Fri Oct 21 11:12:38 SAST 2016

Boss lady Mekwe won't make any lofty promises

By unknown | Aug 04, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Former Mpumalanga premier Ndaweni Mahlangu would be very disappointed in the new mayor of Ekurhuleni - she doesn't lie.

Another old politician unlikely to be impressed by her is the late "Piet Promises", Piet Koornhof. Lentheng Helen Mekgwe does not make bold promises, the hallmark of Koornhof's brand of politics.

Popularly known as Ntombi, Mekgwe just wants to continue with the task at hand.

A true-blue township kid, she was born in Chatterston, the ou kasie that would make way for Duduza after the forced removals. She still lives in the same Duduza house, bequeathed to her by her granny, at whose knee the grandchild says she learnt a lot.

The mayor's speech is rapid. She's in a hurry to deliver on, perhaps, the promises made to the people of Ekurhuleni by her predecessor Duma Nkosi, who mysteriously quit a month ago to allow the former metro council speaker, Mekgwe, access to the hot seat.

She still holds Nkosi in awe and for her it doesn't matter if a man or woman is in charge of Ekurhuleni. "W hether it's a man or woman at the helm is immaterial," she says, "but the programme we're carrying is what matters."

The programme in question was presented to the people of Ekurhuleni in the March 2006 local government elections. It was the focal point under Nkosi; it will still be during her watch: "I can't have my own programme."

Her glorification of Nkosi, who continued to live in his own (refurbished) matchbox house even when he became the Ekurhuleni's first resident, has ensured Mekgwe remains equally comfortable in the proverbially dusty township.

Mayors are allowed an official residence "but it's never occurred to us that we should occupy those".

"Us" is no doubt shorthand for "Duma Nkosi and I".

"His leadership style taught me something . It allowed people space to work - to try, fail, succeed and when they want support you say 'my doors are open, come to me'. The problem is that people took advantage of him. He was too trusting.

"I'm not saying I will not trust people You can't work with people you don't trust. But what I will do differently is follow through until a task is completed."

She gives an example: a cleaning project in Tembisa. There were plans regarding the pilot project that was supposed to last for six months. "Let me assure you," she says, lengthening the pause to allow the effect, "it is still a pilot project."

She's now given instructions that the project is be concluded "so that we can go to other areas like we planned to".

This shepherding, she says assuredly, Nkosi lacked.

She decries the dilapidated state of the seat of Ekurhuleni government - Germiston.

"People have raised concerns that our area is like a dumping site. Every company that has anything to dump comes to Ekurhuleni. You can't just dump contraband anywhere, there are allocated dumping sites."

But sweeping clean will extend to every nook and cranny of Ekurhuleni, like Watville, where struggle icon OR Tambo lies buried. "The place needs to be cleaned up, changed, so that we can feel that the person who brought us democracy is lying there. Just to respect him."

Ekurhuleni has bestowed the freedom of the city on the Tambos - OR and his wife Adelaide and another fallen hero Chris Hani.

Much of what she's been saying is what Nkosi preached.

It's all well and good to learn from the best. But will the monkey on Nkosi's back now jump onto Mekgwe's?

She does not see suspended Metro police chief Robert McBride as baggage from Nkosi's term.

"I'm still awaiting a report from the city manager."

Mekgwe will need time to look at the matter using "the mayoral lens, not the speaker's lens" to ensure she informs herself about it sufficiently.

The process will include engaging all parties concerned, McBride included, she says.

Women's month activities and the work of the Gender Committee of Council have always been in her office, even when she was the speaker.

The multiparty women's caucus "where all women politicians come together" will decide on a programme for August, she says.

But she points out that one of the major operations will be to go to communities to educate them about the municipality. "We'll be telling them it is theirs to use. Most beneficiaries of municipal services are men because women are either shy to come forward or uneducated about their rights."

Going to coloured communities is high up the "To Do" list this women's month. A council poll tells them the coloured community thinks the municipality isn't for them, the mayor says.

"We need to go there so they can start using the institution."

Her predecessor has laid a strong foundation. "But we need to also ensure that the plans he put in place, working within a team, are implemented. People will usually complain about the slow service at municipalities. That is not far-fetched. Our agreement with the city manager was that it can't be business as usual; we exist because of the people. So if we can't assist the people, let's close shop.

"'Basically," she says, "that's the message I'm sending to our people, from senior to junior level - let the municipality work for the people, not our families, friends and so on."

Washa khekhe! Well said.

Her mother, Ntombizodwa Molefe, a retired nurse, ranks high among Mekgwe's role models. The student days of her life read like an excerpt out of a Stompie Seipei or a Julius Malema novel, only with more emphasis on school.

For two years she avoided the volatile political situation in the Johannesburg surrounds by going to school in Komatipoort but returned to finish her matric in 1987.

She was a member of student body Cosas around 1982 and founder member of the Duduza Youth Congress which later affiliated to Sayco. After the unbanning she signed up with both the ANC and its youth and women's leagues and has been in regional leadership positions in all three.

The only member of her family to ever go to jail, neighbours often warned her mother her only daughter was going to die in jail "like Mandela".

Before politics beckoned, she was a normal girl growing up in Duduza, with Sundays set aside for ballroom dancing. Her other athletic pursuits included running and tennis. A Virgin Active defaulter now, she says she will, however, ensure the youth have a choice of facilities to occupy their time, even beyond 2010, seeing that the council is upgrading many stadia around the metro.

A tomboy growing up, the new boss lady is every inch the picture of femininity. Her first public pictures when Nkosi stepped aside showed her in a chic wild Afro hairstyle, a la Chaka Khan.

She's no slave to fashion though, says the single mother of two.

And this, Mr Mahlangu, is the gospel truth!

No lofty promises.


Login OR Join up TO COMMENT