In an exclusive interview, the Mayor does not shy away from the challenges that are facing the city but also reflects on the successes achieved in the past two years during the current administration’s tenure.
In terms of the appointment with the City Mayor, the interview was scheduled for ten in the morning. To his credit, he had arrived an hour earlier. Ahead of the start of the interview, he had to be excused in order to address what was communicated as a emergency. With everything thrown into the fray, the Office of the Mayor duly apologized and rescheduled the interview for later on in the afternoon. While this may have seemed to be an inconvenience, even though it was touch and go for the mayor, this gave first-hand experience of how challenging and complex the mayor’s position is or can become.
The City Mayor’s Office, which is nestled in the heart of the city’s hustle and bustle, is a reflection of the city’s tapestry of communities as it deals with and assists people from all walks of life. If it’s not attendees of meetings of various bodies within the city, it was phones ringing off the hook making all sorts of queries.
When the interview did finally take place, Mayor Njilo kicked off matters by querying if his sincere apology was extended to journalists for being inconvinienced. Upon receiving confirmation, he breathed a sigh of relief. When, the interview commenced, what was rather surprising and refreshing was the mayor’s candidness on what challenges the city continues to face, hence the unscheduled interruptions earlier.
“The reason that led to us starting this late is a matter that has to do with our military veterans, which they feel has taken a very long time to resolve. During the meeting, it became apparent that there was a breakdown in communication on the side of the council as the matter in question was finalized a long time ago. What this says to us is that it remains critical that we be in constant communication with all stakeholders regardless of the progress or lack thereof on matters we should be feeding back on,” said the Mayor.
Having commenced his stint as Mayor two years ago, this is something residents view in varying lights. Some have quipped that the position of Mayor should have been given to someone who was previously part of the status quo and not “a rank outsider” while others felt that someone like Mayor Njilo who has previously worked with communities and does not have a tainted governance record is the right person to put the city on the correct trajectory.
When asked if he expected to be deployed as the city’s first citizen and what material changes this had on his life, he said: “Perhaps I must start by saying that I would not have agreed to taking up this position as city mayor if it was going to turn me into a person that I am not. I therefore accepted the position as a request and a mandate that aligned and is harmonous with what I have been doing all along with communities. The only difference is that I now do this in an official position as city mayor.”
Testimony to what Mayor Njilo is saying is illustrated by the fact that even though he is now the City Mayor, he has continued with his philanthropic work through the Themba Njilo Foundation. Amongst the foundation’s many interventions is their project that provides housing for the homeless and destitute.
Capital City Status
Owing to the charity work that he has conducted over the years prior to joining the council, he conceded that this has increased the appetite for communities in terms of service delivery. He also said that as a council, they have started providing answers and addressing service delivery challenges that are facing the city.
“When I came on board, there were a number of issues that needed to be dealt with rather urgently to ensure that Msunduzi Municipality takes its rightful place as the capital city of KwaZulu-Natal. Other regional cities like Durban and Richards Bay cannot be looked at as capital cities while that title rightfully belongs to us. Having said that, I do accept that there are extraordinary things that we still need to accomplish in order to make a success of what we are faced with,” added Mayor Njilo.
He also revealed that there are a number of priority areas he has identified that will elevate Pietermaritzburg’s capital city status which include major infrastructure developments. The mayor was quick to add that this cannot be accomplished by the council alone but with requisite support and co-operation from the business sector, both big business as well as small and medium enterprises.
“There is nothing that pains me like when our people are forced to leave their areas in order to access infrastructure in the city while they reside in our council’s area of jurisdiction or when guests have engagements here in Pietermaritzburg but end up having to sleep in other cities outs like Durban. That results in loss of income for the city and its businesses, which is totally unacceptable. As a council, we would have fallen short of delivering on our mandate if, together with other stakeholders, we have not turned around this situation,” said a visibly irked Mayor Njilo.
The Mayor went on to underscore the need for the city to take advantage of opportunities in the tourism sector as Msunduzi Municipality is rich with historical sites and heritage.
“Major cities the world over have become an attraction largely because of their tourism industry and I have no doubt that the area of Msunduzi can gain a lot by walking down the same road. We are known for, amongst others, historical sites and corridors, something that appeals to tourists.
Another matter of concern for the mayor is the issue of sordid politics, one that almost brought the programmes of council to a standstill.
“Under normal circumstances, politics is supposed to bring solutions to challenges faced by people and institutions. This is the same politics that brought change to this country, which was led by the African National Congress and other parties in order for us to enjoy the freedom that we live under today. Unfortunately, what we are experiencing currently is nothing short of kangaroo politics, which only results in bloodbaths. This turns a productive and positive environment into one of negativity and destruction.
“It is not a great thing for a place like Msunduzi to be notorious for butchering leaders and civil servants. It is my prayer that we rid this place of such sordid politics and return it to its rightful place. Politics must be a shield that protects our communities and not a dagger that tears apart our well-being” emphasized the Mayor.
Njilo went further to say that he has hope for political parties, regardless of who they represent, to do their level best to ensure that service delivery is the order of the day in the Msunduzi jurisdiction.
On the City Manager
With the city manager having been suspended recently, Mayor Njilo felt that it is not opportune for him to make public comment on the matter as legal processes are currently underway but was quick to add that the decision was taken for the benefit of the residents of Msunduzi because they deserve better.
Explaining the processes that led to the suspension of the City Manger, Njilo said all public service and local government legislative framework were followed. “The decision was taken at the level of full Council and in ensuring that there was a smooth transition in terms of the administration of the city, the Council’s Chief Financial Officer Neli Ngcobo was appointed in an acting capacity as City Manager. This has stabilised the administration and is steering us in the right direction.
“Regulations that govern public and municipal government dictate that we request the provincial arm of municipal governance [Department of Corporative Governance & Traditional Affairs] to assist with sourcing an external candidate to temporarily fill the vacancy as Ms Ngcobo has her other full time and primary responsibilities in her role as CFO, which should go unhindered,” explained the mayor.
In the next edition, the City Mayor will delve into greater detail on current and future infrastructural development project plans for the next two years.