Stan Mathabatha's unenviable task

2013-07-21 14:00

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‘People have become ashamed of making it known that they come from Limpopo. The province is like a sickly patient ... ’

Limpopo’s new premier, Stanley Mathabatha, says his task is to drag the ailing and scandal-prone province back to the straight and narrow.

That his work is cut out for him is no secret, as outgoing premier Cassel Mathale and his cabinet leave behind an administration in tatters.

Civil servants are divided along factional ANC lines: some support Mathale while others support politicians aligned to President Jacob Zuma.

Staff morale is at its lowest.

Five departments have been under administration since December 2011. Allegations of corruption and nepotism are reported almost on a daily basis. The ANC and its alliance partners in the province are in disarray.

During Mathale’s reign, businessmen close to power saw the provincial government as a hot ticket to riches.

Mathabatha, who was South Africa’s ambassador to Ukraine before President Jacob Zuma recalled him, now has the unenviable task of cleaning the mess left by Mathale’s four-year administration.

Expectations are high, but he says he’s up to the task.

In an interview on Friday, Mathabatha said his initial response was one of anxiety when Zuma told him that he wanted him to take over as premier.

“My first impression was, like, gosh, such a huge responsibility. I asked myself if I would be able to deliver. But then I come from Limpopo and I’m aware of these challenges. When I told the president I was willing, I knew what I was getting myself into.”

These days, he said, just the mention of Limpopo elicits mental pictures of a free-for-all, lawless province run by thugs, mafia bosses and criminals who drive around town with bags full money.

“People have become ashamed of making it known that they come from Limpopo. The province is like a sickly patient in ICU, and we can’t continue like this.”

Following the appointment of his provincial cabinet on Friday, Mathabatha says his immediate task is to “get the government’s systems right”.

He said: “We need the right people for the job. We need a cadre who is professional, skilled, has the right ethical behaviour, and is disciplined and hard working. He may not necessarily be a card-carrying member of the ANC but he must be committed and have the right qualifications.”

As an experienced technocrat with many years of public sector service, Mathabatha says he of all people knows how critical it is to get the right people for the job.

Before becoming ambassador to Ukraine, the 56-year-old was the managing director of Limpopo Economic Development Enterprise, a position he held since the early 2000s.

The little known Mathabatha served as the treasurer of the ANC in Limpopo between 1992 and 1994, in what was then Northern Transvaal. The father of three, who holds a Higher Diploma in Education from the University of the Western Cape, says politics runs in his blood.

“I joined the ANC in the early 70s and I was arrested on June 20 1976 for inciting violence. I was given eight canes on my buttocks. In 1986, I was arrested again at the University of the North (now the University of Limpopo) and I was sentenced to eight months in prison.”

Mathabatha, who has been on the job for less than a week, says he has already detected low staff morale, and fixing it is one of his priorities.

“I just want to see the delivery of services. Once I’ve seen that, I will be satisfied. When we go to the polls next year, I want things to be so different to the extent that the administrators ask themselves, ‘what are we still doing here?’”

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