot of time just getting the bureaucracy to function,” said Makhura. There were also chronic problems such as departments underspending budgets, infrastructure backlogs and the condition of government services such as state hospitals.

To get things going, Makhura set some deadlines in place to turn around the perpetual decline of state services. This included incomplete projects such as housing, schools and hospitals. For example, Makhura wanted the new Natalspruit Regional Hospital opened within his first 100 days in office. This was done. He has also ratcheted up the pressure for the construction of schools and roads to be speeded up so that the state does not have to bear the cost of overruns by the contractors.

“There is an understanding amongst officials and contractors now,” Makhura says, “Timeframes for delivery must be met.” He also aimed to stabilise the beleaguered Gauteng Health Department and get in onto the road to recovery. Now a year later, Makhura is about to sign a memorandum that will release the department’s finances from under administration. He says they have been able to deal with problems such as servicing infrastructure like hospital lifts and can now begin to address the quality of services.

And to help bring health services into the 21st century, Gauteng wants to remove all paper files in hospitals and go fully electronic. Makhura says they also plan to take the pain out of receiving chronic medication by having these delivered to people’s doorsteps rather than the soul-destroying system of the elderly and sick having to queue from before dawn.

It is not only in the health services where technology is the obvious answer to complex problems. Makhura is leading the introduction of biometric identification to modernise housing allocation and to eliminate fraud from the process. “In this way, nobody can swindle someone out of a house. You also cannot have another house in another province,” he said. The intention is for this system to roll out nationally.

All this seems revolutionary stuff. It isn’t really. It is about getting the basics right. It is about politicians doing what they are supposed to do – identifying the problems, finding the solutions, getting public servants in the right frame of mind to implement them and setting deadlines for results.

The real ground-breaking stuff – it shouldn’t be but it is – is getting members of the executive on the ground and holding them to account for what goes on in their portfolios. Makhura says this is all part of building an activist and responsive government, with a culture of accountability.

One of the first things he set in place was a service delivery war room, with officials from all municipalities and government departments in the province. One of the problems he found was that government’s response time was “too slow and too lethargic”. So now, from land invasions, to the breakdown of services to xenophobic attacks, the war room is able to despatch the right people to deal with the problems promptly. “If a problem is reported, we know who is responsible and can report progress to the affected citizen,” Makhura said.

“No issue should be in the public domain for 24 hours and government is not seen to be dealing with it. The MECs must go to the ground and take the heat. If there is government failure, go to our people and say when we are going to fix this. We need to changed the pace of dealing with issues and bring in urgency. Communities are edgy. We can’t respond like there’s no hurry.”

Makhura and his MECs have also been conducting unannounced visits to check on government services for themselves. They drop in at schools to check on learners and teachers arriving late, go to hospitals to check on the queues and whether managers are on duty and inspect the services at police stations. Sometimes they get good feedback when interfacing with ordinary people at hospitals and clinics, other times quite the opposite, he says. When they receive complaints, the MEC goes back and then drops in randomly to check that the problems are being sorted out.

“We need to establish the reality on the ground. That’s why we don’t tell them when we are going and find them the way they are.” Makhura says change of the public service is “fundamental” and transforming the work ethic of public servants is “not something you can do just through workshops”. There needs to be training and development, but there also needs to be pressure.

“They need to assume every day that the premier might be coming and work that way.”

Is this guy for real?

The real revelation is that he knows what radical economic transformation is and it is actually built into his government’s plan of action. Normally the phrase is added like a condiment to ANC leaders speeches and when you ask them what it means, the slide into a perplexing spiral of revolutionary speak that makes little or no sense. But Makhura is one of the ANC’s policy fundis and instead of some flighty conceptualisation, he talks nuts and bolts.

One of his programmes is the revitalisation of the township economy to bring small businesses into the mainstream economy. He says businesses in the townships are left to their own devices to survive and many of them struggle with no support from government. Now through procurement reforms, government buys school furniture, for example, from small manufacturers in the townships rather than big corporations.

Makhura says they are also redrawing the economic map of Gauteng to undo the apartheid legacy. The provincial government is working on five development corridors and have identified sectors to support and develop in each of them. National and local incentives will be pumped in to create jobs and revive industries.

