South Africa’s first woman mayor ready to ‘fix’ Johannesburg

Johannesburg, Apr 15 (EFE).- It was 1886 when the discovery of gold unleashed the potential of what is today one of the largest cities in South Africa, Johannesburg.

But after decades of colonization and only one generation of democracy, the city is far from its promised glory.

This is why Mpho Phalatse, the city’s first black mayor, wants to reclaim it.

“We also have a shared vision of a new Johannesburg, a Johannesburg that’s restored to its former glory. Joburg used to be the city of gold,” Phalatse tells Efe in an interview.

Phalatse, member of the Liberal Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, took office as mayor in November last year and also became the first woman to head the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council.

“I’m very grateful to God, I feel it’s an honor. It could have been any other woman, you know, the fact that God chose for me to be that woman. I really, don’t take it lightly. I’m very appreciative of holding that title,” she says.

“But I also realize the responsibility that comes with the title because it says, you are a front runner, you’ve opened the door for other women to come after you,” the mayor adds.

Phalatse’s career started far from politics.

The 45-year-old was a doctor, but it was while she was caring for vulnerable communities that she realized there were problems she couldn’t fix with medicine, but rather, leadership.

“As a doctor, I was trained to bring things to life that are almost dead. I think a lot of the skills in medicine are transferable.

“The city is like a patient, it is sick and needs to be brought back to life, so you use the same approach as in medicine, the history, diagnosis, and come up with a treatment plan,” the mayor explained.

With its inner city riddled with abandoned skyscrapers, Johannesburg perfectly represents South Africa: a giant full of potential that doesn’t quite work.

The legacy of the racist apartheid system is still very present, with deep inequality and corruption across the city and with unemployment and job insecurity on the rise in what is the most developed economy in Africa.

“It’s a challenge because South Africa is very diverse, even the socioeconomic status of the people who live in Johannesburg. So you’ve got the billionaire on the one hand, who’s looking forward to this first world city, and then you’ve got someone in an informal settlement that says, Just give me a toilet. You’ve got to be able to, to meet the needs of both constituencies,” Phalatse tells Efe.

The mayor’s priority is to “fix” Johannesburg and turn it into a green, sustainable, business-friendly city.

“My focus now is Johannesburg, I’m yet to fix Johannesburg,” she says.

But she does not rule out a national political career.

“I definitely would take up such an opportunity, but I’m not going to run for presidency just because I want to be the first, if some other woman gets to be president before I get there, it’s fine,” she tells Efe. EFE


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