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I am the Rainbow Nation - maverick ANC mayor Truman Prince

2016-07-25 07:48
Beaufort West mayor Truman Prince in the council chamber (Jenni Evans, News24)

Beaufort West - A man in a riotous floral peaked cap, mismatched tracksuit pants and top and lumo orange running shoes pops his head around the corner of the ANC's constituency offices for the Karoo.

"Wat sê!" [What's up!] he says jauntily, and disappears noisily down the passage, greeting volunteers.

It takes a few moments to register that this is Truman Prince, maverick mayor of the Beaufort West local municipality, the oldest municipality in South Africa.

He looks nothing like the man staring down from election posters at the steady stream of long- distance trucks driving through the town's centre before speeding away on the N1 again.

On the picture on the pole he is composed, with a serious face and a suit on. But in real life he is almost hyperactive as he walks through the office in active wear.

"Would you like an interview?" asks a bemused Ayanda Bans, ANC elections co-ordinator for the region. She jogs after him and returns, offering a noon appointment.

Later, the tiny wooden-floored reception area of Prince's office is packed with people wrapped up against the cold. Women with babies, grandmothers with grandchildren, thin men with troubled faces. As they wait, they share the stories of outrage that brought them there, peppering their tales liberally with f-bombs.


(Jenni Evans, News24)

'Completely unsuitable'

A colleague ushers me next door, to a small, old building with paint coming off in large scabs and the words "public library" and the date 1906 inlaid into the wall. It is a heritage site and apart from housing the council chamber, a library is squeezed in there.

I hear Prince running to catch up, stopping to shake hands with people walking past, exchanging loud greetings in speedy sing-song Afrikaans. I'm ushered into the council chambers and Prince's colleague smiles at my involuntary "wow", and departs.

The decor is dark Karoo sparse with floor-to-ceiling sash windows, antique wood and red-studded leather chairs. Ostriches, sheep and rams are carved into the seat backs and loom over the councillors' seats.

There are creaky wooden floors that would make it impossible to sneak into a meeting late.


(Jenni Evans, News24)

The only signs of modernity are pictures of President Jacob Zuma, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and Western Cape local government MEC Anton Bredell smiling down.

"It is completely unsuitable," says Prince of the room which was designed at a time when white administrators ruled.

"People are supposed to be able to come and listen to council meetings, but where will they sit?" he asks, waving at one row of leather studded chairs against a wall.

Things can get heated in the ANC-dominated council, he says. According to reports, DA councillor Magdalena Slabbert wants him fired and has accused him of assault. She alleges he pushed her during a heated exchange on the campaign trail.

Controversies

Once Prince has settled, I can tell he is waiting for me to decide which controversy I will open the interview with.

The teenage prostitute solicitation accusations sparked by Special Assignment? The letter written to captains of business asking them to chip in to the ANC's election kitty? The suspension as municipal manager for dipping into council money for bail for a friend later found guilty of armed robbery? The Democratic Alliance's complaint to the SA Human Rights Commission for an alleged racist slur against their campaigners? His expulsion from the ANC in 2006 and formation of the Independent Civic Organisation of SA (Icosa) and his return to the ANC fold?

Or, the R10 000 fine the ANC imposed on him earlier in July for bringing the party into disrepute for asking that a tender be given to a construction company "sympathetic" to the ANC. He has been accused of, and denied, assaulting a female traffic officer who pulled him over for speeding. But in spite of his chequered past, he is campaigning for another term as mayor on an ANC ticket.

His fellow contestants include the DA's Djorge Malooi, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who will put up a candidate based on results and another ANC breakaway party, the Karoo Democratic Force, known locally as the "Kadoef Party".

The DA's Patricia de Lille hails from the town. Earlier, a packed DA "blue wave" campaign bus snaked through the streets, supporters hanging out of windows, election calls blaring from speakers on a bakkie following them.

EFF proportional representation candidate Shakes Mpoteng spoke with an air of distaste about Prince, saying he’s named a housing settlement after himself – "Prince Valley".


Truman Prince's office (Jenni Evans, News24)

No ordinary mayor

Prince says he is no ordinary mayor, when asked about the people waiting to see him.

"My office is open. My office is functional 24/7. People just walk in there. Did you see bodyguards? Patricia de Lille? You must fill in a form. 'Why do want to see her? What's your reason? The mayor can only see you in September next year'."

Residents who cannot afford to pay for their own legal advice come to him with all sorts of problems and he finds himself having to play the role of a paralegal of sorts.

"Look at Oscar. If his uncle did not have money, it would not have been sorted," he said of the former Paralympian's protracted murder case.

He is interrupted briefly by a man discussing a covering letter over the late payment of a stipend for a Sector Education Training Authority (Seta) pupil.

"You cannot get your pay or your salary on the 40th of the month. If there is an agreement that you get paid at the end of the month, you get paid at the end of the month," he booms.

