Thu Oct 27 20:50:08 CAT 2016
Order restored at Sun City Prison after fiery protest over inmates’ TVs

Correctional Services said that “matters are under control” at Johannesburg’s Sun City Prison on Wed.

Daredevil MEC loves the outdoors and his many boy's toys

By unknown | Mar 16, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Phenye Vilakazi is arguably the most free-spirited cat in the South African political zoo.

Phenye Vilakazi is arguably the most free-spirited cat in the South African political zoo.

Whenever the rigours of governance become too much for this hip native of GaRankuwa, near Pretoria, he hits the road.

On most weekends and public holidays, the North West's MEC for local government and housing can be seen letting his hair down, burning tyre on one of his powerful motorbikes, or getting the breeze in his face down at Haartbeespoort Dam indulging in his other love - water sports.

His bosses, however, don't take kindly to the dare-devil antics of machismo. They either worry that it reflects badly on the office he holds or that he might just kill himself in the process.

"My other boss, the national one [read Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu], was horrified when I pitched up for a meeting one day on one of my bikes.

"She read me the riot act," said the bald Vilakazi, a naughty smile creasing the sides of his mouth.

"When I'm at my loneliest or in lowest moments I ride my bike and head to the Hammanskraal graveyard where my ancestors rest."

We are meeting in his office at the government complex in Mafikeng on one of those days when the North West capital is on the boil, the temperature hovering at about 35 degrees.

As cool as the interior of his office, Vilakazi laughed at the concerns of Sisulu and his own staff.

"It's my lifestyle. I like the outdoors. I like my toys. Besides, I'm very careful when I'm out there on the road or doing water sport."

His handlers might have a point. In January 2004, while still the MEC for transport, he was admitted to hospital in Rustenburg with broken ribs after his car skidded and struck an electricity cable pole during heavy rain.

It is obvious that the subject of his "toys" fascinates him no end. He took the story further.

"The other day the US ambassador was visiting a village in the province where they have established projects. He had got wind of the fact that I like biking. It turned out he was also a biker at heart. He borrowed one of my bikes and together we hit the road."

But he loves it best when he's alone and the road is long and open. He's already done Cape Town, Mossel Bay and Botswana on his saddle. Now the great Namib desert beckons.

A colleague had passed on some titbits, weeks before I caught up with Vilakazi: "He's a natty dresser who knows his labels."

That's quite a compliment coming from someone who doesn't touch anything unless its Gucci, Hugo Boss or Armani, or a label that requires breaking the bank.

His charcoal-dark suit is Saville Row, all right. The white shirt and orange-striped tie are pure silk.

Beside repairing his own cars, he has a penchant for fixing golden oldies. He has rebuilt an 18-year-old VW Beetle, a 1968 Chevy is a work in progress and he's now looking for a 1965 Ford Mustang to lay his hands on.

"I buy these cars cheap and sell them for ridiculously vast amounts," he said.

His love for the automotive world is derived from the fact that his family owned a fleet of taxis in GaRankuwa and his father made him learn to drive and fix cars at age 11. He even studied diesel mechanics for a while before his life was consumed by politics.

A trade unionist, Vilakazi became a cabinet member in Popo Molefe's government by sheer luck.

After 1994 he was elected to the provincial legislature based on his unionist credentials. At the time, parliamentarians where barred by law from becoming members of the executive council (MECs).

Last-minute amendments of the laws allowed Vilakazi to be appointed MEC for transport.

This was at a time when popularity, more than ability, was the passport to some of the top jobs politics has on offer.

It is in this vein that one is inclined to speculate that Popo Molefe wanted the support of Vilakazi, whose stronghold was the vast eastern region of the North West: GaRankuwa, Mabopane, Hammanskraal, the most densely populated parts.

Molefe was, however, rewarded when, as a lone rider, Vilakazi quelled, and went on to eradicate decades-long taxi warfare that threatened to destabilise the region.

He can also lay claim to being instrumental in making North West taxi operators the first in the country to accept and implement the taxi recapitalisation project with few reservations.

When the subject turns serious, he becomes animated. As the MEC for local government and housing, he has found that providing housing is the easier part. Local government, he said, is the pits.

It's easy to understand why. As I sit chatting to him inside his cool office, sections of North West - Ikageleng [Zeerust], Lichtenburg, Bloemhof and Khutsong - were burning.

Protesters were torching properties, stay-aways were enforced as sections of the communities demand service delivery or, in the case of Khutsong, reincorporation into the bread-basket of South Africa, Gauteng.

"South Africa is a unitary, democratic country and communities incorporated into this or the other province have nothing to fear. They are not being moved physically. There are no borders and they don't need passports to move around the country."

That's straight from the copybook of the ANC leadership.

His bosses, from Thabo Mbeki, Sydney Mafumadi and Edna Molewa, have said it before.

He then rattles off a litany of the "achievements" of his department and recaps his recent "state of the department" report.

His critics, including leading national newspapers, have accused him of nepotism and cronyism for overseeing the awarding of most of the major housing contracts in the province to one company, Toro Ya Africa.

Toro Ya Africa has been awarded multimillion-rand contracts to build RDP houses in areas as diverse as Klerksdorp and Taung.

In his defence, Vilakazi said he was not responsible for awarding contracts: "That is the sole mandate of municipalities."

His critics, particularly from the opposition parties, have accused him of lacking intellectual humility, an accusation he dispelled with his disarming candour.

He was nearly shown the door when President Mbeki and Housing Minister Sisulu visited the province two years ago and discovered that his department had grossly underspent its budget, despite a huge backlog in the province's housing and infrastructure development.

"I can happily say today that aspect has been rectified. My department has since got a clean bill of health from the auditors. I'm ahead of similar departments in other provinces."

Cold comfort.


Login OR Join up TO COMMENT