New Northern Cape Premier: Mediocrity or Heroism?


The head of the South African Institute of Race Relations of Politics and Governance and Business Day columnist, Gareth van Onselen recently tweeted:

“Few societies have embraced, celebrated and defended mediocrity like South Africa. It is a disease now so infused into the bloodstream of the body politic, insidious and disguised…and it will be our death”

Whilst I may not agree with everything that van Onselen has previously said in the past, this time around he has hit the nail on the head.

With that being said, the recent election of Dr Zamani Saul as the new Northern Cape Premier has sent the South African media into a frenzy. So much so that IOL news described him as a premier that other premiers should be inspired by. Dr Saul was lauded by political analyst Ralph Mathekga who said:

“Dr Zamani Saul’s decision to buy 27 new ambulances instead of new luxury vehicles for his MECs should inspire competition amongst leaders to do better for their communities”.

Premier Saul’s efforts so far are commendable but this is not anything new, let alone something that ought to be heralded as heroism in any way shape or form. In his first few days in office, the former Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane‚ Solly Msimanga similarly redirected 10 BMW 3 Series vehicles, which were vehicles bought by his predecessors for the exclusive use by the executive, to the Tshwane Metro Police Department to be used by the anti-hijack unit. What’s more is that Msimanga opted to ban the use of blue lights for politicians in the city of Tshwane including himself.

In addition to this, Msimanga later went on to sell the mayoral mansion. This afforded the city an extra R5 million to build RDP homes for forty families. The reasons cited for selling the mansion, amongst others, was that it was a substantial cost to ratepayers to maintain the property.

The difference perhaps between Msimanga and Saul is that Msimanga had an economic policy that would empower the residents of Tshwane. Under the revised Gata le Nna EPWP recruitment policy framework 6 125  beneficiaries were recruited in the space of seven months as opposed to the 10 000 beneficiaries from the previous administration. Over and above that Msimanga introduced a programme whereby trainees could attend the programme for three years to qualify as finance professionals. These trainees would be trained through the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants programme.

The question that we should instead be asking as South Africans is what plans Premier Saul has to offer in order to address the high unemployment rates in his province. The Northern Cape is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. Surely, we should be waiting for the establishment of the ”war room” and the Investment Council to reduce unemployment? This was a promise he made to the people of the Northern Cape. Should we not rather direct our focus in scrutinising his new economic policies and turnaround strategy for the province rather than to prematurely hail him as a hero?

Premier Saul has indeed correctly identified issues that need to be tackled in his province but the big test for him going forward is whether or not he has the plans as well as the capacity to indeed tackle these issues. Until such a time, he runs the risk of coming across as a mere populist. It is not about cost-cutting measures but rather about sound and consistent policies that will lead to investor confidence and creation of jobs that Dr Saul’s premiership should be judged upon.

Sandile Mnikathi is a Councillor in the Umngeni Municipality and a second year Political Science Masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.