Guest Column

Our outrage at Zuma is much ado about nothing

2017-04-04 12:37

Oliver Dickson

Given the political hyper-activity of the past weekend, it is easy to get lost in the noise so it’s important to take a step back, shake off the hangover from the weekend’s political cocktail of events and evaluate the happenings of the past weekend from a position of sobriety.

It is clear that President Zuma’s motivation for the reshuffle are personal and linked to earth shatteringly scary motives – primarily giving the Guptas access to key institutions and consolidating his alliance support going into the ANC elective conference.

While this is still only speculation, there is plenty of fantastic evidence in the public domain about why this speculation is justified and most likely correct. Much of this analysis can be drawn from the dissenting voices of ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, but none as clear as the analysis rendered by Julius Malema in the EFF’s presser on the weekend and Pravin Gordhan’s speech at the press conference after his departure.

Stepping away from all those voices, Jacob Zuma’s expressed motivation for the reshuffle is to boost efficacy and efficiency by bringing on board female talent and leadership and well as young energetic talent and leadership. We owe it to the oath of the presidency to assess that motivation for what it is on its merits.

Much of the public discourse in that regard has been about how, on its own merits, that motivation is utter rubbish, particularly in relation to the ministry of police taken over by former Minister of Sports and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, and the ministry of finance taken over by former Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba.

The argument from the Presidency and its defendants are that both Mbalula and Gigaba are what the ANC considers “youth”. The public response is that these two gentlemen can’t possibly be considered as Youth and Youth Leaders given that they’re in their upper-mid 40s and the official consensus on the ceiling of Youth is 35.

It then begs the question, if 46 doesn’t qualify as youth, what age fits the delicate balance between experience, education and youthfulness. Are we not perhaps cynical to expect a 35 year old to have enough administrative experience, portfolio industry expertise and the right political aptitude to head ministries as sensitive and crucial as that of the treasury and police.

But even then, the question should be, has Mbalula and Gigaba demonstrated that they are in tune with what youth issues are, do they understand the role their portfolios play in those and do they show a willingness to address those issues. The question about age in politics should be is where does the most stable balance between age and

In both their cases, the answers are a resounding yes. In Mbalula’s case we best saw this in how he prioritised racial transformation in all sporting codes, especially in those lagging behind in the national transformation project. Under his administration, we’ve seen more young black cricketers rise to the top in two years than we have throughout our democratic dispensation prior to that. We are talking about a portfolio that fundamentally concerns itself with young people.

While the transformation project is not yet complete or satisfactory, we are in a far better off position than before Mbalula took over the portfolio. Crucially, he proved that he has the administrative expertise to run a portfolio in how he cleaned up the sports and recreation department, being one of very few departments receiving clean audits.

We saw similar understanding from Minister Gigaba. At the height of the fees must fall protest, the academic calendar got pushed backed and exams were written much later than usual, Gigaba stepped up extended the study permits of all foreign national students across the board. Such an act demonstrates an understanding of issues targeting young people specifically.

Do we have reason to believe that such attitudes and energy by these ministers will carry over into their newly assigned portfolios? The answer is simply that we have no reason not to believe so. On the first day of the job, Mbalula tweeted emphatically about major drug busts across the country, demonstrating an understanding of how the scourge of drugs directly impact young people in particular.

So the question then becomes, on its merits, does President Zuma’s reshuffle align with what he purports to be his motivation? The answer there is definitely yes.

Crucially, are these two gentlemen experienced in the portfolio’s they’re now heading? The answer is once again, yes. Gigaba headed a financial cluster portfolio prior to home affairs when he was minister of public enterprises and this perhaps makes Gigaba as experienced in treasury as Pravin Gordhan was when he assumed office. Mbalula was deputy minister of police before his appointment as minister of sports and recreation.

Importantly for us to consider then, in particular to the treasury, is whether Gigaba is corruptible and likely to sign off on the deals that Atul and friends apparently wanted Gordhan to sign off. We do not yet have reason to believe that he, in fact, will. From his presser, Gigaba is toeing the same line Gordhan held on social welfare and the nuclear project.

Perhaps our outrage is much ado about nothing.

- Dickson is a socio-political analyst and an award winning competitive debater currently ranked Africa's nr. 1 debater. Follow him on Twitter: @Oliver_Speaking.

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