KZN strides into the future

2012-02-27 00:00

WAZULU-NATAL Premier Zweli Mkhize is on a roll!

 

He is in the enviable position of leading a province with a healthy R3,6 billion bank balance and has delivered a state of the province address that has been widely praised. Even his detractors in the opposition parties have called his address a considered, co-ordinated and structured plan for the province’s growth.

In an interview with The Witness a confident and inspired Mkhize spoke about KwaZulu-Natal striding into the future.

The interview was conducted shortly after the premier held a meeting with the local business community to get it to participate in a plan for KwaZulu-Natal to become a rail coach manufacturing hub.

The usually serious Mkhize encouraged his audience to be wild, adventurous and a little bit crazy.

He said: “Let’s be a little wild, bold and adventurous. KwaZulu-Natal must be able to think and dream.”

It was all about determination: people who changed the world were those who thought bold, thought a little bit crazy, he added.

The premier’s Obama moment was certainly catching.

A businessman sitting in the audience said smaller businesses generally have had a hard time over the past two years.

“We needed hope and now after a long time I am beginning to feel optimistic,” he said.

For Mkhize KZN has every reason to feel optimistic. The province has overcome its violent past.

There is political stability. The next logical step is to deal with the socio-economic problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality, hence the focus on the economy.

The premier has no doubt that the province has the capacity, the willingness and the drive to take advantage of the infrastructure investments outlined in his state of the province address last week.

In his engagements across the province he has found that there is a lot of training capacity in Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and academic institutions. He believes that there is also a knowledge base within the province and he is determined to be all-inclusive. One idea is to bring in retired expertise like the former Spoornet workers for training in the rail cluster.

He plans to do the same in agriculture, to call on latent expertise and to champion the former apprenticeship system. Having set the wheels rolling on the railway cluster, he plans to do the same with the ports.

“The aim is to look at our strengths, where we have manufacturing capability and then what capacity is there for other possibilities.

“We need to advertise what we have and what we are capable of doing to attract interest.”

With such big plans and a spirit of optimism pervading the province, one does feel like a party pooper saying: “But Mr Premier, there are challenges. You have a minister in your cabinet [MEC for Economic Development Mike Mabuyakhulu along with the speaker in the legislature, Peggy Nkonyeni] facing corruption charges in the Amigos trial.

“eThekwini, your biggest municipality, is in trouble, and you preside over a provincial ANC that has displayed deep divisions.”

Mkhize speaks to these issues in a measured manner. It is clear that he does not see these challenges derailing KZN’s project of hope, nor diluting the energy, excitement and passion so palpably felt in the business meeting on Friday and at the state of the province address.

The Amigos case, he said, was a matter subject to the legal processes and the province had decided it would not interfere. The rule of innocent until proven guilty applied, he added, and neither the affairs of the province nor the work of the senior politicians was being compromised.

Mkhize said he had confidence in both Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu and proof that the workings of the province were not divided nor compromised was precisely the co-ordinated state of the province address.

The premier said both members worked hard. He praised Nkonyeni for the outstanding manner in which the two-day opening of the legislature was organised, and said Mabuyakhulu was doing exciting and innovative work and this would become clear when he delivered his department’s budget address.

The premier felt it was unfortunate that the eThekwini probe had become embroiled in mud-slinging about race and personal vendettas.

At the end of the day the investigation into the municipality had come about because of the Auditor-General’s report. And no, he would not violate the law and release the report prematurely while those fingered have not had the right to respond.

Opposition parties have been critical about the state of municipalities, but for Mkhize local government has come a long way and proof of this will become evident, he believes.

He said there was co-ordinated work going on with municipalities. Through his Co-ordinated Forum of Mayors, which meets once a month, he said, “we been able to generate enthusiasm around clean audits and get mayors to take responsibility for the process”.

As a result, KwaZulu-Natal municipalities had started doing monthly reviews and reconciliations.

Similarly, there was co-ordination around a range of other issues like local economic development planning and municipalities thinking more carefully about budgets and rates and tariff increases.

The challenges within government appear minor when considering the divisions within the party.

There were the ructions after local government elections last year, when a faction within the ANC staged a sit-in at the local ANC offices. There are challenges to the the premier’s own position as chair of the ANC in the province and talk about factions supporting one or other politician.

For Mkhize this is the nature of politics: positions are contested and because the ANC is the ruling party the fight for access to power is naturally going to be more intense.

He said this was no different for ruling parties anywhere in the world and it was how the conflicts are managed that was important.

Mkhize said the ANC in the province was doing its best to manage the situation, hence the emphasis on political education and discipline to promote the ethos of the ANC.

“There is no disaster looming in the ANC in KZN. What is happening is the normal contestation for positions within a political party.”

Mkhize said that what remained of concern for him was the murders of ANC members in eThekwini last year.

Often all of this started out with gossip that so-and-so was aligned with a certain person or faction and later the police found there was no basis for the rumours, he said.

The premier said it was naive not to expect ANC members not to become involved in the succession debate, which was why the party was focusing on policies now and on choosing candidates later.

And no, he was not going to answer a question about whether he supported President Jacob Zuma for a second term of office.

The ANC has publicly said that now is not the time for that discussion.

For a confident Mkhize all these challenges are peripheral. The agenda remains KZN’s growth. Nothing is going to rain on his parade nor take away the new surge of hope and optimism in the province.

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