New Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela wants to turn the tide for troubled municipalities and mend relations between warring ANC factions that continue to thrive in the shadow of her predecessor, Ace Magashule.
Fresh from her inauguration last week, an energetic Ntombela told City Press she would gather all councillors and mayors – with Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize – to chart a way forward to help municipalities in disarray.
Already interventions had taken place in three financially strapped local municipalities – Maluti-A-Phofung, Mafube and Masilonyana – which had their executive powers taken over under 139(1) (b) of the Constitution.
“The financial stability of municipalities in the province is not nice at all,” said Ntombela, also citing failure in some instances by homeowners to pay for services. She used Mafube as an example, where about 90% of the people are unemployed and dependent on social grants.
Ntombela said she knew every cent allocated to all departments and planned to give her new executive only six months to account to her on how the money was spent.
“The only thing the executive must do is come and give me time frames and targets. After six months I’m going to check on the progress in implementation,” said Ntombela.
The sumptuous celebration of her appointment doubled as a farewell bash for Magashule.
She conceded she had only a few months left to make a mark before the 2019 elections, when the ANC’s power will be tested, as opposition parties line up to form national coalitions.
The ANC divisions in the province are high on the list of priorities and she is ready to ensure those are not exploited by the opposition to spoil her intent to retain Magashule’s electoral success over the years.
Ntombela said there were ANC “comrades” who had started reaching out to her.
But her closeness to Magashule had sparked reservations by some in the province who believe they are both cut from the same cloth and that Magashule will rule from Luthuli House.
“He has said to me, ‘I’m out now from the province, I don’t want to get involved, go and work very hard’.”
She asked that people give her a chance.
Ntombela denied talk that Magashule had a hand in her promotion.
In fact, Ntombela said, she also didn’t see her appointment coming.
It was with the support of the ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, who pushed hard to get her the position.
“I know many people say it’s Ntate’ Magashule, I respect him, I’m not going to lie ... I respect him very much because I know he has done a lot for the people of Free State. I’ve worked with him, I’ve seen him and I know what he has done.
“But Ntate Ace Magashule is Ntate Ace Magashule and I’m Mam’ Ntombela, a unique person. I might not even act like him but I will always ask him for advice.
“This position is not for me, it’s for women. I believe I am where I am because of women, especially the ANC Women’s League,”
What about the first woman president of the country and the ANC?
“I will be old by the time the next opportunity comes, Mam’ Nkosazana [Dlamini-Zuma] will be old but it does not mean the end of the road.
“The young women of this country must take up that fight.”
Ntombela said she is fully supportive of Ramaphosa and that it had in fact been Dlamini-Zuma who called her to say Ramaphosa was not the enemy and they should rally behind him.