Masetlha says goodbye to public service

Outgoing home affairs director general Billy Masetlha this week accused “three or four people close to the minister” of working against democratic progress and the advancement of the majority of South Africans.

It was these individuals, Masetlha said, who “on a daily basis, sit down and talk about how to get rid of Billy”.

Masethla’s 12-month contract extension expires on June 20. It will not be renewed and his job has been advertised, bringing to an end more than two years of acrimonious conflict between him and Minister of Home Affairs Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Masetlha would not name his adversaries. But he described them as “advisers”, strongly suggesting they include Buthelezi’s close assistant, Mario Ambrosini, who declined to comment.

They also appear to include deputy director general Ivan Lambinon, who looks set to replace Masetlha.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Masetlha would not say where he was going. However, he hinted broadly that he had had enough of the public service.

He said his problems at home affairs were “not about work” but about “three or four people”. He insisted he had been offered a contract renewal but had decided not to take it.

“It has all been about sowing mistrust between me and the minister. The personal attacks on me and the character assassinations have just been too much. For the first time I want to talk to my family about my future. As for the public service, I doubt I will ever go back.”

Conflict between the African National Congress-linked former ANC intelligence operative and Buthelezi has raged since Masetlha was appointed by President Thabo Mbeki against the minister’s wishes in 1999. Buthelezi has accused his department head of more than 60 breaches of discipline.

An extraordinary stand-off developed last year after Masetlha’s con-tract expired. Despite Buthelezi’s bitter complaints that he refused to sign a contract extension, Masetlha continued to work as normal. The effect, Buthelezi said, was that home affairs lacked a legal department head.

The matter was referred to the auditor general, Minister of Public Service and Administration Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the public service commission and Parliament’s public accounts and home affairs committees—without result.

The paralysis continued this year despite Mbeki’s appointment of a joint committee of senior ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party members, under Deputy President Jacob Zuma, to break the impasse. The committee appears to have played little role in finally breaking the logjam.

Masetlha said he felt strongly his side of the story has not been heard.

“As a top public servant, I am constrained by the code of conduct. As an African, I respect Buthelezi as a father and traditional leader. But now is the time to get out of that constraint, speak freely and exercise my right to respond.”

On speculation that Masetlha would be deployed to the ANC rather than the government, ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said his organisation had recommended that Masetlha be retained in the public service.

Masetlha said his health had taken a pounding from “these extremely personal attacks”.

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