Lerato Maloka, Executive Mayor of Lesedi Municipality, spends a lot of time thinking about how to solve the area’s biggest problem: youth unemployment.

She wants to focus more on efforts supporting new investments that have the propensity to create thousands of new jobs.

“This is a lovely town, as small as it is, with a population of about 100 000, the majority of whom are young people,” she says.

“Unemployment is affecting young people in particular and so our plans are directed at it. When we attract investment, we must create those kinds of jobs for which young people have an appetite.”

Her story

Maloka’s story goes back to when she arrived in Heidelberg in the late 1990s. The holder of a diploma in Management Assistance, she began her working career at a local law firm as a legal secretary.

But politics remained a deep passion of hers, and Maloka soon found herself working full-time at the local ANC constituency office under Barbara Hogan, an ANC veteran and widow of the late stalwart, Ahmed Kathrada.

In 2006, Maloka assumed public office as a councillor, and five years later, she was elected Executive Mayor.

If there is one legacy she wants to leave behind, it is attracting big-ticket investments to the Lesedi Local Municipality.

Investment and opportunity

Among the investments she is proud to have played a part in securing is the Transnet oil pipeline depot, which sees oil from the coast shipped to Gauteng via an intricate network of overland and underground pipes.

Another of her dreams is to turn Heidelberg into an essential tourism detour for motorists who pass by on the N3 highway on their way to the coast.

Before that can happen, however, the Lesedi Local Municipality first has to deal with a major headache – its ageing infrastructure. This 150-year-old town has an underground pipe infrastructure that is slowly crumbling.

If Maloka had an unlimited budget, she would dig up the entire rotting pipe network and replace it with a new one. She would also build reservoirs, upgrade the sewage system and invest in the electricity network.

So far, the municipality has put aside R20 million to upgrade some of the infrastructure, but this is just a drop in the ocean.

What the municipality needs is its corporate citizens to continue paying rates and taxes, as these provide an essential income that it cannot do without.

BAT involvement

Of particular concern to the Executive Mayor is the possibility of one of the major manufacturers in Lesedi, tobacco company British American Tobacco (BAT), scaling down operations or shutting down its manufacturing facility completely because of the impact of proposed tobacco control regulations on its operations, as well as the threat posed by the growing trade in illicit cigarettes. This would have a devastating impact on the area.

The BAT manufacturing plant employs around 1 200 people directly, while thousands more derive an indirect financial benefit from its presence.

“From a revenue point of view, we are able to collect millions in rates and taxes from the BAT plant each year. What about those men and women working at the factory? What will happen to their families if they are out of a job?” says Maloka.

A multi-faceted woman

Mother to six-year-old daughter, Naledi, Maloka lists cooking as a favourite pastime. In fact, if she wasn’t in politics, she would have found a way to make a living through preparing and creating designer dishes.

Maloka, who is the Deputy Secretary of the ANC in the region, singles out Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo as a role model and a strong influence on her life. “She is my role model. She is frank, open and very assertive.”

Her leadership philosophy

“Be a leader for all seasons. Tomorrow might not be the same as today.”