National Minister of Education Angie Motshekga speaking at Natu teachers union conference held at the Coastal Hotel.Picture Zanele Zulu

Johannesburg - Sies, Panyaza Lesufi, sies! You are meant to be our scandal-ridden Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s spin doctor, and yet Helen Zille, the DA leader, of all people, managed in one single speech last week to defend Angie more impressively than you have done in the past year with your stream of rhetoric in the media. Hawu!

Are you confused, dear reader? So this is what went down. Zille – I know, I know it is bizarre but stay with me – defended the basic education minister’s record in office. She suggested that we in the media have turned Angie into a “soft target”. She then offered three reasons why Angie should not be lynched.

The three reasons, which I state shortly, aren’t bad actually. So much so that I feel like a contrarian bastard for pointing out the limitations of Zille’s defence. But such is the job of the analyst in a deliberative democracy that values truth.

Still, partly because I am impressed by the insight in Zille’s commentary, the bigger point of today’s column is unrelated to education: Lesufi is not a good political spin doctor.

This is evident by the fact that the leader of the opposition managed in one single speech to construct an impressive (though not unanswerable) defence of Lesufi’s boss, Angie Motshekga.

So If I was ma Angie, I would call Panyaza into my office this morning, make him read the full article in City Press in Zille’s words where she defends me, and then bark at Panyaza, “WHY DID YOU NOT THINK OF THAT, WENA PANYAZA?! ISN’T THAT YOUR JOB?! OUT! BLOODY AGENT! NXA!”

Zille made three essential points.

First, the minister was right to take time to wrestle with the content of norms and standards, given that many provinces are, for example, bad at spending their budgets, and so a hastily drawn up and legally enforceable set of norms and standards would in reality not be easily achieved if practical conditions are not ripe for implementation.

The minister perhaps made the mistake of agreeing to an unrealistic deadline by when these norms and standards could be set. But her sensitivity to context, in policy design, cannot be faulted.

Second, delivery failures such as the textbook debacle in Limpopo have a constitutional genesis: “The timeous ordering and distribution of textbooks is a provincial responsibility,” Zille reminds us.

Finally, argues Zille, the minister cannot even be blamed for not intervening effectively. Why? Because in the Eastern Cape, for example, President Jacob Zuma in effect allows the teachers’ union, Sadtu, to overpower the minister, because the president regards the political influence of the unions as more important to respect than the plans that the minister wishes to implement to save the province’s education system from final collapse.

Such is the hold of the Left on Zuma. It is not Motshekga’s fault. It is internal alliance politics costing the South African learner, and our society generally.

Isn’t that amazing political spin?

I wonder how much Angie paid Helen?!


But it is not compelling. What is true here is that the model of concurrent governance between national and provincial departments makes the minister’s job helluva difficult.

In addition, alliance politics, and the self-interested actions of teachers’ unions, compound the stakeholder challenges that she has to manage. All of that Zille is correct about.

But we do not have a federal state, which is an implicit (and no doubt unintended) premise in Zille’s analysis.

Concurrent governance does not imply that a minister of health, for example, cannot be held politically and constitutionally responsible for babies dying in hospitals in East London.

If Minister Aaron Motsoaledi were to suggest that his role is merely to draw up national policies and not worry about the distribution of life-saving drugs to patients living with HIV/Aids in Mdantsane, say, we would be right to call for his sacking.

The same logic applies to Motshekga. “Concurrence” is being misunderstood by Zille, and Motshekga.

Last, I am sure some of you wonder, “Why on earth is Zille batting for Motshekga though?”

Ironically, though Zille is schooling Lesufi in political communication, she is not helping the DA out here at all! She is being rather vague about the link between this defence of Motshekga and her party, the DA.

Let me help Zille out then.

So the point of Zille’s Motshekga defence is to say to the voter, “Dear Voter, don’t be turned off by Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. Provinces are cool! They can change your life for the better. But only when they co-operate nicely with ma Angie. Like we do in the Western Cape! So vote DA EVERYWHERE in 2014, okay?”

And in other news: the Pope just came out as an atheist homosexual.

Thank you and goodbye!

* Eusebius McKaiser hosts Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser weekdays 9am to noon on Power FM 98.7.

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

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