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Lindiwe Sisulu is the fifth public service and administration minister since 1994 – and the third since 2009 – and, at a time of rising numbers of service delivery protests, has been handed the poisoned chalice of making the government work.
The troubled ministry, which has seen two directors-general and a brief acting appointment in the past year, is meant to be the engine driving service delivery from clinics, schools, police stations and Home Affairs offices. Yet despite its service motto of Batho Pele (People First), it has battled to do that.
If Sisulu succeeds where her predecessors failed and gets the public service working efficiently and effectively, it will be a boon for service delivery. If she does not jack up performance – and that includes eliminating pervasive conflicts of interest among senior civil servants, who also dabble in business, according to the Public Service Commission (PSC) – then the government’s face of delivery remains deeply problematic at a time when the ANC is embarking on its so-called second transition, or socio-economic transformation.
And it will be a tough ride from the word get go. Sisulu has stepped right into stalled civil service wage talks amid long-standing concerns that the public wage bill has ballooned into the red zone. The public service unions, which in 2010 and 2007 brought SA to a standstill in weeks-long strikes over wages, are only too aware of Sisulu’s merciless head-to-head with the soldiers’ unions shortly after her appointment to defence in 2009.
And if that was not enough, the controversial and much-resisted move towards a single public service bringing municipal workers into the fold has been revived; there are proposals to define teachers as essential workers who cannot strike; and the pressure is on to release the reviewed ministerial handbook on perks and benefits, which is almost two years overdue.
Public service is not sexy, and there will be no opportunities to don snazzy uniforms, but this move might be the perfect redeployment of a loyal battleaxe.
This week it appeared the four ministries affected by Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle were in a holding pattern until the new ministers moved in and decided whether to bring their old staff or take on the new ministry’s teams.
A question mark also hangs over whether the new ministers will gel with their directors-general. If not, getting rid of them may prove costly, since heads of department usually sign five-year contracts and could expect to be paid out if asked to leave.
Two directors-general are recent appointments: in public service and administration Mashwahle Diphofa was moved from the PSC last October; and transport director-general George Mahlalela was appointed in early 2010 by then-minister S’bu Ndebele.
Speculation is also rife about whether policies and programmes in the four affected ministries will continue or whether the new appointees will want to stamp their own authority.
While defence spending of R283 million over three years on VIP charter flights, including trips for the president, continued to hit the headlines even after Sisulu’s departure, almost slipping under the radar is the demolition of the transport ministry in the cabinet reshuffle.
Ndebele and his deputy have been moved in what is widely seen as action over the e-toll debacle, which greatly embarrassed the government. Still subject to a court review, it led to a ratings downgrade for the South African National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) and tensions in the tripartite alliance with Cosatu, which mobilised hundreds of thousands of people against what the labour federation called the privatisation of public roads. In a political off-spin the ANC also found itself accused of implementing DA-type free market policies.
Perhaps it was the last straw for President Jacob Zuma, who has had an uneasy relationship with Ndebele. Yet Ndebele may find a soft landing in the tender-rich correctional services department which, after years of battling corruption and maladministration, appears to be ticking along nicely, even if the early release programme announced on Freedom Day to ease overcrowding has suffered a setback with at least 47 of the about 35 000 who qualified for early release already back behind bars on new charges.
With the transport department one of the key portfolios in government’s multibillion-rand infrastructure delivery programme, it has now gone to Ben Martins, the former public enterprises deputy minister and published poet, artist and one-time designer of United Democratic Front T-shirts and the like.
It would be naive to close our eyes to the fact that Martins is a senior member of the South African Communist Party (SACP), whose leader, Blade Nzimande, is heading a spirited and vocal defence of the president, especially on issues such as e-tolls.
And the promotion of a communist to the cabinet is a victory for Nzimande, who has long proclaimed that the SACP was interested in state power as it was not a non-government organisation. The SACP now holds three cabinet posts – aside from Public Works Minister Thembelani Nxesi, a former teachers’ union leader, and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who are co-opted central committee members – and four deputy ministries.
