Fikile Mbalula rules Twitter streets for second year in a row

Transport Minister and ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula is the most popular Cabinet minister on Twitter. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Transport Minister and ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula is the most popular Cabinet minister on Twitter. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 16, 2023


Pretoria - Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has for the second consecutive year been found to rule the roost in the Twittersphere compared with his fellow Cabinet ministers after he attracted at least 262 000 more followers in 2022.

This is according to the 2022 GovCommsSocial report – an initiative of Decode Communications – a platform supporting public sector social media professionals and government communicators by facilitating training, hosting events and organising digital marketers across Africa.

The report said Mbalula is the most followed South African Cabinet minister on Twitter with 2.89 million followers. Playing second fiddle to Mbalula is President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has recorded an increase of followers from 2.1 million in 2021 to 2.53 million in 2022.

The report celebrated Mbalula’s huge following on Twitter, but noted that he often spoke out of turn, “making light of serious issues, presenting a major challenge for communicators as they constantly have to deal with endless distractions instead of providing public value through engaging citizens on service delivery”.

Both Mbalula and Ramaphosa were among the top 10 followed Twitter accounts of Cabinet ministers.

Despite Mbalula’s popularity on Twitter, his department didn’t feature among the top 10 most popular departments on the social media platform.

In fact, the top most followed accounts of national departments was led by the Presidency, which topped its sister departments with 2.32 million followers. The SAPS clinched the second spot with 1.09 million followers from 899 000 in 2021.

In the category of ministers’ spokespersons, Masechaba Ndlovu of the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture was ranked number one with 525 000 followers. Transport Ministry spokesperson Lwazi Khoza took the second place with 138 000 following with Police Minister Bheki Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, third with more than 69 000 following.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi led the pack of the top 10 provincial leaders with a following of 400 000 on Twitter while KwaZulu-Natal Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Zihle Zikalala came second with 119 000.

Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Lebogang Maile and Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba were ranked in third and fourth place, respectively.

Commenting on Phophi’s tongue-lashing of a foreigner admitted at a Limpopo hospital, the report said: “Another unnecessary distraction is the grandstanding by political principals like when Dr Phophi Ramathuba failed to show leadership by using available platforms to ventilate the issue of immigration. Instead, Dr Ramathuba – a medical professional – chose to record a video that went viral on social media and made news as she was addressing a patient, seemingly, to make a public political statement.”

The premiers of KwaZulu-Natal, Nomusa Dube-Ncube and the North West, Bushy Maape, were the only heads of provincial cabinets not on Twitter. “Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape have the least Cabinet members on Twitter with only three and two respectively with active accounts.”

Interestingly, the report said some spokespeople have blurred the lines on Twitter accounts set to communicate their roles in government by airing their political views towards last year’s ANC elective conference.

“The president’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, started his job well on the Twitter front by rebranding his handle to reflect his role. “But it was worrying to observe that even a seasoned communicator like him was emboldened to project the party message in his capacity as a government official at the ANC’s National Congress .”

The most talked about events on Twitter in 2022 were the burning of Parliament, followed by South African foreign policy on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the State capture (Zondo commission) reports, the Phala Phala farmgate scandal and the coronation of the Zulu King.

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