They also aim to establish new mega human settlements and post apartheid cities with economic nodes, social amenities and public transport as part of the developments. Construction on the first post-apartheid city, the Vaal River City, will begin in September. These developments are separate to private sector developments in places like Midrand, Makhura says. These are planned as self-supporting areas and zones of economic opportunity.

With all that going on, why are communities so restless and why then the xenophobic attacks? Makhura says there is “too much oversimplification of the causes of xenophobia” being due to poverty, unemployment and crime. He says the huge competition for resources and survival leads to a situation where people “find witches to burn” – people they deem to be a threat to their interests.

He says the trend of a large concentration of poor and unemployed people in urban centres will not stop and this creates tense competition for jobs and sources of livelihood. There are several layers of tension, Makhura says, including local businesses not doing well, extreme levels of violence and the social structure of urban communities. Social cohesion and support systems are weak and there are regional, ethnic, tribal and racial tensions. Violence increases with the rate of men being disempowered and some blame women for their circumstances.

The xenophobic violence happened in this context, Makhura says. “Gauteng is more complex to manage politically. There are many unknowns. It requires you to be constantly on your toes.

“We need to build social cohesion, reimagine social solidarity as part of the nation-building project. It is more difficult to do it here. Expectations are higher in the city compared to the countryside. People expect more from the political leadership but also economic system. We are not just managing a straightforward situation but a complex environment. It requires us to be advanced in our thinking.”

Speaking of complicated problems: transport and e-tolls.

Makhura says working people spend a major portion of their salaries on transport costs. Government is working on expanding the bus rapid transit and rail systems. The new Prasa rail services will have the same quality and reliability of the Gautrain but will go beyond servicing just the business class, Makhura says. The Gautrain buses will also be used more effectively, with a single ticketing system in an integrated public transport service.

Yes, but what about the e-tolls? Makhura probably set himself up by announcing in his maiden State of the Province Address the establishment of a panel to review the impact of e-tolls on the province’s people. He says perhaps the intention was lost in translation as the expectation as created that e-tolls would be scrapped. He said he could not ignore the widespread complaints and wanted to get a proper assessment of the positive and negative effects, with findings and a set of recommendations.

“The panel recommended a hybrid funding model instead of total scrapping of the e-tolls. The new dispensation is based on the recommendations of the panel. The tariffs had been reduced drastically. Whilst I understand that people would be happy not to pay anything, our intervention has drastically reduced the cost of e-tolls, which would have not happened if we did not take up the issue.”

Makhura says the province plans to build many roads secondary roads to expand mobility in the province. “There is no intention to have new roads that will be tolled in Gauteng… The money will come from the fiscus,” Makhura said.

The ANC got a big fright in the 2014 election. Is all the big plans aimed at retaining control of the metros in next year’s local government elections?

Makhura was expecting the question as the answer comes belting out. He says his primary focus is to get Gauteng to work as economic hub of the country.

“If Gauteng doesn’t work, the economy will not pump. We have to put out the best capability that our government has. There needs to be value for money to service communities, we must inspire business in our province – in us they have a partner. We must see this economy being steered towards inclusive growth, more employment, we must de-racialise our economy, change the spatial landscape of our province, not just reproduce spatial injustice.

“Those are the things that worry me. By the end of this term of government, we want to see significant progress in the township economy, substantial participation of township entrepreneurs and consolidation of economic sectors that are key – particularly in the Cinderella regions. There must be better performance of government and its responsiveness enhanced. The trust deficit between government and citizens must be closed.”

“The ANC brought me here to fix those issues,” Makhura says. “In the process there will be local government elections and the next national elections. My preoccupation is not about elections taking place. That is for the ANC to sort out. My focus primarily is getting Gauteng to work, and getting our national economy to work.”

Makhura clearly has his heart in the right place and is genuinely passionate about his work. But his province does not rotate on its own axis. While he might be whipping those below him into shape, it is those who operate above him that could interfere with his big dreams.

He is no doubt a political leader to watch and we certainly will be doing that. DM

Photo: Newly elected Gauteng premier David Makhura announces his executive council in Johannesburg on Friday, 23 May 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA.

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