Road to municipal elections: In conversation with Mzwandile Masina
Four years ago, Mzwandile Masina emerged as the City of Ekurhuleni's new mayor taking the reins over from his predecessor, Mondli Gungubele. With the pivotal municipal elections earmarked to take place this year, Masina chats to Noni Mokati regarding his role and what it means to head one of the most contested metro municipalities in the country.
Since you were appointed mayor in August 2016, what core values have you learnt throughout your tenure?
There have been many important values that I have learned – particularly pertaining to the necessity of placing people at the centre of development. The City of Ekurhuleni is a fast-developing metropolitan municipality precisely because we have a progressive model of development – one centred on building an economy that grows in the hands of people, rather than a trickle-down economy that denies people agency and meaningful participation. But of equal significance to me has been the value of effective and good governance. The necessity of good governance cannot be overemphasised, for it is the foundation on which a developmental state is built.
Furthermore, since becoming executive mayor in the City, there have been significant achievements in our governance and financial management. We have maintained clean and unqualified audits over the past five years, with no unauthorised, irregular, and fruitless expenditure, and a clean audit on performance information. The systems of Governance Risk and Compliance of the City are also stable and effective. These two core values have shaped me, and I’ll continue to carry them with me beyond Ekurhuleni.
Would you say the vision you have had for the city has been realised and if so, in what way?
In commencing with our term of office in 2016, we outlined a vivid programme of action to advance a pro-poor agenda where the driving force is people-centred governance. We defined this agenda as a deliberate and systematic bias to roll out service delivery and economic development opportunities in a manner that uplifts the poorest sections of Ekurhuleni.
We committed to, among other things, improving service delivery through visible, impactful, and optimal programmes supported by Capex spending and making informal settlements more habitable. We’ve been able to achieve many of the targets we set for ourselves. The City was also ranked as the top municipality, affording its citizens the highest quality of life in comparison to other metros in the province. Our performance in health care has also been exemplary as we’ve achieved the number one spot in Gauteng and overall position number 2 in the country on the Ideal Clinic Realisation and Maintenance – an initiative in preparation for the National Health Insurance.
Ekurhuleni is a dynamic city. It is not only home to South Africa's biggest airports, the city's demographics are diverse. How do you tackle any inequality that might exist in the province?
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the City of Ekurhuleni. The establishment of the municipality was the logical conclusion to a protracted struggle by the democratic government to annihilate the vestiges of our apartheid past – a past that continues to find expression in our spatiality.
In merging these historically fragmented locales into one municipality, the ANC-led government succeeded in undermining the legacy of separate development. Spatially, the municipality was severely underdeveloped in areas that were historically demarcated for black people. These inequalities extended to patterns of accumulation and employment as well.
To address the new municipality’s numerous challenges and provide direction for the creation of a better living and working environment, a long-term vision for the municipality was developed – the Growth and Development Strategy (GDS) 2025. It has since reviewed this first strategy and has the GDS 2055 in place.
By 2004, in just a few years, the municipality had achieved 251km of road construction, with 106 completed streets and 84km of stormwater construction. Within just seven years of assuming office, the governing party in the Ekurhuleni municipality was able to eradicate the bucket system that was reflective of an undignified existence to which our people had been subjected for many years.
The picture is clear: change is happening. It might not always be at a fast pace, because of the extent of the separate development and inequalities we inherited, but it is happening, and I believe without hesitation that things will continue to change for the better with the ANC-led government at the helm.
What are some of the legacy projects you have overseen over the past couple of years that you are proud of?
Without doubt, formalising the establishment of a university in Ekurhuleni is at the top of the list. This is a giant leap in the quest to position the City as an economic and intellectual hub. In addition, the investments we have made in education will continue to impact on the City long after we are gone.
The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic caused turmoil in many communities across the country and around the globe. What is the City of Ekurhuleni, under your leadership, doing to prepare its residents for changes that will remain with us for years to come?
One of the greatest strengths of the City of Ekurhuleni is its visionary approach to governing. It’s what kept us strong as a coalition government prior to the pandemic and what has sustained us through the brutalising lockdown that had a devastating impact on our economy.
For example, long before the pandemic, we were already investing significantly in public health-care facilities in the City. In pursuit of equitable health care, a year before the pandemic hit, we had nine clinics that rendered 24-hour services. Furthermore, four clinics rendered 12-hour services while 20 rendered Saturday services. We also championed modernisation and innovation in our health-care system. One of the most revolutionary interventions the City made in health was the development of the Pele Box.
Pele Box Smart Lockers, which are placed in council facilities, have changed patients’ experience in accessing health care and medication. The facility, the first and only one of its kind in Africa, resolved the problem of patients waiting for medication by dispensing it at convenient points. This indicates that even before the pandemic, we were thinking innovatively about public health care. In addition, we’ve been working extremely hard to secure investment into the City.
The pandemic has not only impacted the revenue collected from ratepayers, but from other areas as well. The City’s ability to unlock the R300 billion investment pipeline has been severely affected, as investors have opted to delay, withdraw and somewhat disinvest due to high cost of capital and related capital market constraints. Despite this, we continue to engage investment partners and to also invest in infrastructure development which attracts investment.