A man with a past – Joburgers should be ‘grateful to have me’, says new transport MMC Kenny Kunene
South Africa’s richest metro, Johannesburg, is now in the control of minority parties, with a mayor representing a party with just three seats in council. Among the 10 MMCs appointed is controversial businessman, ex-convict and ‘Sushi King’-turned politician Kenny Kunene.
The City of Johannesburg ordinarily appoints 10 councillors to serve as mayoral committee members (MMCs), but when recently elected mayor Thapelo Amad appointed those he would work with, he opted for eight councillors and two non-councillors.
They are: Kenny Kunene, the deputy president of the Patriotic Alliance (PA), appointed MMC for transport; and Ennie Makhafola, MMC for health and social development. They had to be first sworn in as councillors, then as MMCs.
Amad said the decision was “in the interest of drawing from the pool of skills which exist outside of council”.
This decision to co-opt the likes of Kunene has already been met with public criticism, with some lambasting his lack of credentials and experience.
In an interview with Daily Maverick, Kunene was not oblivious to the lack of confidence expressed in him hours after being sworn in as transport MMC in the City of Gold. But he warned it was “a nonsensical argument”.
He referred to the DA’s federal chairperson, Hellen Zille, who became a mayor despite not having any council experience, as well as ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba, who was “parachuted” into the mayorship despite a lack of council experience.
Instead of the criticism, Kunene believes Joburg’s more than 6 million residents should be “grateful” that he took up the position. “They must be happy that I have taken the decision to be part of service delivery leadership, because those pretending to be moralists have failed our people.”
The PA was instrumental in ousting DA mayor Mpho Phalatse through a successful motion of no confidence last month, after talks between the DA (71 seats) and PA (eight seats) failed, with the former accusing the latter of being corrupt.
The DA already enjoyed the support of parties including ActionSA (44 seats) and the Freedom Front Plus (four seats).
The city is now in the control of the minority parties, with Amad coming from Al Jama-ah with just three council seats, and Speaker Colleen Makhubele of COPE which has a single seat. This came after the ANC (91 seats) and the EFF (29 seats) failed to agree on who should lead the city after the removal of Phalatse.
Read in Daily Maverick: “She’s out again – Mpho Phalatse removed as Johannesburg mayor”
Kunene, however, said there was no truth to this since the party represented the views of its constituency.
If anything, Kunene believes his party, whose president is ex-convict Gayton McKenzie, should be afforded the same respect as bigger parties.
Kunene himself served six years in jail for fraud in 1997 after being convicted of running a Ponzi scheme. Before his conviction he was an English teacher, but while selling alcohol after work he became embroiled in criminal activity.
Prior to joining politics he was regularly seen in high-end clubs, at which he gained notoriety for eating sushi off scantily dressed models, earning him the title of South Africa’s Sushi King.
The PA was founded by McKenzie and Kunene in 2013 to contest the 2014 national and provincial elections, with a particular focus on the Western Cape, although it would also attempt to have a particular presence in the Free State, Gauteng, the Northern Cape and North West.
“We did not come here and bribe our way in, we were voted in. There are people in South Africa who said go and be part of fixing our country because those moralists, those pretending to be moral, have collapsed it, they have failed us. Let them take me as Moses who was a murderer but led the people of God.”
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Kunene would not be drawn into discussing his plans for the city’s transport, jokingly suggesting that the question was premature.
“I didn’t even know my office, now I know it, but I still do not know where the toilet is, I have not met with the coalition partners to discuss priority areas. Remember that we have 11 other parties, we need to also take into consideration their manifesto points this week and then have a working document.”
He planned to call a media briefing in two weeks.
“I don’t want people to believe, I want people to know. Because politicians operate like pastors, they make people believe in their promises. I want people to know what I am going to deliver and by when.”
The purse strings
Meanwhile the ANC’s Dada Morero was appointed to the most critical portfolio, MMC for finance, which is in charge of a budget of more than R77-billion.
