The joker's still standing

2012-06-15 00:00

THEY say in every war there are casualties and President Jacob Zuma has gone to war far too many times.

This week, the man from Nkandla caught many by surprise when he announced a cabinet reshuffle at a special press conference. Zuma has changed his cabinet once every year since 2010. One would swear he is trying to match the rate he fills his Nkandla homestead with wives, the way he changes ministers.

It’s not the changes that get to me. It’s the kind of people he puts in. In October 2010, for example, Zuma announced what was regarded as a major shake-up in his government, replacing ministers and creating new deputies for those that didn’t have.

Among the changes, Geoff Doidge in the troubled Public Works Department was controversially replaced by Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde — who, as we know by now, proved to be a disaster.

“We had to change the way government works to improve service delivery. Our mission was guided by improving the quality of the lives of South Africans,” Zuma said at the time.

But quality of life it wasn’t. Ministries such as that of Mahlangu-Nkabinde were marred by corruption allegations and became dysfunctional. She was sacked.

The service delivery that Zuma was trying to address never reached people who needed it, and more disgruntled citizens continue to go on the rampage as we speak.

A year later, Zuma was forced to make more changes after firing Mahlangu-Nkabinde. He also had to replace Sicelo Shiceka, who was found guilty of maladministration for stealing taxpayers’ money and splashing out on gifts and visits overseas.

Maybe this is third-time lucky.

But if we look at the trends, Zuma’s appointments have always meant to appease those close to him. Or, as Helen Zille puts it, those who he thinks will be willing to “serve as his vocal cheerleaders”. Others are appointed as a way of repaying them for support and loyalty.

And often they’ve disappointed.

The problem with constant change is that while it brings fresh blood and thinking into ministries, it affects continuity. It’s disruptive to governance and delivery of services.

With this week’s reshuffling, it would seem Zuma is setting his sights on Mangaung where he is seeking a second term. Many think he’s building a wall with people who will ensure his re-election: neutralising those he thinks could pose a threat to him, rewarding his enemies’ opponents and protecting those close to him by moving them out of troubled ministries. It would seem it had nothing to do with performance.

For example, by bringing in Ben Martins to head the Transport Ministry, Zuma is seen as trying to consolidate the support he already has in the SACP, or call it rewarding the “reds” for being the loudest during The Spear saga.

Ex-Defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who reportedly cried upon hearing the news that she had been moved to Correctional Services, has been touted as one of those who want Zuma replaced in Mangaung, with some suggesting she, like Tokyo Sexwale, may be part of the surprise pack to stand against him. She angered Zuma by making it difficult for him to have control of defence. With this “demotion” to jails, Zuma has ensured Sisulu is neutralised.

Mduduzi Manana is known to be a member of the ANCYL NEC and has been vocal against Julius Malema, and one who supports Malema’s firing. The 28-year-old son of Mpumalanga Community Safety, Security and Liaison MEC Sibongile Manana, is part of the group within the youth league that supports Zuma’s second term. He hasn’t set foot in his new office but already the South African Students Congress (Sasco) is calling for his head.

“The appointment of Mr Manana demonstrates that the ANC-led government does not take education seriously. How on Earth can our ANC-led government appoint such a person with no track record on issues related to education, let alone higher education …” Sasco said.

Those responsible for the mess that is e-tolling are moving to new homes. Minister S’bu Ndebele and his deputy Jeremy Cronin, the faces of the highway robbery imposed on taxpayers, have been shifted but who will clean up the mess they created?

When you make changes, it should be about replacing what’s not working with something that is. As things stand, the two major crises in South Africa are in policing and education. If Zuma’s recent reshuffle was meant to strengthen governance and replace underperforming ministers, he could have started with Blade Nzimande, the Higher Education Minster and his Basic Education counterpart Angie Motshekga. Then his loyalist Nathi Mthethwa, who heads up our Police Ministry that has been making headlines recently, should have been fired. Mthethwa is also under investigation over the issue of slush funds. Another minister who should be axed is Lulama Xingwana, responsible for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. Zuma should have disbanded the ministry and incorporated it with Social Development.

Zuma should know that the people who put him there deserve better. And they’ll have a chance to do their own reshuffle — at the ballot box.

• Isaac Mangena is a journalist and aspiring writer.

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