Dr Zamani Saul: The Northern Cape's new 'activist premier'

Zamani Saul. (Emile Hendricks)
Zamani Saul. (Emile Hendricks)

The newly elected premier of the Northern Cape, Dr Zamani Saul, has been lauded by a cross-section of South Africans for sticking to a promise that he made at his inauguration.

On Wednesday, Saul made good on his promise to cut spending on cars for his provincial executive by buying 23 new ambulances for the province - the first in a batch of 63.

READ: Saul keeps his promise, buys ambulances instead of cars for MECs

Whether Saul can deliver on all his other grand promises, remains to be seen.

Speaking to News24 this week, the premier stated emphatically that "basically, my ideological stance is that I am a product of a revolutionary movement, the African National Congress [ANC]. What I believe in is a servant leadership.

"Any institutional culture or practice that seeks to put me on a pedestal, I'm going to reject that. It's premised on that."

At his inauguration, he delivered his speech not in the comfortable, leather-bound comfort of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature, but in the Lerato Park informal settlement.

In it, Saul stated that "hard-work and courage are the two key values that will define the work of this sixth administration. I commit here that I will be an activist premier who will always be among the people. I will spend less time absorbed in the comforts of the office and dwelling in the shade of self-adulation."

City Press reported Saul as having said that he would have an office in the provincial health department and another one in the casualty section of Robert [Mangaliso] Sobukwe Hospital, spurning the comforts of the premier's office.

The premier, speaking to News24, vowed to bridge the gap between residents and their elected representatives.

Leadership is not royalty

"Leadership is not royalty, our responsibility is to serve," he said. "People disengage because of the social distance and servant leadership is very conscious of this."

The premier added that he was "very conscious of the trappings of power". He explained his rationale behind his move not display pictures of himself and his executive by simply asking: "Why should there be pictures of all these people?"

"You get photos of like eight people, why is that?" he asked.

He added the caveat that "We must have a photo of our national leader."

"The face of our country is the president."

READ: The centre of gravity in this state, the unitary state, is President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Saul also said he would do away with red carpets at provincial functions. "We are not celebrities. If I see a red carpet, I will remove it myself."

'Outside the box'

Saul has a master's degree in development studies from the University of the Free State and a Master of Laws degree from UWC. He, most recently, achieved a Doctorate of Law degree in Public Law and Jurisprudence from UWC.

He said some of the "outside-the-box" ideas he had, included the establishment of a provincial mining company, phased-labour insourcing and even a Premier Soccer League (PSL) team.

The establishment of provincial construction and mining companies was underway, the premier added.

"We are the extraction centre [of South Africa]. Raw, unfinished products are leaving the province. We are shipping jobs out of the province," he said.

"Since 1994, one of the complaints of Northern Cape residents is that despite our rich mineral endowments, we derive no substantive benefits."

'De-tender-ising' the Northern Cape

The new premier is also looking to "de-tender-ising" the province, with a possible introduction of phased insourcing of some support functions such as security guards, gardening, catering and cleaning services, as well as the maintenance of state buildings.

"We need to strengthen the capacity of the state. Many of the security guards here are outsourced. Why can't we insource these guys?" he told News24.

He added that he would seek to ensure a form of "phased insourcing that doesn't compromise our fiscal position. There is already a team looking at models and scenarios for insourcing".

Time will tell if Saul can fulfil his lofty ambitions in a province that has historically suffered under the weight of high unemployment and other ills.

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