In contrast, Cosatu is represented by two ministers – Ebrahim Patel at the helm of economic development, and Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant. The move of Jeremy Cronin, also SACP second-in-command, from transport to public works as deputy minister represents a loss of institutional memory and experience which dates back to his years as parliamentary transport committee chairman. However, given that Nxesi has flown solo on his mission to clean up, including a review of hundreds of leases the department signed, he may just appreciate a deputy.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula follows in the footsteps of her husband Charles in the defence portfolio, which he headed from September 2008 until Zuma was sworn in as president after the 2009 elections. Frequently identified as part of the pro-Thabo Mbeki camp ahead of the 2007 Polokwane ANC national conference, she has been a political survivor, moving from home affairs – where she headed one of the many turnaround strategies – to correctional services and now defence. There, she’ll have to combat soldiers’ low morale, doubtful battle-readiness and face possible scrutiny of the multi-billion-rand arms deal, if the commission of inquiry ever gets off the ground.
Also a survivor is Hlengiwe Mkhize, the perennial deputy minister, now in her third portfolio under Patel. However, as the ANC Women’s League treasurer, she – alongside Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga – represents an important ANC constituency.
For Mduduzi Manana, one of Parliament’s youngest MPs and son of Mpumalanga culture, sports and recreation MEC Sibongile Manana, deployment as deputy higher education minister may be a thank you for his push in the ANC Youth League to replace Julius Malema as president after his expulsion.
There is a precedent: Stella Ndabeni, who as an ANCYL national executive committee member spoke out against moves to expel Limpopo youth league chairman Lehlogonolo Masoga in 2010 but was also ousted, moved from Parliament’s back benches to become deputy communications minister in the last reshuffle in October.
While there is little to say about Sindi Chikunga’s move into the deputy transport minister’s post, except that it can be seen as shutting up an outspoken and not easily pliable ex-parliamentary police committee chairwoman, there are other benefits. She, like Manana, comes from Mpumalanga, a province seen as favouring Zuma’s second-term ambitions. And the Young Communist League (YCL) in Gert Sibande district quickly claimed both of them – Manana is also a former YCL regional chairman – in their congratulations.
“It is clear that KwaZulu-Natal is in the bag and now you need to strengthen your foothold in Mpumalanga. Mdu’s appointment was a reward for speaking out against the youth league, when in fact he was not allowed to do that… This is part of consolidation ahead of Mangaung,” one ANC provincial leader said.
A youth leaguer added: “If the president wanted to appoint a youth, he could have appointed Buti Manamela (YCL leader)”.
Meanwhile, the appointment of ex-ANC deputy chief whip Bulelani Magwanishe as deputy public enterprises minister has effectively resolved parliamentary caucus tensions with chief whip Mathole Motshekga. A party loyalist, Magwanishe is now serving under Public Enterprise Minister Malusi Gigaba, who is widely seen as a rising star entrusted with ensuring state-owned enterprises have a greater role in the economy to boost job creation and economic growth.
Officially this week’s reshuffle arises from the death of Roy Padayachie; the resignation in January of deputy economic development minister Enoch Godongwana in the wake of an inquiry into the disappearance of millions of rand from the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union pension fund; and the shift of deputy minister Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu from public works to the women’s ministry in October following the damning public protector’s report into the R1.7m police head office lease saga, which also cost Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde her public works job. Also in that reshuffle, Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka was sacked for abuse of more than R1m of taxpayers’ money.
Unofficially, it is clear that this week’s reshuffle - the third in three years - has political benefits for Zuma with six months to go before the ANC’s elective national conference. This echoes the political benefits of appointing Paul Mashatile as arts and culture minister and Fikile Mbalula as sports minister in the reshuffle of November 2010 following a clamour for a better generational mix.
What remains to be seen is whether short-term political chess moves bring enough benefits to win out over the instability and potential paralysis following the political leadership change in government portfolios.