Sexwale's State of the Nation

Regan Thaw

Count me as a mischievous journo, possibly with too much time on his hands, prone to staring at my navel and fishing for issues, but Tokyo Sexwale's recent briefing to the Human Settlements Parliamentary Portfolio Committee smacked of a mini-State of the Nation address (SONA) or, at the very least, a dry run of sorts. He held a boardroom in the palm of his hands as he gave his synopsis of the country.

Cynically his words became quote-a-minute, replete with drama, dressed up in his characteristic baritone voice, delivering scenes of future-case scenarios dripping in dystopianism, which, some would argue (most of them from within the belly of that beast the ANC) amount to nothing more than surreptitious campaigning. But cynicism (mine included) aside, his reflections on how dysfunctional government has become was refreshing.

"Something is simmering that we must be able to take action to address, so that we don't have other Marikanas," warned Sexwale, a remark almost certain to be included in quotes of the week.

Soon his 'home truths' as he put it, started looking like a State of the Nation in reverse. I say this because when presidents usually deliver their (executive) summaries of the state of a country expect flowery quotes, saccharine obsequiousness, mangled rationality and mind numbing rhetoric.

Want to hear some more of Sexwale's topsy-turvy SONA? He had loads more to say. "The Marikanas will keep on repeating themselves over and over until we crumble," the wannabe Commander-in Chief lamented. I scanned the boardroom for signs of life in MPs as Sexwale spilled over with uncomfortable honesty. A stifled cringe appeared on the face of one member (was it the tuna croissant which wasn’t sitting well?). Reporters smiled, excited by the quality of the quotes which could jostle and compete for paper space.

Most listened in genuine rapt attention. Sexwale had them. His 'home truths' seemed more like a backdrop to a president-in-waiting, a leader (of sorts) flexing his muscles in the run-up to (can you guess?) Mangaung.

From Marikana to the arms deal, Sexwale deftly drew parallels between how wrong the state can get it and how it needs to find direction. Was he the captain who was going to steer the ship back onto course?  "It has come back to haunt us (the arms deal). It has caused such a lot of disquiet," he fretted. He added, "If you think it is disassociated from the problem (of sanitation provision problems) you'd be wrong."

He went on to virtually wail, if only a quarter of the money spent on the abortion of an arms deal was spent on things like housing for the poor we wouldn't have the problems we see today. Half an hour passed and Sexwale was still not done, sketching a country in distress. His intention was by that stage very clear - he was coming to save South Africa. "To Blame Apartheid is no longer wisdom," he said, "it's gone. The task now rests with us."

Virtually everything he said could be applied to some aspect of the country's woes. From housing and sanitation, to service protests and strikes, Sexwale was laying it out - an uncomfortable scenario of government failures, set against the shading of a presidential campaign race.

His campaign for the heart, soul and small intestine of the ANC of course didn't start in that committee room in parliament last Friday. Sexwale has been eyeing the leadership of the ruling party and by proxy the country for years. I recall in the run up to the ANC's Polokwane conference, Sexwale addressed students in Johannesburg, where he let rip with the usual politicking, complete with promises of delivery, assurances of not rocking the boat with radical policy changes and views on how things would be awesome and amazing if only he was the boss. We know how that turned out for him and now he's having another bite. Was it Sexwale’s Mangaung Campaign Version 2.0 we witnessed in parliament last Friday? Methinks, absolutely!

As he hammered on 'home truths' as a backdrop to the release of the findings of a sanitation audit carried out by a ministerial task team, a more apt setting one would struggle to find! Like the provision of basic sanitation needs for the poor, which was itself in the poo (forgive me this crude pun for I can't resist) too many other aspects of government delivery was going down the toilet (probably of the 'open air' persuasion as seen in Makhaza). But whether Sexwale is truly, genuinely willing to get his hands dirty in fixing the problems, remains to be seen?

Regan Thaw is an Eyewitness News reporter.