Battleground Gauteng is going to be a key election site come next year and the prospect of losing the economic hub of the country is very real for the ANC. Countless polls have shown the ANC falling well below 50% in the province and the downward trajectory over previous elections is a strong indicator of what will happen for the ruling party. There has been a precipitous decline from 68.4% in 2004 and the trend is considerably downwards.
Who better than a seasoned and media-savvy politician extraordinaire to step in and try and salvage the situation?
Panyaza Lesufi has always known how to work the media. He has excelled at building relationships and pressing the flesh with us, since his days as Angie Motshekga’s spokesperson when she was Education MEC in Gauteng.
When he took over as Premier in June 2022, he would have known that he would have to take serious measures to stem the bleeding for the ANC in the province and he has made some bold pronouncements and launched big brash projects.
What are some of the biggest problems in Gauteng? Unemployment and crime.
Launching a job creation project and a crime-fighting solution in one move was genius. This of course was in addition to another job creation drive called Nasi Ispani.
Six thousand crime wardens nicknamed “AmaPanyaza” were recruited as Gauteng’s Crime Prevention Wardens. They were given three months of training, and the idea was for them to support the police.
The problem was that Lesufi could not legally do what he did. Law enforcement is the sole mandate of the national government and not provincial. So, it fell to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola to try and sort out Lesufi’s legal quagmire.
It didn’t help that Lesufi was recorded on video ranting about an unnamed Minister failing to recognize the police wardens and he subsequently apologised.
This week Lamola conferred peace officer status on the AmaPanyaza.
Lesufi welcomed the move and said it affirmed his assertions that AmaPanyazas have always been legal.
His spokesperson Sizwe Pamla told me, “The premier has always argued that the crime wardens are not police officers because they are there as a force multiplier. They are there to give support to all law enforcement agencies. The idea of peace officers; they are a law enforcement unit that gives support to law enforcement agencies.”
But what are they actually going to do? Pamla says they will be extra warm bodies on the ground, they will be visible in areas where there isn’t enough manpower, monitoring illegal scrapyards and taverns and securing schools and lending support at roadblocks.
Lamola’s spokesperson Chrispin Phiri says they will have the same powers as the Gauteng Traffic Police.
“The public had an expectation that these people would be at the same level of the SAPS which is not something that our Constitution allows. That is strictly a national competency. They will be force multipliers,” Phiri explained.
Phiri has also downplayed the politicisation of this project, saying similar appointments of peace officers have been made at Transnet and the borders and those weren’t politicised.
But that is just Phiri being diplomatic.
“I’m afraid the minister is trying to make peace between the premier of Gauteng who went and tried to do something way above his paygrade and the Minister of Police who is having nothing to do with the crime wardens. What the Minister of Justice has now come up with is a completely watered down idea,” says Accountability Now’s Advocate Paul Hoffman.
“He seems to think that because he is the Premier he can do as he pleases but he can only do what the Constitution allows him to do. The Minister of Justice has sought to regularise the irregularity by waving his magic wand and turning the crime wardens into provincial assistant traffic cops,” adds Hoffman.
He points out that is quite obviously an election ploy and the fact that the wardens have been given the name of the Premier is to boost his profile.
Action SA has also labelled it an election gimmick and a potentially dangerous one at that.
It is so obviously an attempt to stop the ANC from a further dramatic decline at the polls. Many other questions arise. Where is the budget coming from? Which programs have the money been shifted from? Regulations require very specific training – is three months sufficient? Is this merely a vanity project?
We can expect many more such election tactics over the next few months as the ANC reckons with its potential loss of power in Gauteng.
Lesufi’s remarks about taverns and subsequent unsubstantiated comments about stopping the issuing of liquor licenses are another example of this.
The ANC has to dig deep to save Gauteng and you can expect Lesufi to roll out all the CCTV cameras, drones, vehicles, crime wardens, job campaigns and promises it will take (at the taxpayers' expense of course) to get it done.
This article first appeared on 702 : MANDY WIENER: Panyaza will be doing Panyaza things in the run-up to elections