Morero’s appointment was criticised by ActionSA, which was in a coalition with the DA under Phalatse’s leadership.
“With the kleptocratic ANC now in control of the finance and infrastructure services portfolios, and the EFF – which once encouraged its supporters to illegally occupy property – being in control of the public safety portfolio, the new mayoral committee confirms that access to power was prioritised above the needs of residents,” said the party’s caucus leader, Funzi Ngobeni.
“ActionSA will ensure that the gains achieved by the multiparty government are not reversed, these being the extended public safety initiatives like the deployment of metro police across the city to conduct block patrol, the implementation of the informal trade policy to ensure order and accountability in our informal trade sector, and the investments made in the construction of hundreds of kilometres of new roads in the city.”
Morero denied the allegations, saying the party was complicit in running down the city’s finances, whose debt to suppliers sits at R5-billion while it has less than R500-million in its account.
“The situation is quite bad, so much so that if drastic measures are not taken, the city might find itself in a position where it cannot even pay staff salaries,” he said.
At the top of Morero’s priorities is the stabilisation of finances and increasing revenue collection by 90%.
Unlike City Power and the City of Ekurhuleni, who embarked on a campaign to compel customers to pay their debt or risk being cut off, Morero said this was not a strategy he preferred.
While the minority parties that elected Amad as mayor believe his election was legitimate and a vote of confidence in smaller parties, Morero confirmed speculation that Amad was merely a transitional mayor was true.
He described this as a “temporary arrangement” despite his principal, the party’s provincial chairperson and premier Panyaza Lesufi, previously pouring cold water on the speculation.
With Ekurhuleni having successfully removed its council speaker, Raymond Dhlamini, through a motion of no confidence, Morero said that “the first part is done”, as the party, alongside the EFF, looks at also removing the current mayor, Tania Campbell, in exchange for an EFF mayor. When this is done, the red berets will support Morero to become the next mayor.
If the plan succeeds, Amad will only be mayor for no longer than three months. Asked if this was fair on residents, Morero said: “Unfortunately the election results dictate [that] there be formations of coalitions, and unfortunately that’s the situation we find ourselves in, there was no outright winner.”
Commenting on Amad’s fate, Kunene said there had never been a discussion about electing a transitional mayor, warning that the ANC and the EFF’s plan had the potential to fail as talks of having yet another minority mayor were under way.
“Anything can happen,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ATM’s Lubabalo Magwentshu, who sponsored the motion leading to the ousting of Phalatse, was made community development MMC.
Magwentshu said he’d started applying his mind to his priorities for the portfolio but was reluctant to share them before the first mayoral meeting and lekgotla to chart the city’s way forward.
“I am not concerned at all. Remember that the government that we have constituted comprises different political parties. In the mayoral committee itself there is no party that can say it has got 50 plus one support, which means there is no party which will dictate to other parties what needs to happen.
“As a result, I am more comfortable that this coalition is all about service delivery – even parties which are not in the minority bloc were willing to work together for the sake of the residents.”
On the possible collapse of the coalition should the ANC and the EFF find each other, Magwentshu expressed similar sentiments to Kunene, arguing that there will be a new mayor in Ekurhuleni who will come from the minority.
The other MMCs are: Loyiso Masuku, MMC for group corporate and shared services; Jack Sekwaila, MMC for environment and infrastructure services; Sepetlele Raseruthe, public safety MMC; Eunice Mgcina, development planning MMC; Nomoya Daphney Mnisi, economic development MMC; and Anthea Natasha Leitch, housing MMC.
Welcoming the new MMCs, Speaker Colleen Makhubele – who is also from the minority bloc – said this was the most “unique” coalition the city had ever had and urged them to serve the residents to the best of their abilities.
“Handle our people with care, with love. Mr mayor, the survival of this city depends on you and your team,” said Makhubele. DM