Cape Town - A lot has been expected from the Western Cape Government and Premier Alan Winde this year. They had their hands full with the Covid-19 pandemic, but how well did they really fare this year?
Back in February, while the Covid-19 pandemic was still on the horizon, the province re-launched its Open Government First Thursday initiative, with the month’s theme being “Governing with Heart”.
Little could they have known just how much this would be a requirement for the year ahead. The Cape Argus takes a look at the performance of six leading members of the provincial cabinet:
Premier Alan Winde
On March 11, everything changed with the announcement by the national Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize that the first case of coronavirus had been confirmed in the Western Cape.
At the time Winde said: “It is critical that we, working together with national government, and all our partners, do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus.”
On March 18 Winde held his first weekly digicon and with hindsight this weekly scrutiny from journalists and citizens of the province has been the one most important open government innovation of his premiership.
For Winde the year had several challenges, including having to self quarantine a number of times, and sometimes even appearing to steer clear of his party’s more knee-jerk reactions to Covid-19 governance issues, choosing instead to stick with the science and advice from health authorities.
While Winde got it right more often than he got it wrong, when he did get it wrong, it was spectacular.
One memorable incident was his loud silence over the City of Cape Town’s heartless behaviour against the homeless in Strandfontein temporary shelter at the height of the first Covid-19 peak.
For the coming year Winde should try getting in touch with the needs of the poor and underprivileged more.
Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo
Mbombo began the year declaring in January that the public health system is generally under pressure in the face of budget cuts as well as from urbanisation and migration from other provinces.
In March, which was also the month Mbombo became the first high profile member political personality in the province to go into quarantine, the MEC’s job became among other things, one of managing high levels of public anxiety by detailing provincial readiness and the measures put into place to address Covid-19 in the Western Cape.
All in all Mbombo has done a decent job, and would have scored higher had it not been for her very public gaffe at the end of the year with her ill-thought boastful holiday video while overstretched healthcare workers were crying for help. Even her boss called her out.
Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell
Bredell spent the year fighting both metaphoric and literal fires.
On the Covid-19 front, Bredell and his department, which is responsible for the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre and its partners across the province, were at the forefront of strictly enforcing disaster regulations to combat the pandemic.
At the same time there were the usual power games, corruption, fraud, maladministration and financial shenanigans in municipalities across the province some of which Bredell’s party, the DA, were responsible for.
The political fires Bredell faced included accusations of bias and an investigation by the public protector into his alleged conduct lodged by the ANC and the Good Party.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer
It was another rough year for Schäfer with constant fights with teachers, the unions and even parents over schools opening and closing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Several times Schäfer came under fire for how the department was dealing with the pandemic and when it wasn’t about Covid-19, there were departmental matters such as the clashes over the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) head of education Brian Schreuder’s contract.
There was also the appearance of the WCED and Department of Basic Education not being on the same page in how they were handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
Schäfer coming out strongly in favour of the rewriting of the compromised matric exams was the right thing to do, even if just for the credibility of exams in general, despite the decision eventually being thrown out.
Schäfer’s stand on the Brackenfell High School issue was, however, a big misstep.
Transport and Public Works MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela
For his department’s introduction of the Red and Blue dot initiatives, Madikizela deserved and received his fair share of bouquets.
However, there were also barbs such as the department’s underspending on public infrastructure projects which might have provided much needed jobs.
Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz
Fritz likes to drum on about being tough on crime and is always campaigning for more boots on the ground.
However, when it comes to tackling the causes of crime, in the most crime riddled areas of the Cape Flats for instance, he loses marks for not appearing to see the link between the inequality gap and the need to transform the apartheid spatial planning and crime.
Even though after his time as Social Development MEC, one might have thought he’d have picked this up.
Finance and Economic Tourism MEC David Maynier
Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown was a nightmare for the provincial economy which is so reliant on tourism and agriculture especially the growing of grapes and export of wine.
For his battling to get the Port of Cape Town open, and working with various role players to get things running smoothly at the port, Maynier deserves praise.
However, I join his critics in condemning Maynier (and his party’s) campaign to get the red list for travel dismissed, as being somewhat premature.
Perhaps a little more patience may have done the trick.