President Jacob Zuma and his daughter, Thuthukile. File photo: John Hlongwa

Surely being 25 and/or a child of the president cannot be a bar to the civil service, says Tamuka Muzondo.

Pretoria - I noted with interest the mudslinging between the publisher of the Mail & Guardian and Independent Newspapers.

The phrase “obvious and feeble attempt at obfuscation” used by Karima Brown with reference to Trevor Ncube resonated with me when I read the lead story in the latest edition of the M&G.

The headline “Zuma’s daughter (25) gets top state job” is misleading as the position of chief of staff is not a top state job, but a chief director position in terms of the regulations.

For the record, all ministers and premiers are entitled to a chief of staff.

In addition, within the public service, there are hundreds of chief directors. Those chief directors do not go around claiming to hold top state jobs. Their positions are not secure as they are contracts linked to a minister: if the minister goes, so do they.

So much is made of how important a role the chief of staff plays.

To understand the role of a chief of staff, it is important to note that the phrase “chief of staff” is a misnomer in the South African sense. To give the phrase the same meaning as it has in other countries is misleading.

In the US, chief of staff refers to the highest ranking employee of the White House.

A similar position in South Africa is occupied by director-general in the Presidency, Dr Cassius Lubisi.

Every national government department is managed by a director-general who is the accounting officer, assisted by a varying number of deputy directors-general depending on the size of the department.

The president’s daughter is not a director-general and as such is not in charge of the department.

In terms of the ministerial handbook, the chief of staff of a government department manages the private office of the minister.

The private office comprises a staff complement of 10 including the chief of staff, media liaison officer, administrative secretary, appointments secretary, assistant appointments secretary, parliamentary officer, receptionist, registry clerk and driver.

This is the sum total of the people managed by the chief of staff if the minister chooses to fill all the positions.

Given the number, qualifications and role of the people managed by the chief of staff, it is clear that it’s not a position that requires the skill and experience we are led to believe is needed by the article in question.

The position does not influence or make policy, does not answer to Parliament and in terms of the running of a department, it only serves as the link between the minister and the department.

Is the president’s daughter (with his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) adequately qualified?

It is said she has an Honours degree.

Is she suitable for job?

The only person who can answer that is the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal services to whom she reports. However, having worked for the minister as a liaison person, one can assume that the minister is satisfied with her ability to run his office.

The regulations allow ministers to hand-pick their office staff. In this instance, the minister has chosen her.

Could the problem simply be that Thuthukile is President Zuma’s child?

When a Zuma child who is educated and prepared to put in the long hours that go with running a minister’s office comes along, it is still problematic?

Surely being a child of the president cannot be a bar to the civil service? The main gripe about this appointment seems to be her age. She is 25.

Every year the M&G celebrates and publishes the names of 200 young South Africans. Ironically, the edition in which they were destroying the self-esteem of Thuthukile is the same edition in which they were celebrating their own 200 young South Africans.

Just recently we were celebrating the youngest doctor in South Africa, Sabile Kubheka who at 20 is responsible for saving lives. The new Parliament celebrated the entry of Honourable Yusuf Cassim who at 24 is the youngest MP.

If it wasn’t for young people in this country, there never would have been June 16.

We celebrate not only those young people who died on June 16, but many other young people who died during the struggle in their twenties or younger.

Leaders such as Collins Chabane and many others left the country to receive training in their teens.

President Zuma himself was only 21 when he began serving a 10-year sentence on Robben Island. Young people can fight and, if needs be die, but when it comes to jobs that involve managing nine people they are too young.

* Tamuka Muzondo is a civil society specialist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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