By Fred Khumalo
Immediately after the installation of the first democratically elected government in South Africa, she was allowed to serve in various portfolio committees in the Gauteng legislature.
Then in 1996, she was elevated to MEC for agriculture, conservation and environment. Three years later, she became MEC for safety and liaison until 2004.
In 2009, she became the premier of Gauteng. Later still, she became a national minister. Today, she is a member of the governing party’s national executive committee.
All these milestones should tell us that Nomvula Mokonyane is a highly seasoned and powerful politician.
This makes a complete mockery of what she has been doing over the past few days, fielding countless radio interviews in which she expressed outrage at what is happening with the zama zamas, sometimes referred to as Marashia, on the West Rand.
The cherry on top was when she led a march by fellow ANC supporters who sang and danced outside the Krugersdorp Magistrates’ Court where over 80 people arrested following the gang rape of eight young women appeared.
Addressing the media outside the court building, she said: “For mining companies to take responsibility and for us as government, we need to now expropriate all those deserted mines. Expropriate that land without compensation for the good of the public. Make sure (the land is) revitalised and creates jobs for our own communities.
The absent mine owners have left these workers, the illegal immigrants, there without taking them back to their countries of origin. “It is the exploitation that has been going on here. We are here to say we cannot live under a reign of terror.
To the outsider, Mokonyane’s soundbites would have seemed sincere and convincing. The words spoke of a person who had been touched by the events on the West Rand.
It is true that the scourge of the zama zamas, and the reign of terror that they have since unleashed on the communities in former mining towns, stems from the disused mines.
But, it is dishonest, ahistorical, cynical and downright opportunistic to lay the blame squarely at the door of the mining houses that abandoned the mines.
Let’s put this in context: if you consider Mokonyane’s experience as a politician and her seniority within the governing party, she is clearly not a disenfranchised, downtrodden political activist who must take to the streets to voice her concerns. She has the power, the experience, the clout and the platform to do something tangible – if she sincerely wants these issues addressed.
A cursory glance through our recent history shows that the zama zama phenomenon has been around as early as 1999.
The South African Chamber of Mines reported in 2015 that more than $150 million was lost to zama zamas between 1999 and 2004.
The rise of the zama zamas was coupled with violence. Communities in former mining towns complained about attacks by these men, many of whom were highly armed. An unofficial curfew has been in place in many of these communities for a long time.
What did Mokonyane, in her various capacities as MEC for safety and security and, later, premier of the province, do to indicate that she had heard the complaints?
The success of the zama zama thugs is as a result of the failure of Mokonyane and her government cronies to regulate and, through this failure or omission, allow a multibillion-rand criminal enterprise.
That is why many people who are even vaguely familiar with the trajectory of the zama zama phenomenon should feel insulted by Mokonyane’s childish antics.
She is a senior member of the governing party and clearly has no right to be protesting. Who is she protesting against? Who is she trying to fool?
As someone who grew up on the West Rand, the plight of communities there should be palpably intimate to her. But clearly not. All she does is pay lip service to what is clearly a deepening crisis.
She and her comrades must take responsibility for the zama zama imbroglio and the suffering it has wrought into the lives of many, not only on the West Rand but in all former mining towns, including the East Rand, which has thus far escaped scrutiny now that the focus is on West Village and the recent rapes.
—Fred Khumalo is the deputy news editor of City Press