PROFILE: New Joburg mayor Geoff Makhubo faces tough challenge
Joburg’s mayor hopes the key lessons learnt from his predecessor will help him keep his complex coalition afloat
Geoff Makhubo says he is not the type of man to hastily replace something just because it was left behind by his predecessor. The décor in his unpretentious office in Braamfontein is testament to this. The signed Lions rugby ball (Joburg’s local team) and the DA-blue couches are some of the remnants of his predecessor Herman Mashaba’s time in office.
The broad changes to the boards of the city’s entities made last week, however, indicate he has a ruthless side he is not afraid to bring into play.
The election of Makhubo, an accountant and former finance MMC, followed in the wake of a turbulent time for the DA, culminating in Mashaba’s resignation as mayor.
The then DA-led coalition fell apart at the seams, opening up the top political job in the metro for Makhubo, who was accused by Mashaba of being corrupt — a claim he denies. It paved the way for the ANC to return to power in the city, which is the economic heart of Gauteng. The province contributes more than a third of SA’s GDP.
It is no small task to lead a city whose residents have become intolerant with the state of service delivery as well as the reality that the billing system has remained a mess, despite lofty promises by the previous administration to fix it.
The ANC will lead a complex coalition, dubbed the government of local unity, for just 18 months before residents go to the polls in local government elections in 2021.
In an interview with the FM, Makhubo says the main aim of his administration is to improve the daily lives of the city’s residents. He says it will be important for residents to have a positive experience of both the municipal services and of Joburg as an urban space.
"And what translates into positive? Traffic lights must work. If they don’t, there must be pointsmen to get the traffic to flow. Water must come out of the taps. Grass must be cut. Dustbins must be collected on time. The city must be cleaned. Cemeteries must be maintained. Potholes must be closed. Roads must be resurfaced. The basic things that make a city attractive to investors and make a city liveable must be there," he says.
And the city must do other things too, such as ensuring that infrastructure is maintained and developed.
Born and raised in Soweto, he has an even more intimate knowledge of the city than most, as he helped develop ward-based branches in Joburg for the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).
Makhubo, a former chair of the Joburg ANCYL and the regional chair of the ANC in Joburg, followed a traditional route through ANC structures, but he jokes that he does not have presidential ambitions, given that he is simply too old.
For the moment, his focus is on keeping a government together which is based on a complex coalition, which could follow the same trajectory as the DA-led coalition before it.
And for this, Makhubo acknowledges that he has learnt from Mashaba’s time in office.
"We approach the coalition in a manner that doesn’t have a big brother-small brother syndrome. While we are the largest party, we recognise that being large is not a sufficient condition to govern," Makhubo says.
The DA was often accused of arrogance in its coalitions, and it suggests the ANC has learnt harsh lessons since it failed to find parties willing to work with it after the 2016 local government elections.
It is exactly why Makhubo’s mayoral committee is not just made up of ANC members, or merely representative of the bigger of the six parties which make up his government. He says the critique was that Mashaba focused so much on his relationship with the EFF that he forgot about the smaller parties which eventually ended up working with the ANC, such as the UDM and COPE.
"And by the time the DA realised that these other parties were important, it was [too] late. So we learnt from that: in a coalition even a one-person party matters."
The strength of this approach will be tested when the city has to pass its budget in June.