Masondo’s vision for car sector

The CEO of Gauteng’s Automotive Industry Development Centre, David Masondo, is not a man with a long corporate history, and has had to earn his place in any credible political or economic discussion.

City Press met the soft-spoken executive, who has earned a reputation as a one-man think-tank, in his office in Rosslyn, Pretoria, earlier this week.

Masondo has come a long way since his years as a student activist. He’s now a reputable economist and sits on boards of organisations such as the Financial Sector Charter Council.

Masondo was born in Elim Hospital in Limpopo’s Vhembe district, and spent the better part of his younger days in Gauteng, before moving back to Limpopo.

After matriculating from Marimane High School in his home village of Ka Chavani, Giyani, he enrolled for a teaching diploma at Giyani College. There, he was recruited into the SA Communist Party, where he served in various senior positions, including on its central committee.

After finishing his studies at Giyani College, he enrolled at the University of Limpopo, then the University of the North, but did not stay there for long.

“I was not happy. I kept having arguments with lecturers. I wouldn’t say that I dropped out – I didn’t actually deregister – but I stopped going to class. I got disenchanted with the course content,” he said.

He then made his way to Wits University, where he enrolled for a BA in law, but changed direction in his
second year.

“I was not a typical first-year student in the sense that I had some political experience,” he said.

At the time, he was already a deputy national president of the SA Students Congress.

At Wits, he became the president of the student representative council and studied for his honours and master’s degrees. Later, he registered for a PhD.

While at Wits, he was appointed as a part-time youth commissioner before bagging his first full-time job in the Limpopo government. After a brief stint there, he returned to Wits University as a lecturer.

After juggling his PhD studies with political activities and work over a few years, Masondo decided to register to study afresh, this time abroad at New York University, in 2008.

“I am interested in knowledge – probing scientifically into different phenomena or problems that society experiences – and I felt you couldn’t answer these problems through slogans,” he said.

“You have to have some kind of discipline in how you scientifically probe or deal with the questions. I felt the best way to have a good political argument on any issue was always to have a discipline of thought, as opposed to shouting and spitting out rhetoric.”

His public profile received a boost when he was appointed as Limpopo finance MEC in 2011. He was in charge of the province’s money when Cabinet put five departments – Treasury, education, roads and transport, public works, and health and social development – under administration in December that year.

“I think it was largely because then premier Cassel [Mathale] had a disagreement with President Jacob Zuma and Julius [Malema], who was still the president of the ANC Youth League.

“People felt that the best way to deal with these guys was to put them under administration, and it was a few weeks before the provincial [ANC] conference,” he said.

He urged Mathale to legally challenge the move, but Mathale refused.

“For people to fight you in politics, they must first define you. And the way to define us was that these were corrupt fellows and couldn’t run an administration,” he said.

Masondo is still convinced that, although the administration had its problems, the decision to put it under administration was not justified.

Almost five years later, there are signs that he may be right as no one has been charged or arrested for their role in the province’s financial crisis. In fact, the decision had serious consequences as unspent funds were diverted from that province to other provinces.

Despite the province’s financial woes, Masondo’s department achieved a clean audit in that financial year.

After his stint as MEC, he joined the University of Johannesburg to do post-doctoral research, and he continued publishing academic papers.

He returned to government to work in the Gauteng economic development department. In 2015, he was appointed to his current post as the head of the Automotive Industry Development Centre in an acting capacity. Later that year, he was appointed to the post in a permanent capacity.

The organisation is a provincial parastatal under the purview of the economic development department in Gauteng. As its head, Masondo is entrusted with ensuring the local automotive industry is transformed and contributes meaningfully to the province’s economy.

Interestingly, his PhD thesis was on the automotive industry.

While the sector faces several difficulties, Masondo singles out attracting and retaining investment as the biggest one.

His vision is for the industry to develop and transform, and to develop more black industrialists, which is in line with government’s black industrialist programme.

“My vision is to have a Further Education and Training college that focuses on the automotive industry.”

He believes the industry has a great deal of potential. The sector has a significant number of black people at various leadership levels, however, there aren’t any at the level of ownership, which needs to change, Masondo says.

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