Youthful Gigaba calls the shots

2012-06-21 08:35

It’s almost 6pm on a Tuesday evening, but the 16th floor of 120 Plein Street in the parliamentary precinct is bustling as if it was still 9am.

This is where the department of public enterprises does its business, with 40-year-old Malusi Gigaba as the minister.

Gigaba runs a tight ship – officials don’t get to go home until the minister does. And while peeling his second orange for the day, he gets ready for his next meeting.

Gigaba is the youngest member of President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet, but has one of the toughest jobs: to build the infrastructure that will make it easier to live and do business in South Africa.

Public enterprises will be responsible for the R800 million infrastructure rollout of highways, railways and ports to link South Africa with the rest of the world.

This is meant to make South Africa a more attractive investment destination and trading partner.

But this massive responsibility sits comfortably on Gigaba’s shoulders, which are stylishly clad in a black Polo suit.

“I knew that I’m coming into the hot seat. I saw what the minister (Barbara Hogan) went through in 2008 with load-shedding, so I know this is a hot place to be,” he laughs.

Gigaba followed the conventional ANC route to top leadership. He became ANC Youth League president in 1996 and still remembers the moment the announcement was made.

“I was 24 years old. When they announced the results I was standing somewhere at the back of the conference and as I was trying to process the results in my head, I was already carried up on people’s shoulders to the podium.”

His first port of call after his election was Zuma, then national chairperson of the ANC.

“I asked him a simple question: Now that I am Youth League president what does that mean? So we preoccupied ourselves with rebuilding the post-apartheid Youth League.”

This explains how Gigaba managed to effortlessly make the transition from being a supporter of president Thabo Mbeki at the ANC’s Polokwane conference, to that of Zuma’s political godchild.

But despite being a consummate political strategist, he did not dream he’d be 40 and in charge of the biggest balance sheet in government.
For him, his biggest achievement was when he received his first degree in education from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“It gave me the power I have never had. Nobody can take this away from me, this is what I’ve achieved myself.”

At the time of this interview, rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle were rife. But Gigaba felt he had little to fear, as his education enables him to do his job with confidence.

“It does give you options, it gives you confidence. It makes you relax so you really are not desperate.”

Was he constantly reminded of his youth since joining Mbeki’s executive in 2004?

“You always do things conscious of being young. I’ve been fortunate to be given responsibilities and I’ve developed experience and confidence to know that I can face up to anything. So if the ANC says to me: ‘Thank you very much, you are no longer an MP, you are no longer a minister’, I’ve got degrees. I can go teach.”

He has tough words for the youth he used to lead.

“The present generation of youth really needs to amass education more than anybody else.

To some extent many of us of our generation were denied opportunities to gain good-quality education, but those who are younger than us have no excuse.”

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