Much to be done

2011-11-01 00:00

FOR me, the overriding value of cabinet reshuffles in a country like South Africa is to enhance the performance of the national executive team in providing coherent and vigorous leadership for the entire government.

Whether President Jacob Zuma's recent cabinet reshuffle will enhance government performance will depend on whether the new appointees learn quickly, find their niches and work well with administrative leadership. It is also dependent on whether, unlike many new ministers, they seek advice from those with cabinet experience.

I do not assume that the new ministers will be solely responsible for turning government performance around or that former ministers were solely responsible for failures in the past. But not much really moves forward without their sound leadership.

When Zuma changed his cabinet team last year, we were most shocked by the very act of shuffling cabinets, which was the first of its kind in South Africa. We were also surprised by the scale of the reshuffle. As we indicated in this column then, the reshuffle came at the same time as similar moves in other bigger and older democracies like India, suggesting that we are also a maturing democracy.

Last year's reshuffle had a positive impact on the performance of the national executive. Roy Padayachee brought life and direction to the Department of Communications portfolio, Lulu Xingwana established stability in the new Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. Fikile Mbalula energised the Department of Sports and Recreation portfolio by bringing much passion to the manner in which it is led and presented. Paul Mashatile fitted well into the Arts and Culture Ministry, building on the work of his predecessors.

It is hard to judge the performance of new deputy ministers because most of them continue to occupy invidious positions where they lack specific responsibilities and tasks. They depend on ministers who have self-confidence and political maturity for assignment of meaningful tasks.

From the very start it seemed that the replacement of Geoff Doidge with Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde would not resolve the crisis that faced the Department of Public Works. Doidge is said to have put a stop to a lease agreement for police headquarters because of concerns about irregularities, but Mahlangu-Nkabinde reinstated it and later blamed Doidge for lack of information. Then there was a spat with the DG, who would later be suspended. There were tensions with the public protector over her initial report.

Difficulties facing Sicelo Shiceka gained momentum after last year's reshuffle. It included issues raised by public servants who were asked to reapply for their jobs. There were issues about alleged irregular expenditure and so the story went.

Until then Shiceka was particularly remarkable for the energy and clarity of vision that he showed. His response to disputes over cross-border municipalities were largely successful. He led a strong audit of local government, which identified major challenges and opportunities, on the basis of which the much-vaunted turn-around plan was drafted. Even the recent law seeking a separation between political office and administration at local government came from his initiative.

In recent weeks, as the reports of the public protector pointed out areas of maladministration and improper conduct, it became clear that Zuma would have to relieve Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Shiceka from their duties. So, when the announcement was finally made last Monday, we had come to expect this. But we did not know who would replace these ministers.

Now that we know, what should we expect from Thulas Nxesi and Richard Baloyi? Nxesi has the most difficult task at hand. This is not just because of the complexity of the portfolio, it being virtually the property agency of government, but also because much will be expected in a very short space of time. The fact that the lease issue is now sub judice will constrain Nxesi's hand. Sorting out the administrative and financial leadership of the department may take time. He is an intelligent Masters' graduate who has risen through the ranks.

Baloyi is an experienced politician, but his slow work on the Ministerial Handbook and the Single Public Service Bill, and his less-than-impressive performance on the African Peer Review Mechanism suggests that he will need a completely different temperament, attitude to work and technical team around him to succeed in this very complex Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs portfolio.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue. He writes in his personal capacity.

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