Jolidee Matongo — A mayor for all the citizens of Johannesburg across the political spectrum
A worthy contender for the job, Jolidee Matongo, even in the few weeks he was mayor, did not display any arrogance. If anything, he had already set a tone of collaborative governance that places the people of Johannesburg first. I will miss him dearly. I wish all of my colleagues could have his level of professionalism and maturity.
When I received the news of Jolidee Matongo’s passing, I broke down and cried. I can’t imagine what his closest friends and family must be going through to lose someone who is so full of life and an outstanding generosity of spirit. A man not apologetic for his Zimbabwean roots, he knew that the future of all of us here in the South is intricately linked to all those in the hinterland of our mother continent. Similarly, his charity began here in the city, where the coalition government tensions have turned colleagues into enemies. A worthy contender for the job, Jolidee, even in the few weeks he was mayor, did not display any arrogance. If anything, he had already set a tone of collaborative governance that places the people of this city first.
Our friendship started in council when I was MMC for health and social development, and he was ANC spokesperson for the Johannesburg region. Naturally, we would butt heads in debates and had to face each other in council as political rivals, but his sense of humour made those post-debate interactions easy and pleasurable. This is what political engagement must be like – an understanding that being contestants to power does not make us enemies. Jolidee understood this. I soon realised he did not take himself too seriously and was really just doing his job. I also realised he had nothing against me – again he was just doing his job.
We still have a long way to go in learning that a political opponent does not need to be an enemy – he was a great example of this. He soon took on a big-brother role, seeing that I was more junior politically. He would cheer me on when I did well and encourage me when I did not do well – like when I did not get the mayoral candidacy after we lost the city in 2019. Naturally, that was a difficult time. Conversations with him were interesting – we had to balance the risk of divulging inside information with the need to enjoy collegiality within the framework of the broader council. This is made easy if people are principled.
As a mayor, he was very helpful in furthering my cause as an opposition councillor. He was approachable and always eager to help, understanding that while an ANC mayor he was a mayor of all in council and a mayor for all citizens of the city – even those who did not vote for the ANC. In our last conversation I was requesting that his office handle all the queries I’m picking up on the campaign trail about service delivery problems, and he obliged, sharing that he was also getting a fair share of those on his campaign trail. This filled me with hope that should the opportunity arise after the elections, whoever wins, we can be in for a better ride to serve the people of this city.
As a finance MMC, my colleagues in the DA caucus speak fondly of him. We are yet to hear any report of malfeasance and one hopes that this will be his lasting legacy. In committees he was a team player and a mediator in cases of opposing views. He therefore was the correct choice for mayor by the ANC after the untimely passing of Geoff Makhubo. He always conceded where his party was off the mark and was willing to take advice.
Finally, he cared about assisting those who were struggling in committees, regardless of political affiliation. Jolidee had a fun side that we will all miss. He was an Orlando Pirates supporter. At the stadium he was always unrestrained in cheering them on. We all heard him before we could even see him. He was loved by all and trusted by all. When my candidacy was announced, he called to congratulate me. He said he could not wish me a win, but he was proud of me and wished me the best of luck.
I will miss him dearly. I wish all of my colleagues could have this level of professionalism and maturity. South Africa is a constitutional democracy. It requires tolerance, collaboration and cooperation. He was the perfect model of this ideal and I believe that the best tribute we can pay him on all sides of politics is a greater degree of collegiality for the sake of our people once all the campaigning is over and the people have spoken.
It would be a great pity if the seeds of collaboration he planted were to go to waste. May his soul rest in peace. DM
Dr Mpho Phalatse is the DA’s mayoral candidate for the 2021 local government elections. She writes here in her personal capacity.