JACOB Mamabolo, the Gauteng MEC for Transport who is now also the acting MEC for Health, can safely be described as the province’s chief firefighter. Interacting with Mamabolo gives a sense that he excels on putting out fires, attending to the many challenges that government faces, the latest of which is the outbreak of COVID-19.
Mamabolo, 51, assumed the health portfolio after MEC Dr Bandile Masuku was asked to step aside following allegations of corruption on the procurement of personal protective equipment.
He is perfectly suited to fill an unexpected vacancy in the department that is leading the fight against a pandemic.
Mamabolo sat down for an interview with Inside Politics after he had received a briefing about the province’s continuing response to COVID-19.
Straight after, he then had to meet taxi operators from the Tshwane area to quell a crisis in the area.
In the first week in office starting form last weekend, Mamabolo visited 26 hospitals throughout the province and three PPE storage facilities.
“The purpose was to conduct a baseline audit to assess the state of readiness to deal with the peak” Mamabolo said of the province’s response to the pandemic
Gauteng currently accounts for 34% of all tests conducted throughout the country with just over a million test out of 3 million.
The province accounts for a third of all cases nationally and a quarter of all deaths.
The province has an almost 70% recovery rate, in line with the national average.
In July, the province was admitting up to 350 patients a day, and the figure is now down to about 110.
Patient numbers have also fallen from the July peak of 6000.
Mamabolo says he assessed the health facilities of the basis of infrastructure, Human Resources, technical equipment and devices as well as clinical and medical equipment.
He says while a lot of good work has been done, there are gaps in some areas.
“A lot of good work has been done, but to be sure that we are prepared for a surge in infections,” he said.
The biggest challenge Mamabolo anticipates is the possible shortage of nurses in the event of a surge in infections.
“I think a challenge we might run into is having enough hands to offer enough support for the work of doctors and specialists,” Mamabolo observes.
He is anxious that the provinces cannot source nurses and anticipates that health workers who have been affected can recover sufficiently to return to the frontlines.
Mamabolo says while the province addresses irregularities in the procurement of protective equipment there are sufficient stock levels to meet short term demand in the province.
Mamabolo said he was concerned about the consistency and quality of supply of equipment.
He is working with national government for the supply of ventilators, while the province has seen the number of patients needing oxygen fall in recent weeks.
Mamabolo brings a wealth of experience to his latest challenge.
He was first elected as a Member of the Gauteng legislature in 2014, after which he was appointed as the MEC for Human Settlements and Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs. In 2016, he was appointed MEC for Infrastructure Development before assuming the transport portfolio following the 2019 elections.
As housing MEC, he oversaw the overhaul of the provinces housing delivery policy designed to address inward migration through a move towards the Mega Human Settlements.
While he was the MEC infrastructure, he was responsible for delivering the hi-tech schools that were regularly unveiled by Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
In his current role as MEC for transport, he has been able to set up the Gauteng Transport Auth7ority and had R157 million allocated to launch the agency over the next three years.
Mamabolo also received R20 million to help professionalise the taxi industry.
Mamabolo holds a teacher’s diploma, law degree and a Master’s in Public Administration.
A former teacher in his home province of Limpopo, the roots of his activism are student politics, and while he was studying at the University of Pretoria, he became President of the South African Student Congress (SASCO).
He identifies himself as a communist and is currently the Gauteng provincial secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP).
He is a consummate communicator and an efficient operator.
Whenever he has important legislature engagement, whether to appear before a committee, deliver his department budget vote or the provincial budget, he is open in his communication and expects his staff members around him to think on their feet and facilitate, rather than hinder, the availability of information.
A Gauteng legislature official who declined to be named says interactions with Mamabolo’s office are characterised by expectations of high standards and efficiency, with limited or no room for errors.
He has an engaging manner and an industrious work ethic.
There are a few people currently well placed to put out the province’s many fires as Mamabolo.
(COMPILED BY INSIDE POLITICS STAFF)