• Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

  • Cosatu members protest outside the Gauteng legislature, on the same day Premier Nomvula Mokonyane delivers the state of province address. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

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AHEAD of the start of Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s state of the province address on Monday morning, members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), clad in red shirts, gathered next to the Gauteng provincial legislature to protest against the implementation of e-tolls in the province.

Humphrey Mmemezi, who resigned from the provincial cabinet last year after using a departmental credit card for personal purchases, also made his way into the legislature building.

Gauteng is the most populous and economically significant province in South Africa, contributing about 35% to the national gross domestic product.

But Cosatu was to be disappointed as Ms Mokonyane did not even mention e-tolling in her speech. The unpopular system could be launched before the end of next month. The e-tolls bill was expected to be debated in Parliament on March 5, and implemented within 14 days after that.

Gauteng’s struggling health department was one of the key features in Ms Mokonyane’s speech. She said the province’s public health system was well on its way to recovery, and there were pockets of excellence that should be celebrated and further enhanced.

Ms Mokonyane said efforts to turnaround the struggling department, including bringing in high-level expertise and effective leadership, were yielding positive results. "We will continue turning the corner and yielding tangible results," Ms Mokonyane said.

The department had been struggling with paying suppliers, which almost led to a collapse of public health services in Gauteng due to, among other factors, shortages of medical equipment. There was concern the department was underfunded, and efforts were being made — together with the National Treasury — to seek more funds.

The department has also said it will ask the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to audit overtime claims submitted by doctors in some hospitals, amid concern that the overtime system is being abused.

Last year the provincial local government and housing department, which Mr Mmemezi headed before he left, was hit by a scandal involving the illegal of state land.

Ms Mokonyane said on Monday that as part of the fight against corruption, the tightening of management controls in key areas had helped to more effectively identify and act against incidents such as collusion with private-sector suppliers, fraudulent overtime claims and the illegal sale of land.

During the speech, Mr Mmemezi sat quietly at the back row of the legislature benches, four rows above Ms Mokonyane’s seat. Last year in Mangaung the governing African National Congress (ANC) promoted Mr Mmemezi, after he was elected to its national executive committee, the ANC’s highest decision-making body between national conferences.

Despite his resignation as MEC, Mr Mmemezi is still a member of the provincial legislature.

Earlier, was asked about his expectations of Ms Mokonyane’s speech, Mr Mmemezi declined to comment, saying the media only saw him as "controversial".

Ms Mokonyane said the province’s success and commitment to serving residents was dependent on "exercising effective leadership and ensuring the necessary capacity at leadership level", as well as "entrenching accountability for performance by both political principals and public servants at all levels".

Ms Mokonyane repeated her message that a lot could be achieved in the province when everyone pulled in one direction. She said the province’s success in education was a result of partnership with unions and others stakeholders. Last year Gauteng took the top spot in the country with an 83.9% overall matric pass rate.

On public transport, Ms Mokonyane said the province’s public transport plan sought "to address operations and infrastructure to achieve an integrated, safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable multi-modal and multi-nodal public transport system".

Across the road, Godrey Tshabalala, a Gauteng resident and Cosatu member, carried his protest placard high. It read: "NO to open road tolling systems".