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A man with a past – Joburgers should be ‘grateful to have me’, says new transport MMC Kenny Kunene

A man with a past – Joburgers should be ‘grateful to have me’, says new transport MMC Kenny Kunene
New transport mayoral committee member Kenny Kunene at the swearing-in of the MMCs in Johannesburg on 6 February 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

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”.

Community development MMC Lubabalo Magwentshu is sworn in. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

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.   

Kenny Kunene at home in Johannesburg on 4 April 2013. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Leon Sadiki)

Kenny Kunene was nicknamed the ‘Sushi King’ after these images circulated. (Photo: Twitter)

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.  

The new mayoral committee members after being sworn in. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

“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.  

‘Temporary arrangement’

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.   

Read in Daily Maverick:Ekurhuleni mayor likely next for the chop as ANC and EFF persist with DA leadership purge from Gauteng coalitions  

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.  

Councillor Kenny Kunene is sworn in. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

“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.” 

Finance MMC Dada Morero at the swearing-in ceremony. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

New development planning MMC Eunice Mgcina. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

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

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Seems if PA is short for “Prisoner Association”.

  • John Smythe says:

    The gall to compare himself to the likes of Zille and Mashaba. With a nowhere puppet-mayor. And Jhb residents should be grateful for his appointment. And compares himself to Moses. A least he admits that he’s a thug. Lol!

  • James Francis says:

    Gratitude is earned, Kenny. Show that you deserve the seat that no voters have agreed you should have. Give us some results and we might agree with you. But stop telling us what we ‘should’ be thinking. We’re done with politicians treating us like ungrateful children. We ratepayers are your employers. Start doing your job or we will elect someone else, providing they also don’t undermine democratic processes by cutting deals with desperate ruling parties and upstart populist blowhards. You have one chance, Kenny. Make it count or f*** off.

  • Cape Doctor says:

    Long before it became a modern City, Johannesburg was a typical Gold rush mining camp populated by desperados, con-artists and gangsters. Well folks, they’re back. And this time, they’re running the City.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    They’re already lining up for their turn at the trough! Does Kunene not realise its empty…already stolen by his ANC mates!

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    what an arrogant and obnoxious man. Kunene better hope that the rate payers are happy to have him. the mayor wont last for long and the rest of these amateurs will be gone as well!

  • Karen G says:

    What a joke !

  • John Counihan says:

    What a crowd of clowns! As the saying goes, “you can’t make this up!”

  • If this bunch of clowns wasn’t so laughable, I’d cry. This is like a horror show or is it like a comedy?? I’m not sure…..

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Good luck Johannesburg, you will need it! Unfortunately, you are the “punchbag” for machinations by insignificant parties some with media reports of convicted criminals in their hierarchy. You must as a city be the laughingstock of the world!!
    Momentum is building up nicely for a vote of 35% or so for the ANC in May 2024, as well as a rid of all these self-seeking small parties. The DA must be rubbing their hands in glee since this is exactly what they predicted a few years back and at the time I did not believe them. However they were very prescient in their views.

    • Dee Bee says:

      If only the DA had spent that time building a powerful voice and presence in disaffected communities instead of endless bouts of internal battles and foot in mouth syndrome from Helen Zille, who, having spent almost 50 years in politics is still utterly blind to the optics of our society. As much as I despise the ANC for destroying South Africa, I am deeply angry and dismissive of the DA for not being able to grow their support base and build proper coalitions with relatively likeminded parties. I predict the DA will sit exactly where it is in terms of support in 2024. The winners will be populists and demagogues on the left of the ANC – EFF, PA, all these other risible minority gravy-trainers – as well as Action SA, which will carry on carving out chunks of DA support from black voters who don’t see a future with Steenhuisen and Zille shooting the party in the foot at every turn. God knows, I’m done with them too, having voted DA (and it’s various previous incarnations) since I was eligible 35 years ago.

    • Dee Bee says:

      If only the DA had spent that time building a powerful voice and presence in disaffected communities instead of endless bouts of internal battles and foot in mouth syndrome from Helen Zille, who, having spent almost 50 years in politics is still utterly blind to the optics of our society. As much as I despise the ANC for destroying South Africa, I am deeply angry and dismissive of the DA for not being able to grow their support base and build proper coalitions with relatively likeminded parties. I predict the DA will sit exactly where it is in terms of support in 2024. The winners will be populists and demagogues on the left of the ANC – EFF, PA, all these other risible minority gravy-trainers – as well as Action SA, which will carry on carving out chunks of DA support from black voters who don’t see a future with Steenhuisen and Zille shooting the party in the foot at every turn. God knows, I’m done with them too, having voted DA (and it’s various previous incarnations) since I was eligible 35 years ago.

