19 January 1998

South Africa: Next stop on the McKenzie rollercoaster

Cape Town — Patrick McKenzie's yo-yo career turns in a new direction when he takes office as Western Cape minister of local government.

In just three short years the bespectacled politician has held the portfolio of provincial minister of police, been a member of the provincial legislature and served six weeks as national minister of welfare and population development before the National Party's withdrawal from the Government o f National Unity.

He says he has always been prepared to go wherever his party needs him and, with the adoption of the controversial provincial constitution in the Western Cape last week and the axing of four African National Congress MECs, he has answered the call of Premier Hernus Kriel and now finds himself i n his new portfolio.

On his last day in his parliamentary office where he has been adviser to NP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk, he is in high spirits and looking forward to the challenges of his new job.

He feels a big part of his job will be to bring local government closer to the people. He has identified his main duties as being the unbundling of assets in the different municipalities and the demarcation of wards in the city.

Another major task will be administering the province's many rural local councils, some of which have slipped into a state of anarchy as a result of corruption and the maladministration of funds.

A number of ANC-controlled local councils had accused Mr McKenzie's predecessor, Peter Marais, of targeting their councils during his campaign to clean up local councils, something which led to several court cases which are still pending.

Mr McKenzie has vowed to look at all councils on their merits and treat them all the same. He has pledged to prevent the deterioration of local authorities.

"People expect me to ensure that there is good administration in any local authority and that when we divide some of the taxes there must be a proper accountability," he said.

"I strongly believe there must be order in municipalities. There must be discipline. There is no way we will allow local authorities to deteriorate to an extent where everything is falling apart. That can never be allowed to happen."

On the contentious issue of whether a megacity concept or the present two-tier system would be the best form of local government for the metropolitan area, Mr McKenzie is adamant that the present system is the way to go.

"The Cape Metropolitan Council and six local metropolitan councils lends itself to being close to the people," he said.

"We must be careful when we are talking about new systems and megacities that we do not remove local government from the people, because then it is no longer local government.

"Whatever system we choose it must be a system that is as close to the people as possible."

He is critical of support for the megacity concept from a number of ANC quarters, saying it is in contrast to the party's charter clause "the people shall govern".

"There is going to be a lot of healthy and fruitful debate on the issue. We really need to ask, what do the people want? My approach is that the people must have a strong say. I do not believe a megacity lends itself to that situation."

Commenting on the bizarre situation in the Western Cape where the country's majority party finds itself without political representation, Mr McKenzie believes the ANC made a mistake in not accepting cabinet posts in the new provincial government.

Having been reared on the dusty streets of Bonteheuwel at the height of the struggle for liberation, Mr McKenzie is well aware of the problems faced by residents in the city's previously disadvantaged coloured and black townships.

In his new job he has committed himself to ensuring that there is equity in the distribution of taxpayers' money in all areas and wants to see the upgrading of dilapidated townships.

"Drive down the main road in Sea Point and then go down the main road in Bonteheuwel and see the difference," he said.

"The tragedy of the matter is that a person staying in Manenberg or Bridgetown pays exactly the same rates pro rata, as the person staying in Green Point.

"I want people to feel that they are getting equal services for the rates they are paying. What we would like to see is an upgrading and improvement in those townships. They must move away from being sleeping dormitories and become wonderful communities."

When Mr McKenzie was 7 years old his family were one of the first to move into Bonteheuwel. In the beginning there were no proper streets or amenities in the suburb and street lighting consisted of 60-watt globes.

From an early age he took an active interest in politics and became involved in the struggle for liberation, challenging the Government in the streets.

When the ANC took up the armed struggle through its military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, Mr McKenzie decided to go the non-violent route and joined the Labour Party and later the NP.

Although he has now moved to Parow, he still goes to church in Bonteheuwel and his mother still lives in the area.

He has been instrumental in the creation of a civic centre and library in Bonteheuwel and, after a 12-year campaign, a police station for the area, which is likely to be built later this year.

"Never will I forget my roots," he said

"I am honoured to have that heritage. What I am today in my politics and in my way of thinking is what the community has made me. I am forever grateful to Bonteheuwel."

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