Who’s who in the Government of National Unity

2014-04-27 15:00

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The Government of National Unity was a bizarre animal, made up of former adversaries forced to cooperate in running the state. It created a culture shock on both sides, writes Sabelo Ndlangisa

Thabo Mbeki once told a story about how strange the culture of government bureaucracy felt when the former liberation fighters entered the corridors of power in 1994.

A white civil servant, who was obviously surprised the new rulers greeted their subordinates when they met them in the corridors of the Union Buildings, told the then first deputy president how things used to be in the Ancien Régime.

When the president walked past in the corridor, he said, you used to just stand against the wall and become invisible.

You weren’t allowed to say anything. The culture shock went both ways.

It was a radically different public administration to what it is today. In 1994, it was still dominated by white men.

Then public service and administration minister Zola Skweyiya complained at the end of his first week in office: “Everybody, when I call them on the phone, speaks to me in Afrikaans. One is tempted to answer them in Zulu. It’s just as official.”

A humorous newspaper column from that time quotes a conversation between diplomats and unnamed Cabinet ministers about the culture of the civil service.

“They are so obsequious. The hierarchy is so rigid. Nobody argues. It’s not at all like in the ANC,” lamented the minister.

His colleague spoke of the authoritarian culture the Nats had apparently bequeathed: “I am trying to stop people from jumping to their feet when I come into the room.”

After all, as Mac Maharaj later recalled, the new incumbents were suspicious of the old civil service.

And the civil servants were just as uncomfortable.

The task of changing the state machinery from one geared towards servicing a small section of society into one that served the whole population would prove to be daunting to the new cadre of ministers, as none of them had any experience in running a government.

Wrote former minister without portfolio Jay Naidoo in his memoir, Fighting for Justice: “Many ministers had walked into institutions that were already there, established over many decades, and had developed structures for personnel and a culture of how they operated.

“Their key challenge was developing the new policy frameworks, the appropriate legislation and transforming their delivery departments to serve the entire population, irrespective of colour or race.”

Roelf Meyer, who was the constitutional development and provincial affairs minister, says he found it easy to make the transition as he had worked with his ANC counterparts during the negotiations.

The Government of National Unity (GNU) worked on the basis of consensus, he says. “It was a pleasant experience, but at the same time it was a dynamic environment.

A new government had to be set up...

“It was not the typical thing people would say, ‘business as usual’. This was new business because there was a new constitutional framework to be implemented.”

He says working with his deputy, Vali Moosa, to set up the mechanisms for provinces and cooperation was challenging.

President Nelson Mandela was always ready to help when they had to deal with issues such as traditional leadership, which both Meyer and Moosa did not understand well.

Meyer says it was a mistake for the National Party (NP), under then deputy president FW de Klerk, to pull out of the GNU in 1996 before its five-year term ended, as this undermined the project of national reconciliation.

De Klerk’s thinking, he says, “was the National Party would benefit if it positioned itself as an opposition party. That went against the spirit of what we had agreed in establishing the Government of National Unity.”

Only three original ministers – Derek Hanekom, Trevor Manuel and Jeff Radebe – remain in Cabinet today.

The rest have moved on, or died, or remain involved in public life in one way or another.

Here are some of the GNU ministers still in the public eye:

Tito Mboweni

. Minister of labour

He served in Mandela’s Cabinet for four years, piloting legislation like the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act.

The new president gave him the position after former Cosatu general secretary JayNaidoo rejected it for fear that it would create “too many contradictions”.

The former head of economic policy in the ANC would later be redeployed to head the SA Reserve Bank, replacing governor Chris Stals, in 1999.

He had previously worked with Trevor Manuel and Max Sisulu to formulate economic policy for a party that was getting ready to take power and to make it more palatable to a sceptical private sector.

Mboweni left the bank when his second term ended in 2008.

He has held directorships in private companies including Nampak, AngloGold Ashanti and Discovery Limited.

This is in addition to the investment company he formed and runs, Mboweni Brothers Investment Holdings, and his responsibilities as the chairperson of the international advisory board of Goldman Sachs.

His return to the ANC’s national executive committee in 2012, after being absent for more than a decade, has sparked renewed speculation about Mboweni’s political future.

At least one province, Gauteng, has nominated him for a seat in the national Parliament after the 2014 elections.

It remains to be seen, though, whether he’ll be keen to go back to the public sector.