      • Hermann Funk says:

        I totally agree with you. Right now they have a chance to change things by supporting Mpho Phalatse in her bid for leadership Steenhuisen who has a lot of experience as a politician should take a step back and share that whatever needed to make Phalatse effective in that role.

  • virginia crawford says:

    And yet strangely, I am not grateful at all. Call me old fashioned but a tasteless crook who can’t tell the difference between a dinner plate and a woman’s body, is not my idea of trustworthy.

  • Luan Sml says:

    Reminds me of that movie “Dumb and Dumber”… I laughed until I cried…. and then it wasn’t funny anymore.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    ““With the kleptocratic ANC now in control of the finance and infrastructure services portfolios”: said Funzi Ngobeni, the caucus leader of Action SA. Wasn’t it his party that facilitated the downfall of mayor Mpho Phalatse?
    As far as Kunene is concerned, we should NOT complain. He is fully qualified for the job, just look at his personal history.

    • Keith Clubb says:

      Kunene is the embodiment of the arrogance of ignorance. In a short time, he will hopefully have a plethora of ANC councillors and ministers with whom he can share his jail experience. If this is the future of coalition politics, heaven help us all. Perhaps we can ask Russia’s Wagner to help us with a solution.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Gangsters running a City … no wonder people are tired of ‘politicians’ ! Are there no code of ethics as to who can stand for public office ? Even persons with serious criminal convictions can ‘run’. Welcome to the next gangster state !

  • Garth Kruger says:

    Skabenga.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Hmmm… now why is everyone is moving to da Western Cape I wonder?

  • Derek Hebbert says:

    The mere fact that he said that people should be grateful says it all. Another Hlaudi to feed at the trough. No-one voted for the PA and they have all the power ala the EFF. Its a total farce.

  • Dee Bee says:

    I fear for our city, I really do. Here we have a coalition that spent weeks, months wheeling and dealing to oust the Mayor, but not one single moment looking and policy and delivery plans. Not one. Every one of the people interviewed above has openly, unashamedly, stated that they have no plans in place, that they will consult over the next few weeks and come up with policies that reflect the coalition. In other words, policies (if they actually come up with anything concrete at all), that are political and don’t address the residents at all. How can someone with a six year prison term for fraud be allowed anywhere near public money? From a party whose leader was sentenced to 17 years for armed robbery? Johannesburg is the heart of industry and commerce in South Africa and the broader region and we have this level of ‘leadership’?

    And now we have the ANC openly saying they’re going to boot out the new Mayor as soon as they’ve destabilised the city next door? Callous, uncaring, power-mongering and useless.

  • jobstbod says:

    The majority of Joburg citizens who voted during last years local elections, will feel disenchanted and a sense of betrayal. They will surely also question how it is possible that in a country, with a constitutionally enshrined democracy, it is possible for minor parties to become kingmakers and awarded with executive positions on councils far beyond the votes they received

  • Bomi Hloba says:

    The grave and undeniably concerning problem with South African politics is the glaring lack of regulation and set requirements for positions. The President and Deputy President of the Patriotic Alliance are ex-convicts, yet they are effortlessly permitted to hold fundamental positions in South African politics, how, in a sane being’s mind, is that possible? What a collective of illogical, and most essentially, dangerously ignorant individuals these are! A blatant disrespect for all taxpayers and residents of the City of Johannesburg. Quite evidently, South Africa has successfully transitioned into a “Gangster’s paradise” and these politicians absurdly believe that there is nothing that we can do about it, when there is everything that can be and should be done about it! We should thank the heavens that we are able to prematurely witness how disastrous a multiparty coalition would be for our country come National Elections in 2024 and it would rather be best and necessary, for our country’s optimal functioning and survival of course, to have one party rule and hopefully that being one with individuals who are morally upright and firmly rooted in societal and economical development.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I am indeed very grateful. Grateful that I don’t live in Johannesburg….

    Sorry DA : I take back my complaints about the lawyer you parachuted in to head my region’s engineering services department. It could indeed have been much much worse.

  • Grant Turnbull says:

    At some point the ratepayers will get their chance to make things happen, and those who represent the rates boycotters will have to move aside or suffer the financial consequences of this completely distorted situation created by the morally bankrupt ANC.
    I hope the PA and COPE supporters catch a wake-up and realize their vote was wasted and not for service delivery, but financial gain for their representatives. Hammer them at the polls.

  • Teresa K says:

    Hard to fathom this horror circus is actually reality.

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