SOMETIMES, I interview someone whose enthusiasm is so infectious that I feel I am sitting in the room with them instead of speaking to a screen. Nasiphi Moya is such a person.
Our interview takes place at 5pm on a Wednesday. After a day of site visits across the capital city, she sends me a text just after 4.30 to let me know she is on her way home and that the traffic is heavy but she will “be on time". At exactly 5, an alert on my laptop lets me know she is “waiting to be admitted" to our meeting, and despite her long day she is practically bouncing with energy (and smiles).
“In the city, I have got two jobs: the first one is that of deputy mayor, of course, but I am also the member of the mayoral committee for community and social development. It's a portfolio that can easily not be given the kind of attention it needs," she says.
“But actually, it's the heart of a caring city. It is about youth and children, sports and recreation, art and heritage sites, libraries, stadiums and the elderly. If you want to demonstrate that you are a caring city then this is the portfolio in which you do it, but because it's not core service delivery it easily gets neglected."
The two days prior to our interview she had spent visiting early childhood development centres, where she picked up a number of enrolment snags that she says were easy to fix. “Those toddlers are so sweet," she says. “I loved meeting the kids and the staff and the parents. It's always good to be reminded why we do this work."
One of the other focus areas is to oversee capital projects across the city, and each department within the metro has at least one. Her biggest headache is the Caledonian Stadium. “This is basically a project gone wrong," she says. “Seven years in and there is no progress, although we have spent R59 million which has all gone to professional services.
“I walked in and I was so stressed. The grass is tall, you can see the neglect and homeless people have moved in. This project is something that is going to keep me up at night.
“But then you see a project where you finally are seeing progress, and you get hope again that with the political will, proper oversight and pushing, you can get things to move." She is talking about Townlands, a 1,200-home project that was conceptualised in 2001.
Progress also hinges on having money. And it is no secret that Tshwane's coffers are depleted. But before we get there, I ask her about another financial matter, the one that held up her appointment as deputy mayor when the EFF accused her of having been involved in fraud during her time as chief of staff for a former mayor of Tshwane, Stevens Mokgalapa. It alleged that she had received a R10,000 stipend for a trip to Saudia Arabia then failed to repay it when the trip was cancelled.
What was that all about, I want to know.
Moya says it initially took her a while to remember what the EFF was talking about. “It was four years ago, it was a messy time and it was simply something that slipped through my fingers. My overwhelming feeling was a sense of disappointment in myself for having not managed that properly. But I was not angry about them raising it. We want politicians to be held accountable, whether it's R10 million or R10. My party calls for accountability every day and you can't push the responsibility onto others when it's your turn to be accountable. I am cross with having put myself in this position."
We return to the topic of the struggling, wounded capital city. “There has been such drama in Tshwane in the past two years," she admits, but the damage actually goes back much further.
“Yes, this recent municipal strike had a huge knock-on effect on the city but the damage started with another strike in 2019. That one crippled the city financially and what we are feeling today is the effect of what was started then. And it wasn't only the financial wound but also the morale and the trust of officials in the political leadership. Fast forward, and four years later you have a situation where, through no fault of employees, the city cannot afford to adjust their salaries."
But she believes Tshwane is finally turning a corner. For starters, it has a permanent city manager for the first time in four years.
“Since August, we have had Johann Mettler, and Johann has appointed a group of section 56 managers [appointed under section 56 of the Municipal Systems Amendment Act]. They come from outside, which I think was one of the things that we needed in the city. I can see the difference from when I left in 2019, when the city was still being run by the provincial government. There is a sense of accountability and responsibility that I didn’t know back then. And the DA mayor, Cilliers Brink, has stabilised things. He is a very level-headed, uncomplicated man. He has simplified what the city should focus on and his team understands those goals."
Turning the corner
Moya also sees signs that broken morale is slowly being healed.
