Zweli Mkhize

2009-05-04 00:00

Just as the recent election raised some questions about the workings of this country’s proportional franchise system, so too has the manner in which the majority party appoints provincial premiers. Rather than have its representatives in the provincial legislatures choose their own leaders, the African National Congress’s National Executive Committee makes these appointments. There is sound logic in balancing the genders of major office-bearers, but this top-down approach can lead to controversy, as in Gauteng where the current incumbent and locally favoured Paul Mashatile has been unseated in favour of Housing MEC Nomvula Mokonyane.

KwaZulu-Natal, fortunately, has escaped this difficulty. After speculation that he might be included in the national cabinet, the ANC’s provincial chairman Zweli Mkhize has been appointed provincial premier, and is likely to prove a popular and effective choice. Born in Willowfountain and a graduate of Natal University (now UKZN), Mkhize practised medicine both locally and in exile, and was highly respected during his 10 years of service as MEC for Health. In 2004, he took on the provincial Finance and Economic Development portfolio, again managing it effectively. He is currently the leader of Government Business in KwaZulu-Natal, a member of the ANC National Executive Committee, and chairperson of the party’s National Education and Health sub-committee. In these capacities, he has helped frame the government’s health policies and sought to engage with the private sector in enhancing KwaZulu-Natal’s investment potential. He also chairs the 2010 Soccer World Cup Political Oversight Committee. To this wealth of experience he adds a leadership style likely to be different from that of outgoing premier S’bu Ndebele and rather more in the inclusive Zuma mould.

Mkhize now takes on a post with a critical role to play. KwaZulu-Natal is not only the most populous province, but also the one where the divide between the rural and urban communities is most marked and government funding most thinly spread. Post-election violence has already shown how political rancour still simmers. Mkhize is no stranger to the political battlefront. His challenge now is to bring all his experience, skill and sensitivity to bear on building harmony and wellbeing.

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