New lease of life for patched Limpopo

2013-08-11 10:00

Three years ago, Limpopo was South Africa’s own economic Wild West.

The lines between the province’s civil servants and businesspeople eager to score fat government contracts had blurred into oblivion.

Multimillion-rand tenders were awarded, but delivery was a sham. Roads fell apart, hospitals slid deeper into disrepair, and schools were badly maintained and ill-equipped for the daily demands of teaching and learning. It seems unlikely South Africans will ever use the word ‘textbooks’ again without thinking of Limpopo.

Then, in December 2011, the national government stepped in after realising that civil servants’ salaries would not be paid that month. The province had run out of money. Its tenderpreneurs and a few well-connected government officials, on the other hand, were rolling in taxpayers’ cash.

Government’s intervention was fierce and stunned South Africans. Many critics believed it was too little, too late. Others dismissed the move as nothing more than party politics.

Behind the scenes, Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale pushed this view, suggesting his enemies within the ANC were moving to depose him and were using section 100(b) of the Constitution, which allowed national government to place provincial departments under administration, to do so.

All the evidence contradicted Mathale though, and today he is the former premier.

It has been a tough two and a half years for everyone in Limpopo – from the administrators sent in to undo untold damage, to the MECs who were in effect neutered in the name of the administration and most particularly the ordinary citizens who have borne the brunt of non-delivery.

The government has gone on record to say that its work in Limpopo is almost done. Within three months, the administrators will have packed their bags and left the province. The process that has been carried out under section 100(b) is over.

Now the administrators and National Treasury assume the role of long-distance overseers. They’ll be watching carefully from Pretoria, ready to step in if the good work of the past two and a half years starts to unravel.

Premier Stanley Mathabatha, who was sworn in three weeks ago, has a tough job ahead of him.

Not only must he keep the province from backsliding, but he must grow it and restore citizens’ faith in the provincial government.

He and his cabinet must build on the good work that has already been done and ensure that the administrators firmly stay put in Pretoria.

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