Policy-maker of note

2009-10-31 13:34

JOEL Netshitenzhe was one of the first staffers in President Nelson Mandela’s office, and ended up the influential head of the policy unit in the Presidency which he will be leaving soon.

Under former President Thabo Mbeki, Netshitenzhe assembled competent teams, both in the policy unit in the Presidency and in the Government Communications and Information Service.

I joined the policy unit seven years ago, leaving the trade and industry department that I worked for since 1995. I hardly knew Joel then.

On my first day at the Presidency I attended one of the early meetings in preparation for the ­innovative 2003 scenario report, Memories Of The Future. Entering the meeting late, it took me a little while to work out who Joel was, sitting at one side of the meeting room and not saying anything – unless he had something to say.

He used our privileged ­access to the corridors of power to say things that the leadership did not necessarily want to hear. The ten year and fifteen year-reviews, for example, were critical about the government in a way that was normally reserved for academics.

Only recently, a debate emerged regarding the inability of the governments of recent years to reduce inequality. This debate was sparked not by the opposition but by data presented as accurately and clearly as possible in the 2009 development indicators report of the Presidency.

In the 2003 Towards a Ten-Year Review Report, failures in delivery were clearly pointed out – the main theme of the report was that if policy and implementation continued as before, conditions in South ­Africa would worsen.

On issues such as HIV/Aids he never held back. Reports repeatedly pointed to worsening mortality rates and life- expectancy rates. Mbeki privately questioned some of this data, though to his credit he did not censor it.

The notion that Joel was Mbeki’s right-hand man could be misleading – it was certainly not a Peter Mandelson-Tony Blair style of sycophancy.

Joel is an unusual man. He is very able and is widely known. Yet he is humble and values his privacy above public admiration. For him, reputation is not a substitute for hard work.

I don’t doubt that all who have worked with him treasure the time they spent with him. We expect that this will be true of his new colleagues, wherever he goes.

) Hirsch is deputy head of the policy unit in the Presidency

Here is a leader who never overestimates his own abilities, he never underrates the abilities of others and he builds strong teams


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