“We can’t fill critical vacancies as soon as we should and we have limited resources but the majority of our officials are on the ground and they are working."
She says there is a developing consensus among most opposition parties that 2024 will be about coalitions and finding a way to work together in a constructive way. And she says she has a great working relationship with Brink.
“Remember, I used to work for the DA as an official, so I have relationships with many people inside the party that go back to 2011, so we know each other. We were never equals as we are now. When I worked for the DA, he was a politician and I was an official, but we are former colleagues. And many of the people in the DA are also good friends of mine.
“So, leaving the green and blue aside, on a personal level many of us are friends. And to be honest, I think this will work in my favour as the new deputy mayor because at least they also know the person behind the title. It lowers the walls between us and allows us to listen to and hear each other on a one-to-one basis."
Making coalitions work
Is this not what has been missing? Opposition politicians finding each other on a personal level instead of political egos clashing with each other?
Yes, that is part of it, says Moya. “Human beings are weird creatures. And there is always a delay in the transition from campaign to office. When there is a by-election, we don't know each other. I rock up with my green T-shirt and we compete for votes. But if there is a mayco meeting, we should have a common cause. It's something that has struck me often: that delay in getting to the common cause, and it is critical for coalitions to work.
“You have to have the maturity to get to the point where you say, OK, we are done campaigning, now let's work together. You also have to have the maturity to build those relationships, so when the mayor, who might be in a different party, calls me about something and explains the implications, I can accept that because we are working towards the same goal."
There is something so refreshing about speaking to Moya. There is straightforwardness, a lack of ego. How much of these constant coalition bust-ups have to do with male egos, I ask her?
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the pictures from the multi-party charter this morning?"
“Men have the bravery to start political parties, but all teams need diversity. And with diversity, I am not speaking only of race. In this country, it's important to reflect South Africa because diversity makes teams stronger and more effective. I get what you are saying. Sometimes with the conflict in coaltions you feel that it is more about testosterone than the actual issues."
Moya says that although she worked for the DA, ActionSA is the first party she felt comfortable joining.
“I studied politics. And after my master's I went to work for the DA. There was a separation between the administration and the politicians at the time, so there was no pressure to get involved in politics. I was educated in politics and I was selling a service, and then I would go home.
“After leaving my job with the DA, I started working with Action SA but I only decided to become a member of the party a year later. And it was because of the calibre of the individuals in this party. It was so refreshing to me. Mr [Herman] Mashaba always says that if you ever feel that you have to choose between the party and the community, you choose the community. And that resonated with me because there isn't a focus on internal politics to promote oneself.
“And Mr Mashaba is not a complicated leader. He's not looking for personal benefits. At least, that’s how I view him. He’s doing it because he saw there was a need in South Africa."
And then there are the party's policies that also speak to her.
“I take time with policies because that is something very close to my heart. I did my PhD thesis on nation-building and can’t be associated with a party that doesn’t want to talk to all South Africans. I understand this country and where it comes from, and for us to get to the future, no one must be left behind for whatever reason. I could not associate with many parties because there's always someone who gets left behind, and for me, my people come in all sorts of shades, shapes and forms."
Gatvol of politicians
Moya says she hates ideology.
“With ideology, you push people to the left or the right, and what's the point of that if it's not going to save the citizens? I am tired of the kind of politicians we have in this country. In fact, I think we are all gatvol of politicians."
As head of governance at ActionSA, she is intimately involved in selecting candidates and the party is trying to grow a different kind of politician.
“Of the 91 councillors we had, I think we only had three of four that had been councillors before, and most of these people were in the private sector, in civil society, in the public sector, but never active politicians. It is really important to us that we find a different calibre of people and a different way of doing things. ActionSA's call to action is that we have to save South Africa, and that is not going to happen if we follow the old ways."
Maybe focus on saving Tshwane first before moving on to the rest of the country, I joke. “We are definitely trying," she laughs.
♦ VWB ♦
BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.