New North West Premier Job Mokgoro says society is gripped by a crippling “lotto mentality”, and that is probably the main reason he came back – as a pensioner – to rescue the ailing provincial government.
Mokgoro (70) says the dearth of young people who can be entrusted with major responsibilities in government was because of “the extreme metamorphosis where one sees themselves being somewhere, then the next morning I’m a director general when I wake up”.
“Somewhere along the line I realise that I can afford a Mercedes-Benz – and education is not even an intervening variable here. I can actually get up there without necessarily having an education.”
He says what makes things worse is that “some of our leaders boast that they did not finish school”.
In 1994 Mokgoro was 46 years old when President Cyril Ramaphosa, then ANC secretary-general, appointed him to head the transitional government of the Bophuthatswana homeland. He had to leave his then job as a policy analyst at the Development Bank.
On Friday Ramaphosa called him again to head a transitional government that will take the North West to the general elections next year, replacing 50-year-old Supra Mahumapelo.
Mokgoro says it is probably a coincidence that Ramaphosa once again called on him to save the day. “Perhaps I come across as a little conservative and people therefore think I’m the right person to stabilise the situation,” he adds.
He consulted widely when he received the petition to take over the role, but the real clincher was when “even people I thought would be opposed to my nomination encouraged me to accept the post”.
Although he is framed as an academic and administrator, Mokgoro says he spent as much time on the streets as an activist as he did in the lecture room.
His traces his political activism to Fort Hare university, where he learnt politics under black consciousness pioneer Steve Biko and became accused number one “in a case where we nearly killed three security police. Well, so they said.
“At some stage when we did community work in a place called Nquthu [in KwaZulu-Natal], Biko was the urban principal and I was the rural principal.”
Pre-1994 he received training in economics, together with the likes of Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom and top Treasury official Ismail Momoniat in Botswana.
During the Convention for a Democratic South Africa negotiations in the early 1990s he was at the forefront of establishing at least three of the country’s nine provinces, reporting to the likes of former SA Communist Party general secretary Joe Slovo.
He cites people such as struggle veteran Harry Nengwekhulu among his slightly senior contemporaries. He was a hardcore activist but is a professor today.
“And who says the two do not blend?” he asks.
Mokgoro says he was wary that Mahumapelo nominated him (and two others) for the post.
But he ultimately agreed with people who advised him that “it does not matter where the proposal is generated, what matters is what you do with it”.
Mokgoro says his relationship with Mahumapelo will be guided by maturity, synergy and assertiveness from both of them.
“We must both assert our own authority within the bounds of our own space.”
He compared their relationship to that of an administrator, like a director-general, and the political principal, like a minister.
“We have a healthy relationship. Not that we have not differed, but those are not for the mountain top. We have differed, but that is not for the world to know,” he says, adding that he took collective responsibility for the crisis in the province because he had been part of the government under Mahumapelo.
But Mokgoro says more than anything, he is a devotee to public service. “I cannot imagine being part of a system where it appears that we are not alive to our environment. I feel guilty to be part of a government system where you are told that the majority of municipalities are dysfunctional.”