While the ANC apparently battles to fill managerial posts in all tiers of government, it has a wealth of talent at the top of the party’s structure. Logic dictates that their abilities be harnessed to ensure the best use of the government’s and the country’s resources. But somehow it hasn’t worked out that way.

Instead we have a bunch of people in the cabinet who somehow muddle along together, despite their essential differences. And in some cases the muddle is more evident than in others.

In the nature of politics, the person at the top has to promote people from different constituencies to key positions to prevent a rupture and consolidate his or her position. President Jacob Zuma is a case in point – perhaps a special case. He was supported for the party’s top post at Polokwane in December 2007 on an “anyone but Mbeki” ticket, uniting people of several diverse views.

He was able to persuade each group that he would cater to their needs – a tactic that started to backfire when they woke up to the fact that he had his own personal priorities. True he was re-elected at Mangaung in December 2012, but this represented a desperate attempt to avoid open contestation and possible fragmentation of the ANC. And it’s not clear Zuma will last another five years.

It’s time for a credible leader to step in.

Deputy ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has an impressive record – first as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers during apartheid; second negotiating with the National Party’s Roelf Meyer to achieve a peaceful transition from apartheid; and then as a businessman. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma brought order to what seemed irreversible chaos in the Department of Home Affairs, before departing in 2012 to run the AU.

There are further layers of outstanding people available for the country’s most important jobs.

Trevor Manuel, finance minister from 1996 until the 2009 election, turned around South Africa’s financial fortunes, converting a debt-ridden country into a model of fiscal prudence. As planning minister in the Presidency he oversaw the design of the National Development Plan (NDP), now a bone of contention within the ANC.

The NDP is a carefully thought out blueprint with long-term economic and social objectives. It aims to co-ordinate policy and policy implementation across government to achieve its goals. However, those who believe in a magic wand that can create jobs overnight are opposing it.

Another top performer is former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni. Speculation about his future came last week when he resigned as AngloGold Ashanti’s chairman. Rumour has it Mboweni, who served 10 years at the helm of the Reserve Bank, will be the country’s next finance minister. The real reason Mboweni was not given a third term at the bank in 2009 was covered in spin. But the fact that his reappointment was bitterly opposed by Cosatu could not have been irrelevant.

Mboweni’s problem was not just his tight hand on the monetary rein – keeping interest rates above the inflation rate. It was also that the trade unions didn’t understand his sense of humour. Possibly trade unionists don’t have a sense of humour. Whatever the reason, there was not only a policy clash but a personality clash between Mboweni and the dour leadership of the trade union federation.

Mboweni’s successor at the bank, Gill Marcus, is no longer in the political arena. And she is doing sterling work guiding monetary policy – a pivotal post in the economy. But her insights and work ethic would be invaluable in the government.

Maria Ramos may prefer to stay where she is as chief executive of Barclays Africa Group. But she too would be a welcome addition to the government. As Treasury director-general for seven critical years – 1996 to 2003 – Ramos helped Manuel establish South Africa’s track record in global markets. The director-general is the hands-on person in a department and policy implementation depends heavily on his or her abilities.

When the next cabinet is chosen, talented people should not be overlooked in favour of non-entities, poseurs, clowns or worse. We have had plenty of those since 1994 and they have done untold damage to the economy and the lives of South Africans.

Given the challenges in the global arena, the margin for policy error is getting dangerously narrow.