Zamani Saul, the newly appointed Northern Cape premier will need the support of his comrades in the ANC and government to achieve his vision of zamanifying his province.
Saul’s vision of ‘hard-work and courage’, articulated in his inauguration speech delivered in Lerato Park, an impoverished informal settlement near Kimberley – is a refreshing call identical to Tanzanian president John Magufuli’s revered magufulication.
Magufuli adopted a devil-may-care approach to combat graft, poor governance, laziness, incompetence, wasteful and unnecessary expenditure in government and civil service after his election as Tanzanian president in October 2015.
He showed up announced at public institutions to catch out truant civil servants and gave a number of non-performing highly placed civil servants the chop. He also shrunk his cabinet and introduced strict austerity measures which he took the lead in adhering to.
A little more than three decades earlier Thomas Sankara had led the way, revolutionising governance in post-independent Africa with a similar radical approach after taking office through a coup in Burkina Faso.
But he didn’t last long. His methods rendered him unpopular even among his comrades who saw him as a stumbling block to accessing the public purse. He was eventually assassinated on 15 October 1987. His legend lives up to this day, hence, Saul has been referred to in some quarters as the new Sankara for his refreshing pronouncements.
Saul has vowed to ‘spend less time absorbed in the comforts of the office and dwelling under the shade of self-adulation’.
He has also committed himself to be ‘an activist Premier, who will always be among the people’.
Part of Saul’s zamanification plan includes having political leaders that are hard-working, pay attention to detail, are incorruptible and shun self-indulgence on issues such as red carpets, blue-lights, security upgrades, state houses and so forth.
He has in fact pledged to sell the premier’s official residence and channel the funds to a bursary fund that will target matriculants from areas such as Lerato Park.
But perhaps the most radical of the zamanification project is the intention by Saul to establish the Northern Cape Mining Company.
He says the aim of this is to radically change the paradigm in which residents of the province are not deriving much substantive benefit from the province’s mineral deposits. The Northern Cape is arguably, in terms of mineral wealth, SA’s richest province – yet its citizens remain among the poorest in the country.
These are all commendable interventions that even Sankara would not doubt support. But Saul will need more than an inspirational speech delivered in a squatter camp to achieve these.
History not being the good teacher it is supposed to be, like Sankara, Saul’s detractors are likely to emanate from among his very comrades, unless he wins the battle to convince them to buy into his zamanification project.
“All MECs to be appointed to this 6th Administration must understand that the opportunity to serve our people is an absolute honour, and not a stepladder to riches and fame. We are not royalty here, but ordinary and simple social and political activists,” Saul said in his inaugural address.
In a country where politicians have grown to believe they are lords that are owed gratification and pampering by the electorate, this will be easier said than done. To achieve this, Saul will need to take unpopular decisions, reign in comrades who deviate from this vision and risk losing support within party ranks.
He will need to change attitudes that prevailed during his predecessor Sylvia Lucas’ term in office, when uproar over the spending of thousands of taxpayers money on take-aways by the premier was dismissed as an ‘entitlement protected under the Ministerial Handbook’.
Saul has a daunting task to clean up the image of the province which is the only one with a former premier serving a jail term. John Block, a former comrade of Saul’s is now serving a 15-year jail term after he was found guilty of corruption and money laundering in 2016. He was found to have used his political influence to facilitate government leases with the Trifecta group of companies in return for kickbacks.
In his speech last week Saul quoted the wise words of Amilcar Cabral, leader of the nationalist movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde who was also assassinated by his own comrades in 1973.
“Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children,” Cabral said.
In his zamanification project, Saul has to contend with the sad reality that not all politicians share these noble ideals espoused by Cabral, Sankara and Magufuli. To some, political office is a passport to power, prestige and pillaging the public purse.
Saul will also need to contend with the fact that mining companies will not easily give up their grip on their share of the province’s mineral resources without a fight. Theirs is but one thing and one thing only – profit, and any politician who threatens their spoils is literally playing with fire.
Suggestions that Saul’s pursuit of zamanification may result in him being taken out like Sankara and Cabral are obviously too far-fetched in this day and era, especially for someone occupying his kind of office.
But with the politics of recalling deployees somewhat of an in-thing in ANC politics, Saul might find himself in that precarious position if he doesn’t sell his vision among his comrades and steps too much on the toes of capital.