MAYHEM: A police officer stands guard after a filling station was looted by protesters in Mahikeng in the North West.

After weeks of being in denial about the depth and extent of the problems in the North West, comrade Supra Mahumapelo announced that he was taking “early retirement” as premier.

This follows widespread protests demanding that he resign. The cabinet has since placed the entire provincial government under administration, citing an “unstable situation” which “has affected a number of services, particularly health”.

Mahumapelo has indicated that he will remain as the chair of the ANC in the province and will use the “might of the organisation” to attend to what he calls a counter-revolution which supposedly ousted him.

While still in charge, Mahumapelo was quoted as saying that residents’ anger is being fuelled by the failures of his predecessors.

“Now these comrades have been running this province for the last 22 years. The ANC would not be in these problems had they done these things themselves. They have been allowing the money to leave the province, to Gauteng.”

What a pitiful and reprehensible excuse. South Africa is a unitary, and not a federal state. Mahumapelo’s narrow, regionalist and Bantustan outlook is very dangerous.

His fight-back strategy is clear: divert attention from the corruption allegations by blaming predecessors. He has called on former heads of departments, chief financial officers, premiers and everyone else to come forward to account for what he called their previous maladministration. Interestingly, this call only comes now, when demands to investigate his actions and alleged corruption are growing louder.

His conduct is that which comrade Joel Netshitenzhe cautioned against when he said: “The beneficiaries of state capture and corruption will not give up without a fight.”  

After taking over as premier, Mahumapelo sang the praises of his predecessors. His words were: “The strides we have made in the last 20 years have set us on a sustainable path to peace, development and prosperity. In this regard, we wish to recognise the roles played by all four of my predecessors from Comrade Popo Molefe to Edna Molewa, Maureen Modiselle and Thandi Modise.”  

Now, the self-styled Black Jesus is singing a different tune altogether. How times have changed! As one fellow comrade aptly put it, Mahumapelo seems to suffer from “an inconvenient loss of memory regarding the truth”.

He is now defining himself outside the collective that he once praised and once acknowledged for having given him an opportunity to serve as a provincial political education secretary, a chair of two portfolio committees, a chief whip and later as premier.

The North West we know

To deal with Mahumapelo’s “inconvenient loss of memory”, we wish to remind him of events that unfolded prior to the 1994 elections.

In a 2011 paper titled “Bophuthatswana and the North West Province: The Role of the Joint Administrators”, Professor Tebogo Job Mokgoro, one of the joint administrators appointed to facilitate the democratic transition, and the first director-general of the province, had this to say: 

“The Bophuthatswana public sector was huge and complex: there were 26 departments and 42 parastatals in which a total of 65 000 workers were employed. The civil service challenges that we faced included a non-operational public sector, as all of its departments had been on strike for a protracted period. 

“Civil servants were demanding the payouts of accrued pension benefits and a 50% salary increase. Moreover, all secretaries (HoDs) had been removed by a public service crisis committee which had been formed by civil servants on strike to present their demands.”

He said the challenges they faced “were certainly not for the faint-hearted, and required a tolerant approach to ambiguities, uncertainties and complexities”.

The job required high levels of honesty and integrity. Such were the complexities facing those who were to take over government in 1994. That at some point there was stability in the province is testament to the hard work of those that came before Mahumapelo.

Reflecting on the main challenges faced by the early provincial administration, former premier Edna Molewa stated that they had to build a united province out of communities that saw themselves in racial and tribal terms. They had to merge employees from diverse administrations such as the Free State, Northern Cape and the former Transvaal. “Add to that, the Bophuthatswana homeland government.”   

She acknowledged her predecessor, Popo Molefe, who was “ably assisted by exceptional men and women” for laying the governance and service-delivery foundation upon which others could build. Contrary to what Mahumapelo wants us to believe, the successes and the challenges of the North West government in the first 15 years of democracy are well documented.

The province was the first to establish a provincial youth commission located in the Office of the Premier, at the apex of government. A number of young people were given an opportunity to pursue their studies, including at overseas universities, as part of building a capable civil service. By 2009, the province had invested in the training and up-skilling of more than 20 000 young people.

Under the leadership of Professor Mokgoro, as the director-general, significant progress was made in stabilising the previously fragmented civil service, ensuring unity of purpose in the service of residents.

At the end of the 2005/06 financial year, the province obtained 10 qualified audit reports. By the 2007/08 financial year, the number of qualified audit reports had been brought down significantly to just three. These and many other achievements were being eroded under the leadership of Mahumapelo.

For the 2016/17 financial year, the auditor-general reported that supply chain management transgressions resulted in 98% of irregular expenditure incurred. Irregular expenditure amounted to R2.9billion, up from R2bn. This, the AG said, was due to a “lack of consequence management, non-compliance with legislation and a slow response by political leadership”.

Also for the 2016/17 financial year, the auditor-general identified the North West as one of the provinces with the worst-performing municipalities in the country.

Clearly, the North West has become a shell of its former glory. It is a real pity and shameful! 

* Mthimkhulu and Ngqobe are former employees in the offices of Premier Popo Molefe and Edna Molewa. They write in their personal capacities. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.