What’s the point of having so many deputy ministers?

2014-09-16 06:45

It is the largest Cabinet in our post-apartheid history – and the high number of deputy ministers might explain why a little-known politician sprung to infamy last week.

Could it be that Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe is not only nasty, but very bored?

Deputy ministers are usually appointed to huge portfolios where the political workload is too heavy for one person to manage. Each Cabinet portfolio, barring the ministry of women, has a deputy; some have two.

This is government on steroids.

Do we need Maphatsoe, or was he appointed only as a sop to the MK Military Veterans’ Association – an act of patronage rather than necessity?

The defence department is an oversight portfolio with no operational role. The president is commander in chief and each sector of defence has its own commander.

Take another office: the presidency. Not only does our president have a deputy in Cyril Ramaphosa, but there is a minister and a deputy minister in the presidency – Jeff Radebe and Buti Manamela, respectively.

If that’s not enough, Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu is also based there.

This week, I saw Manamela on an SA Communist Party podium saying something rude about Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. I’ve missed him saying anything about planning, which is his government portfolio.

So both Maphatsoe and Manamela arguably hold public office, but spend crucial time wearing party political hats and in party positions from which they act as a presidential protection vanguard.

Maphatsoe called the Public Protector a “CIA agent” at an MK military veterans tombstone unveiling last week.

The last time I suggested we didn’t need defence ministers, people I respect in Cabinet pointed at the stars who toil hard.

This made me realise the high-impact portfolios of education, health, social development, finance and home affairs need deputies because they touch the public all the time.

But honestly, do you know what Gert Oosthuizen and Gratitude Magwanishe’s portfolios are? No? I thought not. These are the deputy ministers of sport and public enterprises, respectively. Both are oversight and ceremonial roles.

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula can cope perfectly on his own, and Public Works Minister Lynne Brown has a huge department to help her oversee parastatals.

The first 100 days of what was supposed to be a supercharged second administration led by President Jacob Zuma has revealed that many deputies simply have no idea what to do with themselves.

So, for example, the first time I heard Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Mzwandile Masina make a policy speech, it was to declare he will “create” black industrialists – impossible since history shows they make themselves.

Other deputies cut ribbons, launch bursary schemes or open dams. We’re paying a lot for our huge corps of deputy ministers and getting not much more than hot air from most of them in return.

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