Education

Motshekga: Where does the political buck stop?

David Macfarlane: ANALYSIS

David Macfarlane wonders where the political accountability in basic education is.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. (Gallo)

"He walks between raindrops," says Michael Douglas's character about an urbanely slimy financier in director Oliver Stone's movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. 

A walking moral hazard, the financier — Bretton Woods — is a senior partner in Churchill Schwartz, the movie's thinly fictionalised version of Goldman Sachs, and both he and his company are central to the 2008 banking crisis the movie dramatises.

At least one raindrop finally lands on Woods's head — or looks likely to — by the movie's end: we do not see what sanction, if any, he ever faces. 

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga shares nothing with Woods except her consistent habit of provoking a question central to the movie: where does the buck stop?

She has just dodged two raindrops — one a Cabinet reshuffle, the other an assessment by Western Cape premier Helen Zille in City Press last weekend that, instead of drenching the minister, gave her an umbrella.

Zille stoutly defended Motshekga for taking so long to promulgate minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure; blamed the South African Democratic Teachers Union for the ineffectiveness of her section 100 intervention in the Eastern Cape; and claimed the Limpopo textbook debacle was clearly all the province's doing.

The twittersphere and other digital media have been abuzz with all this. And underneath the noise, a public need for justice and accountability is powerfully tangible. 

Take the textbook saga. Zille is correct in saying it is a provincial function, not a national one, to order textbooks on time, pay for them, ensure their delivery and so on.

But she sidesteps two problems for her case. One is that the public service commission is still investigating basic education director general Bobby Soobrayan's role in the debacle. If it finds him culpable in any respect, then surely even Zille would concede that this would comprise at least a raindrop or two splashing on his boss?

Second, she sidesteps the comprehensive Metcalfe report, which most certainly did not confine its diagnosis of incompetence and negligence to the provincial sphere.

Overall, Zille is obviously correct in the tutorial she provides on concurrent government powers, but it leaves too many questions unaddressed. Where, in her account, is there any place for political accountability? And where is the government's monitoring function?

In brief, if not from the official opposition, then where will the raindrops come from?

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