Sydney Mufamadi

. Minister of safety and security

Mufamadi left government after President Thabo Mbeki was recalled and has been in the political wilderness for some time.

He resurfaces occasionally to deliver a speech at some Gauteng ANC branch, or to address a party meeting here and there.

These days, the former unionist spends most of his time running the School of Leadership at the University of Johannesburg.

He has also teamed up with former unionists Alec Erwin and Enoch Godongwana to mediate in the leadership conflict currently engulfing Cosatu.

Mufamadi was the safety and security minister in the GNU, and presided over the formation of a single national police force from the fragments of different apartheid administrations and homelands.

He moved to the local government portfolio when Mbeki took over from Mandela in 1999 as the country’s president.

Roelf Meyer

. Minister of constitutional affairs

Meyer is one of very few former NP ministers who continue to be active in public life.

He currently runs the Civil Society Initiative and has consulted on peace issues in countries including Northern Ireland, Bolivia, Burundi and Rwanda.

A trained lawyer, he also recently chaired the Defence Review Committee of the SA National Defence Force, which looked into the role of the force in peacetime.

Meyer’s political career has gone through twists and turns over the years.

Under Mandela, Meyer kept his old constitutional affairs portfolio as one of the six NP ministers Mandela appointed to his Cabinet.

Following the collapse of the GNU, the NP’s chief negotiator resigned from his party in the late 1990s to co-found the United Democratic Movement (UDM) with Bantu Holomisa.

He served as Holomisa’s deputy until retiring from formal politics in 2000.

The UDM will probably not last beyond the 2014 elections and Meyer announced a few years ago that he had switched political allegiances.

He is now an ANC member, even though he is not actively involved in politics.

Mac Maharaj

. Minister of transport

MacMaharaj has had the most interesting career of all the GNU Cabinet members.

These days, Maharaj weaves flummery for President Jacob Zuma’s office, where he doubles as a special envoy and spokesperson.

When Maharaj was transport minister between 1994 and 1999, Zuma was the economic affairs national executive committee member in the IFP- led provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal.

Even though he left the transport portfolio for a life in the private sector, his previous position at transport would later come back to haunt him.

He was forced to resign as a nonexecutive director at FirstRand following allegations of impropriety in the awarding of two major contracts at the transport department, but was never charged regarding the contracts.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi

. Minister of home affairs

The IFP leader is currently the country’s longest-serving national party leader.

He is still in Parliament at the ripe old age of 85 when most of his peers have retired. In the national legislature, only ANC veterans Andrew Mlangeni and Ben Turok are older than Buthelezi.

He continues to lead the party he has led from its inception, despite the split that led to the formation of the National Freedom Party.

Buthelezi was the democratic government’s first home affairs minister and its longest-serving.

Even though his party was one of the major adversaries of the ANC, Buthelezi and some IFP members continued to serve in the ANC-led government long after the GNU had collapsed.

Buthelezi’s party has faced waning electoral fortunes over the years – declining from 10.5% in 1994 to 4.5% in 2009 – suggesting that it might only survive this year purely as a regional party.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

. Minister of health

She was the first health minister and was unpopular for her effective anti-smoking policies and campaigns.

Dlamini-Zuma courted controversy for giving ­ R14 million to fund Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina II, an Aids awareness drama.

She went on to serve as Mbeki’s foreign affairs minister and as home affairs minister under Zuma.

Her experience in international affairs explains the government’s decision to lobby successfully for her move to chair the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

She has been heading the commission since the beginning of 2012 and has declined a nomination to come back and serve in the South African Parliament.

Some say she is likely to be a presidential contender in the near future because of her popularity in the party, but that remains to be seen.


. Minister without portfolio

This post meant that he would be in charge of implementing the new government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme, which had been the cornerstone of the ANC’s election manifesto.

Previously, Naidoo had driven the programme from the party’s headquarters.

He later recalled the meeting with Mandela at his office, where he officially broached the news of his appointment to the post.

“We hugged each other and I said: ‘That’s what I want. I know with your support we can succeed.’

I was confident, but the responsibility weighed heavily on my shoulders,” he wrote in his memoir.

Naidoo left the J&J Group fo a life of activism. Between 2001 and 2010, he chaired the board of the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

He is also involved with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition in Switzerland, an NGO that deals with issues of malnutrition in the world.

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