Is this DA mayor the epitome of black excellence?
YES, the adage “to be young, gifted and black” is hackneyed but the mayor of the Midvaal municipality, Bongani Michael Baloyi, wears the tag well and makes it alluring.
He was only 26 years old in 2013 when he assumed the mantle of being the First Resident of the town under DA rule.
Two years prior when he entered politics, he became the member of the mayoral committee for development and planning in the municipality for two years until his mercurial rise to the post of executive mayor.
He’s not in a suit but in the stylish accoutrements of young men his age, a sports jacket and hip patterned pants as he rises behind his desk to effect the Covid-19 elbow greeting.
“I’m a passionate patriot, a lover of my country,” he says in response. “I’m very enthused with the problems that we face. I believe my existence is within these problems and that I must try and fix things. So when there are problems, generally, I get very excited dealing with those.”
It is no wonder that Midvaal is “fixed”, becoming the envy of many municipalities around the country. His efforts at fixing things have led to recognition from the auditor-general’s office bestowing clean audit reports on the municipality, year after year.
The wall in his office is festooned with these awards: “There are just too many of these things.”
It is “these things” that are as scarce as a hen’s teeth in other municipalities.
His philosophy is simple and is not buried in large tomes – just get on with the job, seems to be what drives the young mayor.
There is no secret to getting positive audit outcomes: “Maybe our secret is that we’re just doing our job. But in doing our job there’s a level of dedication, finesse and sometimes ruthless execution. Unfortunately, institutions live or die by their leadership. Everything else is informed by the type of leadership. I think we’ve got strong leadership and the centre holds, and is in it for the right reasons. This informs everything else.”
They have created an “environment of accountability and ethical behaviour, responsible leadership and prudent management of the fiscus”.
That environment is also performance-driven, mayor Baloyi says. People understand that they will be measured, and know the frequency of the measurement.
This extends to the politicians as well.
“Once we’ve adopted a plan, we don’t go along and say Modimo Re Thuse – God help us. No. We’ve got a plan and we implement it religiously, in fact, the word is, ruthlessly. When we’ve decided on something, we execute. Once we’ve defined our plan and crystalised it, we just go for it and continue. People appreciate that.”
It is not rocket science, it would appear. But many municipalities are failing at this.
The execution rate of municipal plans is at 90%, mayor Baloyi says. For this they are rewarded with a collection rate of 92%. “We had budgeted for 94%,” he says.
But Covid-19 hardships scuppered their plans as people are battling to service their rates accounts.
“It’s a give and take situation. Pay your rates to get service.”
He says all the right things, and the evidence is that he walks the talk.
The premises of the municipality on Mitchell Street are evidence of the tight ship he runs. The lawns are manicured, any wall that needs paint is shiny with a lick of paint and people are clearly hard at work and enjoying it.
This is not the picture that confronts one at many of the municipalities across the country. He speaks well.
He says the thing with leaders is that sometimes “there’s an ego thing”. Incumbents move into office to change the legacy of their predecessors.
Being young has also shown him things he hates about leaders – lack of respect for time, lack of planning and “Big Man” politics.
He refers to the examples of Russia, Rwanda and China. “When the government has decided we’re going left, no one dares turn right. When a warm body leaves, the plan stays. In South Africa, one person leaves, everything changes with the new incumbent.
“Other countries put their nationhood first. In South Africa it is about the interests of individuals.”
He cites the example of ANC politicians who speak against government policy in public: “That says our government is loose. We need a strong centre.”
Baloyi had said earlier in the interview that “I’m an African. I’m very cultural. I value my culture”.
“I’m a child of a Tsonga man and Zulu woman. I think I get my feistiness and stubbornness from my mother. My father is very subtle, not as engaged; very withdrawn. He is more into reading and watching soccer. But my mother is very involved. Very opinionated. I think those are the genes that flood through me.”
Left with one year into his five-year term, he welcomes the opportunity to have led the formidable team he can only sing praises for.
He is happy to be “leading in an era that is defining South African politics, in entrenching the fluidity of politics”.
He notes that things that were abnormal are now normal: “People are starting to demand things and question things that normally they would not. It opens up many opportunities.
“At the same time, it is an era when one can prove oneself by delivering services, and not just paying lip service.”
At the coalface of service delivery, Baloyi says his record should speak for itself. “Part of the reason I came into politics was because of the frustration at how slowly things were happening. Now when you occupy the seat you understand the difficulty of moving the state machinery. And directing it better to address the challenges our people are facing. Through observation and experience, one has learnt.”
Baloyi says black excellence is possible. “Not everything black is bad. Let’s find pockets of excellence and celebrate that. If you shine your light bright enough, you inspire others to find that light within them. Blacks can run successful institutions – profitable, ethical. If Bongani fails, all black young men fail.”
He lives on a plot and delights in taking care of his livestock. His downtime allows him space for family and friends and watching soccer.