Not toeing the line

2014-07-22 00:00

RECENT weeks have been marked by two incidents that could offer the ANC an opportunity to adopt an even-handed approach in dealing with its deployees” in Cabinet.

The party not only distanced itself from a government policy that was proposed by one of its ministers, but also joined the chorus of the opposition in rejecting a controversial decision that pertains to a parastatal.

The first incident involved the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, which proposed a 50% share equity scheme for long-term farm dwellers and compensation for the land owners.

The ANC, through its spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, said in response that it has no such policy and that it waited to be briefed about what the initiative was all about.

But, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti quickly defend the proposed policy, saying it came from the Freedom Charter and a resolution of the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference.

Explaining the policy implementation, Nkwinti said he would engage stakeholders and thereafter return to the ANC with the policy plan this month.

The second incident relates to the announcement of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as the permanent chief operating officer at the SABC.

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi’s announcement was not well received by the ANC, which complained about not being kept abreast of the SABC saga when the public broadcaster was expected to act on recommendations made by the Public Protector.

The party’s stance on the SABC was curious as it has frowned on recommendations made by the Public Protector in the past.

The two incidents pose some interesting questions and insights into how the party interacts with its leaders in government, as well as the likely scenarios that may emerge in the near future.

They pose rather more questions than answers. Chief among these is whether the ANC is fast losing control of its deployees in Cabinet.

Are the deployees seeing themselves as a law unto themselves, to the extent that they can do as they wish, without consulting the party on critical government issues?

Also, what is the likely implication in the light of these developments?

The incidents involve ministers, one a member of the national executive committee, who are charged with driving the party’s agenda in government.

Instead of the ministers taking their orders from the party on what their departments should do, they did the opposite, out of a desire to use their own initiative or naivety perhaps, resulting in the party’s big wigs wondering what their colleagues were up to.

Of equal interest was how the incidents provided a rare moment for the ruling party, as it abandoned its usual defence of its government ministers when it comes to policy matters and government decisions endorsed by the party.

It was not surprising that the ANC-led tripartite alliance partners voiced their displeasure over the SABC matter.

In the past, the alliance partners have vented their anger over government policy and decisions, to the extent that their differences have led to a clash of personalities and a bruising of the careers of some of the leading participants.

This time around, it was not to be, as the ANC uncharacteristically joined the bandwagon in crying foul at the government’s decisions and policies.

This turn of events could suggest that the ANC is not doing enough to keep track of or be in control of its leaders in government.

It could also be that the ministers do not understand what their responsibilities are when it comes to the party and the state on government decisions and policy matters.

Regardless of what the intentions of the ministers were, the ANC is unlikely to continue turning a blind eye to similar incidents in the future.

It will undoubtedly ensure that there is no threat of a repeat of such incidents so that it does not get embarrassed by the deeds of its own leaders.

This could mean that ministers would have to shuttle between Luthuli House and the Union Buildings to get the green light when they handle government policy or before making decisions.

They will have no choice but to toe the party line if they are to save their careers, or they could face finding themselves in the political wilderness.

But the question is, at whose cost will the brakes be applied, in the event that the party takes that stance over how its leaders in government should conduct themselves?

• Mayibongwe Maqhina is the senior political correspondent at The Witness.

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