Defying the big odds to succeed

Don Makatile

Don Makatile

The audience with North West Premier Edna Molewa is the result of many weeks of exasperating calls, SMS notes and pissing off her PA no end.

The former schoolteacher extends her hand gingerly like, well, a school ma'm and immediately rattles off a sweet soliloquy to "apologise for making you wait so long".

The rendezvous is the civic centre in Rustenburg, where, as always, she's chairing a provincial executive committee meeting (PEC). One cannot help but understand that the premier couldn't have sneaked out for an hour-long newspaper interview. She'd later share how, during her drive from Mafeking to Rustenburg in the early hours of that morning, she saw farm children walking on the edges of the road to schools long distances away from home.

This is a subject very close to her heart, she says. Born in Warmbaths, now Bela Bela, she attended a two-classroom school on a farm where her father, Michael Mmethi, taught for many years. The school could only take children up to Standard Four (Grade 6). "The owner," recalls the premier, "was adamant that all he wanted was for the children to be taught just enough so they could understand when he spoke to them."

Understandably, when she started Standard Five, the young Edna Mmethi rode on a bicycle 22km to school with her young brother Fana, now a principal in Winterveldt, outside Pretoria.

She swears that now, on her watch, children at farm schools will not experience the harsh realities her own generation had to go through.

One of only two provinces with the mega schools project - the other is Free State - where two-classroom schools are demolished and children lumped with others into one good well-run institution, the premier is confident North West is equal to the task of looking after the needs of pupils in farm schools.

She's even ensured that where children are not bussed to school, they are provided with bicycles. Her MECs for transport and education know only too well how she feels about this, her pet subject.

She's in Rustenburg with the whole posse of MECs.

"This gathering is our normal PEC meeting where we were looking at post-Limpopo to say 'how do we move fast to implement the resolutions taken at Limpopo?'

"We need to ensure that we do that as a collective. We're also preaching unity as per the president's directive and the NEC decisions as part of the organisational requirements.

"Last week we called all our RECs under one roof - we're continuing with the drive to implement all the resolutions of Polokwane."

One of four female premiers, a quartet seen to belong to the (President Thabo) Mbeki camp, Molewa, for want of a better phrase, is on the other side from where the likes of Billy Masetlha are standing.

Ever since his involvement in the hoax e-mail saga that led to his sacking as boss of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Masetlha hasn't really been cool with Mbeki, a one-time mentor.

Listening to the matronly Molewa, one would be forgiven to think the word purge has never entered the ANC lexicon, ever. "I'd say one of the things we reflected on today is that we are really a very frank group of people, especially here in the province. Where one is hurting, we are able to talk about it, we have been able to do so."

This, the first citizen of North West says, was actually a remark raised by one of the MECs.

Purging in the province? "We haven't really seen that, before or after Polokwane. There's been no such agitation."

But she admits: "I'm not sure about what's going on nationally." She also thinks, unlike Mbeki's theme of "business unusual" as per his state of the nation address, it is business as usual in Cape Town. If there was purging, she says: "People would have gone in cabinet. They are still there."

Maybe she needs to be reminded that the "old guard" at Luthuli House, such as Smuts Ngonyama, are... gone!

Another Mbeki man, Willy Madisha, is about to go twiddle his thumbs at home, far away from Cosatu or Sadtu business.

The message (of business as usual, maybe) has come clear from the "SG himself, Gwede Mantashe, that we must continue doing what we've been doing. Premiers, mayors, whoever ... must continue with their work."

A roadshow done by the national leadership hasn't hit the province yet: "We'd actually prepared for them last week."

But is Molewa secure in her job?

"We are focussed as a team. It's not a question of one feeling secure or threatened. It's a normal functional era that we are experiencing at provincial level," says the premier who still chairs the province.

It is her position as head of party and government that tells her all is hunky-dory in North West.

Khutsong is an area receiving a lot of attention from her government, she assures us. "We feel comfortable that we've really engaged with the people of Merafong, adequately, both at political and at governance level."

She adds: "We are on track. A lot of work is still coming but the people of Khutsong are finding their feet. Schooling is back to normal."

She says there are municipalities that are performing very well, but not all. With Khutsong "we just gave them services that they deserved as South African citizens".

Racism in the province has been a thorny issue from time immemorial. There was the Andrew Babeile case. Swartruggens was just another trigger moment in a loaded gun.

Toenadering towards the Afrikaner is an imperative, hence the establishment of contact with such groups as the Rapportryer Bewegging, who she describes as real protectors of their own beliefs, culture and language rights. "We've had meetings with them and asked how they could help with the Skierlik issue."

The province has, since 1996, formally tackled the scourge of racism through such bodies as the Anti-Racism Forum, which has now morphed into the multi-faceted Moral Regeneration and Social Cohesion Programme. All this in an effort to bring people closer to one another, says the soft-spoken Boss Lady.

The new forum was re-launched last year, during a visit by the world-renowned Miles Monroe.

Whether or not there are camps in the ruling party, in Molewa, the province is in good hands.