He says people can relate to him on bread-and-butter issues.

"I have even been shot," he says, lifting his shirt to reveal a scarred washboard stomach.

Unemployment

The town is part of the Central Karoo District Municipality, and StatsSA puts the number of residents at 49 586. The official unemployment rate is 25.5% and the youth unemployment rate 34%.

At least 97% of the people there live in a formal house, with 83% having a toilet inside their house and 97% are connected to the power grid.

The sparse work opportunities are reflected in the surrounding landscape - dry, dotted with sheep and olive farms. The bushes are not even big enough for one of the thousands of truck drivers that pass through each week to relieve themselves away from prying eyes.

Employment is at the vast bed and breakfast industry, the Karoo National Park, the shops in town and the farms.

On first stopping in the town, poverty and an underlying drug problem is evidenced with hard begging for "just a two rand" from a local.

Earlier, the ANC's Karoo region secretary Windy Plaatjies said the biggest source of income for many of the town's residents was social grants. Many of the big businesses there took the profits out, not ploughing enough back into the local economy.


Beaufort West (Jenni Evans, News24)

Racism

Prince first wants to get something off his chest regarding the racism accusation.

"From my family tree, stems almost all the races in South Africa. You can see how I look. You will see I am a white guy. But sorry, I am not a white guy. I am not a coloured guy. I'm an albino," he says, pausing to let that echo up to the pressed steel ceiling.

"My mother's father was a white man. My father's father was a German. Some of my family members stem from Zulu origination. I was born in Mandlenkosi, a so-called African area [in Beaufort West], so I, am the Rainbow Nation.

"I cannot be racist against white, I cannot be racist against black, because they are all family members of mine. So there is no way that Truman Prince can be racist."

He said unemployment at about 45%, was "real bad".

This echoed what Beaufort West youths 18-year-old McNiel Vorster and 20-year-old Bronwin Afrika told News24. Despite having a matric, they stand around all day, with no work to go to.

But Prince leans forward and says: "That is what you must be very careful of. Having a Grade 12 is just the start of your way up to education. There is a total disjuncture to say you have a matric so you must have a job. Having a matric is just the key to the door to education."

Bright future

A R50m youth hub was opened recently on the outskirts of the town and a wide range of Seta courses including plumbing, hairdressing and mechanical work are available.

"You get your diploma with the emblem to say you are fully qualified. Then you are capacitated and you can go out there and ply your trade. So that we can use our own plumbers, we don't have to bring skills in from outside."

A R20m trade test centre is also coming to town soon. There is high excitement, and controversy, about a possible uranium mine. He says it will need at least 1 000 people in its early stages, and 250 permanent people when finished, if eventually approved. The Karoo fracking project is "at an advanced stage".

"So the future does not look that bleak. It totally depends on the individual. Today you must capacitate yourself to grab and the opportunities which are heading towards your way. I don't know why Sanlam in their ad says the sky is the limit. If you go in the plane, you will see that there is more sky. The sky is not the limit."

He says he completed a Masters degree in Public Administration. The divorced father of four hopes to find time between being mayor and spending time with his fiancée to complete a PHD on why once-glorious liberation movements are losing their edge.

He agrees that some of the business people in Beaufort West, "make money and go".

"Currently we don't use our centrality to attract big business."


Beaufort West youth hub (Jenni Evans, News24)

Banished to the bathroom

The former Bible studies teacher says he got into politics because of his late mother Winnie's work as a "kitchen girl" for a white family for R14 a month.

He was not allowed to play on the grass or sit with his mother in the kitchen. He was banished to the bathroom when he got there after school, and had to polish the shoes.

"And then I said 'No'... Sorry for the word, but 'Fok, this is mos nonsense'. It was mind-boggling for me."

He went into exile in Namibia, teaching at a school. When class was finished, people were waiting outside for him to help with their problems, he says.

He blames the media for the scandals that follow him around.

"If you heard a story, a negative story repeated regularly, then you believe that that is that guy."

Elections

Asked about his and the party's chances in Beaufort West for the August 3 municipal elections, he says he admires the EFF for its radicalism "because I am a radical", he says. He admires how its MPs research and articulate arguments presented in Parliament.

"But some of their policies are a bit dangerous. It sounds very good on the ear, and it is very well accepted by the citizen on the ground, but I am worried about the implementation. Are those policies implementable?"

He criticises the DA's election candidate process, saying they were chosen by "people in a small room", not by the branches like the ANC.

"But, I am a second dan in karate. There is a prayer when you start training in karate: never ever underestimate your opponent. So that's my view. I don't take it for granted."


Beaufort West (Jenni Evans, News24)

- Find everything you need to know about the 2016 Local Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections, or download the app for iOS and Android.



Read more on: anc  |  truman prince  |  cape town  |  local elections 2016  |  politics

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