Councillor Oupa Monareng is adamant that despite the world’s economic downturn, Joburg will keep to its 9 percent by 2014 growth projection.

Joburg has continued to work on big projects like its Bus Rapid Transit system, Rea Vaya Monareng is the mayoral committee member for economic development, appointed in June in the reshuffling of portfolios. He moved from being a member of parliament to one of the City’s top jobs; he has previously served as a member of the Gauteng provincial legislature.

“We will be focusing on manufacturing, industry and partnerships in the city and across the world to reach the 9 percent.”

Joburg was not immune to the global crisis, he says, just as the country was equally affected. Despite it, the City has continued working on big projects, like its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the 2010 stadiums.

He sees as his immediate challenges ensuring that his department gets funding for small medium and micro enterprises, the informal sector and co-operatives, to “grow and sustain their own businesses”.

“Skilling is our immediate priority.” A skills hub, with a tie-in to institutions like the University of Johannesburg, will be established. “This will introduce potential business people to skilling. Small businesses can’t sustain themselves without skills.”

Some 2 500 people have been trained in the past five years – some 150 have been trained to be exporters – and he recently attended one of the graduation ceremonies. “I felt proud and very emotional at how the graduates were received. They so appreciate the efforts – the City is giving priority to those who in future will be full participants.”

When it comes to the cost of doing business – crime, infrastructure weaknesses and the price of electricity – Monareng says that his department will co-operate with other departments to ensure safety and security, and with the metro police, which needs to enforce the City’s by-laws.

There has been a drop in hijackings, robberies and murders in the suburbs and townships, he points out.

Tourism

He also wants to attract tourists – from the provinces, neighbouring countries and overseas. There are endless activities arranged to promote tourism in the city, and therefore growth: the hosting of Miss World in December and all the activities that go with it; the Soweto Festival; and major projects like Orlando Ekhaya in Soweto.

Another initiative is the broadband project with international technology company Ericsson, in which the City intends to bring down the cost of telecommunications connectivity. “The City is facilitating the introduction of optic fibre and creating opportunities for other service providers [besides Telkom, Vodacom and MTN],” he explains.

He is also keen to offer smart cards for small businesses operating around taxi ranks and bus and BRT stations.

Economic growth

Economic growth has been affected by the collection rates for services, he admits. “As soon as things are back to normal, we will put measures in place for collection, to make sure people pay their rates and taxes.”

Monthly meetings of the Business Forum include discussing ways of adding value to the city’s economic activities.

The TBU, a business unit targeting former soldiers, women, youth and the disabled, is focused on employment, and making sure ex-combatants are integrated into civilian society properly. “We can contribute to the enhancement and betterment of Africa, and especially the [Southern African Development Community] region. Systems and infrastructure are already in place. We will go with confidence.”

Monareng says that the City is proactive. “This makes it possible to happen.”

Joburg born Monareng was born in Western Native Township – now called Westbury – in 1958. He matriculated from Naledi High School in 1979, and became active in politics from an early age; he joined the student movement in 1976, at the age of 18.

“I realised that in my family nobody had gone beyond standard six. So I decided that whatever happened, I had to go to school,” he says.

He was a founder member of Cosas, the Congress of South African Students, in 1979 and became the first president of the Soweto Youth Congress in 1983. Between 1983 and 1984 he was also a convener of the Release Mandela Committee.

“There was a point of awakening, of consciousness. People have a right to exist as human beings,” he says.

After matric, he became a teacher at Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto, before going underground in the 1980s. “I joined the liberation movement. I wanted to make sure there was a negotiated settlement.”

He worked as a director for youth development at the Youth Leadership Forum between 1982 and 1984. In 1985, he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in exile, and became its political commissar in Lusaka, in Zambia, as well as a member of the provincial command in the Pretoria and Witwatersrand area back home. He served as a political educator in the ANC between 1991 and 1994.

As a person I learned skills of survival, through mind and brain, and emotional intelligence.”

Joining MK made him “more mature. I was young, rough and inexperienced. Now I believe more in emotional intelligence.”

“I am from humble beginnings, to good endings, to a prosperous life,” he says.

“It is a worthwhile exercise to join local government,” he admits. “I compared many people, and realised I have completed a circle – provincial, national and local government. That gives me far deeper experience. In provincial and national government you make laws and debate issues, sometimes in an abstract way. At the local level you see the cold face of poverty, like in Diepsloot.”

He explains that at local level you “realise it’s real work”, with “real-life issues”. “I feel the frustrations of ordinary people,” he says, but priority areas have to be targeted.

Protest actions occur because people see delivery taking place in other areas, he explains, and they want to know when delivery is going to happen in their neighbourhoods. “The government is a caring government – it will come to us.”

In his spare time he plays chess and sport, and collects jazz souvenirs.