There are two candidates who would bring different skills to top government communication post. Mmanaledi Mataboge and Charles Molele report.
It is a two-horse race for the government's top spin-doctor position between communications and public relations expert Onkgopotse "JJ" Tabane and long-serving government communicator and home affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa. The vacancy for the chief executive officer of the Government Communication and Information Systems was created when the government failed to renew an employment contract for former spokesperson Jimmy Manyi last year.
Four people working in the government and two in the ANC confirmed that Tabane and Mamoepa are top contenders for the position that also doubles as Cabinet spokesperson.
Although Tabane beats Mamoepa on technical skills and fresher ideas, Mail & Guardian sources said there are some in the ANC and the government who prefer Mamoepa because they do not trust Tabane, who had defected to the Congress of the People (Cope), but returned to the ANC about two years ago.
A source with intimate details of the recruitment process said: "Ronnie is a frontrunner politically but JJ is a favourite with skills and age. The only problem with JJ is that some people still don't trust him politically because of Cope."
A senior government official in the presidency said Tabane was the favourite: "The race is between the two men; however, JJ has the edge. He is highly respected by ministers and they usually engage him on training and coaching sessions. He is one of the best communicators and writes very well. He also has a good relationship with the media."
Tabane denied knowledge of the process to recruit him to the government. "I'm not aware of that. I can't comment on something I know nothing about," he said.
Mamoepa said speculation about his move to the Government Communication and Information Systems began in August last year after Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane refused to renew Manyi's three-year contract.
"Nobody has spoken to me about this. I saw the speculation in the media last year but nobody from the presidency or [communication and information systems] has spoken to me ever since," said Mamoepa.
Those with knowledge of the finer details of the process, however, said Tabane met President Jacob Zuma about three months ago and presented a proposed government communications strategy that impressed him.
At the ANC's national congress in Mangaung last month Tabane was part of the communications team, a role he was apparently given following his meeting with Zuma.
The presidency official backed Tabane's possible appointment. "He did very well in Mangaung by improving the ANC's communications machinery. Prior to Mangaung he participated in the communications task team led by Keith Khoza and Jackson Mthembu [both ANC spokespersons] to draft a communications strategy for the national conference. President Zuma, who has the final say on who should be appointed, also likes him and was impressed with his communication ideas. JJ's Cope issue has been forgiven in the ANC and the government. He just needs to shake off his Cope monkey in terms of perceptions."
Former South African Airways spin doctor Tabane is also a founder of a Johannesburg-based international communications advisory company, Oresego Holdings.
Mamoepa is respected in the ANC, having been its spokesperson at the beginning of South Africa's democratic years and serving the ANC-led government as spokesperson for the foreign affairs department and now home affairs.
Zizi not interested
Other names that were considered for the Cabinet spokesperson position include former presidential spokesperson in Zuma's office Zizi Kodwa and spokesperson for international relations and co-operation Clayson Monyela.
Kodwa, who was last month elected an ANC national executive committee (NEC) member, is said not to be interested in the job, but rather lobbying for Tabane to be appointed.
"Zizi is now an ANC NEC member and he is not interested in such a position ... He sees himself more as a deputy minister or minister than a Cabinet spokesman," said the government official.
Monyela said he was aware of speculation that he was one of the candidates tipped to replace Manyi, but has not been formally approached.
Last week's resignation of deputy communication and information systems chief executive Vusi Mona has also put pressure on the government to fill the Cabinet spokesperson position. Chabane's spokesperson Harold Maloka denied that the process of appointing a communication and information head had started.
"That position has not been advertised. The process of recruitment will start once the position has been advertised," he said.