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To encounter this mayor is to learn a lesson in humility

By unknown | Jun 25, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

In the first half of the 19th century the Voortrekkers, using whale oil lamps to navigate their forays into what became known as Vereeniging, found a young black boy whose name they never cared to ask.

In the first half of the 19th century the Voortrekkers, using whale oil lamps to navigate their forays into what became known as Vereeniging, found a young black boy whose name they never cared to ask.

The boy later became the "armour bearer" of Paul Kruger whom he accompanied in his wars of conquest against natives and hard-arsed whites, and master-slave relations in the then Transvaal were cast.

The young man was given the name Wildebeest by his masters. Legend has it that when Mzilikazi's impis rolled into the area with Shaka in pursuit, a native woman with an infant son on her back, hid in the caves. The mother died and the infant son survived.

I'm thinking about the man they would come to name Wildebeest as I retrace the steps taken by those trekkers as they conquered the interior of the country.

I'm wondering whether the subject of my visit to these parts - Emfuleni mayor, Dikeledi Tsotetsi - has ever read the fascinating story of this young man who was arguably the first citizen of what is now Vereeniging.

But damn it, we are running late, way way late and I'm not in the mood to be chastised by some politician, any politician. Not today. Not at any time.

As a rule, I try to avoid politicians like the plague whenever I can, but those I spoke to before the interview, assured me Tsotetsi is unlike any politician I have met before which was cold comfort.

It is Black Wednesday, the very day that labour held the country to ransom and ordered us to support their strike. So we negotiate safe routes, and occasionally punch the roof of the car with '80s' slogans: "Phambili Basebenzi! Phambili!"

We rock up at the mayor's office an hour late. There are tantrums and power play from her support staff. But nothing serious, it could have been worse.

The mayor can't see us. Not now. Later maybe.


Ja, maybe later.

This is understandable though, because the mayor had about 20 minutes to get to Sebokeng, where she was to play host to her provincial comrade, Khabisi Mosunkutu, MEC of agriculture, conservation and whatever else he does.

Mosunkutu was coming to town to explain the importance of dog immunisation, residents, who had camped there since the crack of dawn, inform us.

We burn fuel and rush to the Saul Tsotetsi Sports Centre to await the mayor.Five minutes later, a sleek, shiny, black sedan of German origin cruises to a halt at the centre. For some time, Tsotetsi remains cocooned inside the shiny-black steel and rubber of German origin.

Her aides survey the area frantically hoping to know the whereabouts of Mosunkutu.

Twenty-minutes later, the Gauteng MEC is a no-show. The people are agitated. Their irritation is bordering on anger.

In a stylisyh black suit with shades of grey side-patterns, matching shoes and jet-black styled hairdo, the executive mayor steps out of the Merc.

She goes straight to the aunties who, after waiting for Mosunkutu since the crack of dawn, are clearly hungry, dehydrated and gatvol.

They are sitting on the edge of the hall and when she approaches them, their faces beam in genuine pleasure.

Family tales are exchanged. Tsotetsi asks after their family members by name. The men, who have been standing a respectable distance away with their dogs and impotent anger, approach.

Anger melting, they address their leader with something closer to reverence. There are hugs and a spirit of comaraderie develops.

I'm now beginning to learn a lesson in humility. I'm beginning to see, for the first time, a people's leader in action.

I'm asking myself: Don't these guys, good politicians, have a life?

Seeing that nothing is happening at the sports centre, the mayor bids everyone farewell, slides into the back of the car and she's off rushing to another engagement on the other side of town.

There she meets protesters baying for the blood of her colleague, an ANC councillor who allegedly killed two Sebokeng residents and ran away.

The atmosphere is tense. I fear for the mayor's life. I shouldn't have.

Middle-aged and with two sons to boot, this is one girl whose name and personal sacrifices during the dark days of apartheid inspires awe and respect. For the records, the mayor is a widow of one of the most lionised struggle heroes of the Vaal, Saul Tsotetsi, who was killed by the apartheid government in 1989, three years before the country elected a democratic government.

Tsotetsi, whose widow describes him as "one of my political mentors" and his comrades where set up by apartheid functionaries with bombs that exploded before they could carry out their mission.

With him were fellow SACP, ANC and SACC comrades, Alfred Yika and Elias Motloung.

Back to the wife he left behind. Ma-Tsotetsi is sitting with a problem. She inherited a municipality with a corrupt administration riddled with ghost employees, tender nepotism and racism. The municipality is also grossly underfunded, terribly understaffed and in great need of bold leadership.

Tsotetsi shows up her colleagues, who, since she took over less than two years ago have been either suspended or are facing disciplinary action because of their abuse of power.

Now tell me of any government department of a similar size which has done this.

In the midst of all the madness, I forget to ask the mayor about Wildebeest. One day I will.

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