Newsmaker Afzul Rehman: Mayor Newcastle, South Africa

According to Afzul Rehman Mayor Newcastle, the local government must become a body running as the business. He also emphasizes on the point that ratepayers must keep receiving the maximum returns on the investments made by them.

This is the reason why Newcastle’s young mayor who’s only 40 has stopped offering the lunches for free to the councillors. He has also stopped laying out food at the official functions as well as printing the council agendas.

The resultant savings has now been contributed towards the capital expenditure that has allowed New Castle, in KwaZulu-Natal, to increase the CAPEX budget fivefold. It has also marked no borrowing of additional funds for the purpose.

Even the father of the three who has now become the KwaZulu-Natal’s top mayor for the third time proves himself to be a businessman in his tone. More than highlighting topics related to a politician’s responsibility, he keeps on reflecting on the ideas related to making system the more effective as well as taking hard decisions.

Afzul Rehman

Whatever the situation is, Afzul Rehman is unapologetic.

“We have had to take some hard decisions where it has been necessary,”he stated in his statement this week. “It is something that’s had to be done. We can’t make promises to people and not keep them.”

Among the hard decisions he has made so far, the toughest one was to stop providing free lunch to the councillors and staff. The ruling type then started witnessing a saving of around R500000 a year. These days, the councillors and staff of New Castle have to bring their own lunches or have to pay around R100 a day for the food. Besides, they have to also make payments for their tea and coffee.

What’s more astonishing is that the cost-cutting didn’t end here. He started putting a total ban on the idea of providing food at functions that followed the decision. Then he also went forward implementing the move of paperless Council meetings. He totally gave up the idea of 130-page photocopied agendas.  So, now the 40 civil servants of New Castle along with the 61 councillors receive the agendas and correspondence right on the tablets. They get this amount as a part of the perks package. The decision consequently saved around R8 million a year.

The streamlining allowed Afzul Rehman – an IFP ward councillor who defected to the ANC in 2009 – to increase Newcastle’s capital expenditure from R86? Million in 2009 to R229 million in 2010, R407? Million in 2013 and R492 million this year.

What makes Rehman exceptionally proud of the move is that the surplus evolved completely without borrowing a penny. Moreover, he has a firm belief in the fact that implementing changes in the ways things are working makes the system more effective. This is what he states as a key to the success of the municipality in the rolling out infrastructure.

“By looking at ways of making sure we spend our infrastructure budget on projects that have real value for people – halls, clinics, parks, pools, roads, things that they can touch and feel – we are making sure we do deliver services.”

“This is why we are not having service-delivery protests in Newcastle.” Afzul Rehman stated in his statement to City Pressthis week.

“In the last financial year, we spent 95% of our capex budget. This is more than 20% above the national average. This is something I’m very proud of because this is what allows us to do things that really make people’s lives better.”

It’s good to remember that watching the bottom line isn’t everything about Afzul Rehman Mayor Newcastle, South Africa. There is a lot of evidence for it. The shreds of evidence speak of his familiarity with the figures that are coming from spending during his teen years and early twenties. Though he was running the family building material business in New Castle, yet he was quite aware of keeping in touch with the customers. He was always building good terms with them. To build his good connections, he had circulated the mobile number at the Council and also the community meetings. In this way, he started engaging the residents via Facebook and Twitter. The best part is that he manages the accounts all by himself. He pays attention to responding to questions from ratepayers every week in the local newspaper. The residents are definitely very lucky to have Rehman among them in New Castle. They started recognising him more especially from the day had joined politics.

“My dad [Farouk, an IFP MPL from 1994 to 1999] wanted me to be a doctor,” Afzul Rehman laughs. “I was managing the family business and would have to help the people who came to him for assistance while he was in the legislature.”

“My dad and mum were always very active about helping people in the community. I grew up wanting that as well, but I’d never thought of politics. It all led to me standing as a ward councillor and winning the ward. I was 21.”

His winning strategies marked acontinuation during the meteoric political career. This year’s general election reports state that ANC had marked a consolidation of the position from 47% in 2009 to 72%  .

“I’m excited about the 2016 election. We’ve done our work. We’ve delivered. We talk to our people, so if we keep up the work, we’re on track.”