2008 Cabinet report card -- Part One
How did SA's Cabinet members fare this year? The M&G rates their performances and offers analytic insight.
Ferial Haffajee: Of shooting and falling stars
What the scores mean
A: Take a bow. You are doing an excellent job
B: Good, but room for improvement
C: You're okay
D: Get your act together
E: Do yourself and the country a favour—resign
F: You're fired
Grade: Early days, but a provisional B
Kgalema Motlanthe took over as president in September and his party is quite clear that he is no more than a caretaker leader holding the fort until Jacob Zuma claims the position.
Motlanthe was himself quick to emphasise that his task was to continue Thabo Mbeki's programmes.
While his incumbency was welcomed, he has been criticised for axing the prosecutions chief Vusi Pikoli and for refusing to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry into the arms deal.
Instead he should have upped the ante on Zimbabwe, now galloping downhill into the abyss. As SADC chairperson and the leader of the region's superpower, he has followed Mbeki's line, chastening the Movement for Democratic Change and applying a kid glove approach to Mugabe and his Zanu-PF accomplices.
It's worth noting that he refused to provide R300-million in aid to Zimbabwe pending an end to the impasse there and this week he kick-started a people to people humanitarian initiative.
Motlanthe has gone through the motions on Zimbabwe, clearly being unwilling to stick his neck out and risk a decisive intervention.
His finest moment was probably the selection of his new Cabinet, when he finally relieved a long-suffering nation of the collective curse of health minister Manto TshabalalaMsimang, safety and security minister Charles Nqakula and justice minister Brigitte Mabandla, stubbornly retained by Mbeki.
A generally moderate man with a calm temperament who is not obsessively driven by ambition, he is known to have opposed the dismissal of Mbeki as president on grounds that it was unnecessary and potentially disruptive of government.
When his fears were realised by the resignation of almost half Mbeki's Cabinet, he and his fellow ANC leaders moved quickly to install a new executive.
His appointment of Barbara Hogan to replace Tshabalala-Msimang was an unexpected and inspired move.
He wisely kept intact his finance team and has earned further brownie points by appointing the experienced and widely respected government communicator Thabo Masebe as his spokesperson.
Whatever his personal qualities, it should not be forgotten that he is an unswervingly loyal member of the ANC. It is this that may explain his cynical decision to sack suspended National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli in defiance of the recommendations of the Ginwala commission.
Motlanthe said he took the decision because the inquiry into Pikoli's suspension found him insensitive to national security matters. He did not explain why this alleged weakness—it remains unclear what the security danger was and Selebi has been prosecuted anyway—overrode Ginwala's other findings in Pikoli's favour.
The presumption must be that the ANC leadership, working through Motlanthe, the party's deputy president, wanted to install a more compliant prosecutions chief—and perhaps one who will drop the corruption charges against Zuma.
It is a serious dent in the image of a president who in many other ways exudes integrity.
Grade: Too early to tell, but questions abound
Since being elected deputy president in September Baleka Mbete has chaired meetings of the Anti-Poverty Strategy Framework as well as on HIV/Aids and on the energy efficiency campaign. However, she has presided mostly over purely public relations events, as the bulk of the work was done before she took over from Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Anti-Poverty Strategy Framework, for instance, was at the point of being launched when Mbeki was recalled as president.
She burned her fingers when she presided over the questionable swapping of the directors general of correctional services, Vernie Petersen, and sport, Xoliswa Sibeko, when she was acting president. Petersen had taken a tough stance on prisons corruption and it seemed wrong that he should be removed from his position merely for speaking out against Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour.
Some question whether this sharp-tongued politician, seen as willing to bend the rules to serve the ANC and inclined to fight dirty, is a suitable figure for the post of deputy head of state.
Her public support for former MP Tony Yengeni raised questions about her principles, given that she was the leader of the institution Yengeni was convicted of defrauding.
Recent examples of her political style were her attack on Mail & Guardian cartoonist Zapiro, whom she accused of racism after he portrayed Jacob Zuma as the would-be rapist of the symbol of justice, and her support for the ANC's assault on the 'counter-revolutionary” judiciary.
Minister in the Presidency
Grade as health minister: F- (2007: F-)
Manto Tshablala-Msimang has done nothing significant in her new portfolio. It hardly needs saying that she was not moved from health because the presidency needs her services.
The idea was to placate the members of Thabo Mbeki's Cabinet and allow her a face-saving exit.
As minister without portfolio in the presidency—and no real work either—she will remain a Cabinet member until she is put out to pasture in April, but has been quarantined so that she can cause no further harm to government.
Tshabalala-Msimang has spent time since her redeployment opening conferences and assisting in establishing a framework for the proposed National Youth Agency. In the health portfolio her tenure can be summed up succinctly: fail, do not allow a re-take.
Minister of Correctional Services
Grade: F (2007: F)
There was no good reason for Kgalema Motlanthe to reappoint Balfour boss of our overcrowded, badly run and unsafe prisons.
Things had been improving, with newly appointed prisons boss Vernie Petersen restoring order and painstakingly cleaning the dirty closets Balfour preferred to keep locked. But Balfour's political manoeuvring soon saw Petersen being moved to the sports portfolio.
Rather than facing sexual assault in prisons head-on or sorting out the construction of eight prisons promised since 2004, the minister undermined Petersen and protected a company under investigation for tender-rigging.
Balfour's relationship with the Bosasa group of companies—which the special investigating unit has been probing since 2006 for tender irregularities—remains a mystery. The company has been awarded tenders worth more than R1-billion since Balfour arrived in 2004 and, despite the SIU probe, he is vigorously protecting Bosasa's interests.
This was evident during his fight with Petersen in August to extend Bosasa's multimillionrand catering contract. Petersen refused to extend the contract and instructed his department to advertise the tender. Balfour threatened him that 'something must break” and two months later Deputy President Baleka Mbete approved the swapping of Petersen and sports DG Xoliswa Sibeko.
Since then Balfour has been making populist noises (Chris Hani's killer can 'go to hell”, rather than explaining the parole situation) and promising to 'forgive” Petersen for legitimately reporting his (Balfour's) suspicious financing of a 4x4 vehicle. Another abysmal year for an appalling politician whose political career will, touch wood, not survive next year's election.
Minister of Public Service and Administration
Grade: Too early to tell, but some worrying signs
Stepping stones from his role as chairperson of the public service committee to public service and administration minister means Richard Baloyi knows the complexities of public service.
He is said to be more open than his predecessor, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, which may make for better labour relations should he make the Cabinet cut next year. In a public finance crunch he will have to make his 1,2-million strong service work for the above-inflation increases they received in a multi-year wage settlement.
The early signs suggest that he may be a man who ducks problems. Baloyi has shelved the Single Public Service Bill, a long and dogged attempt to streamline the working conditions of civil servants across the three spheres of government. Unions agitated against perceived pay cuts.
Cabinet also vetoed his first big appointment when it turned down his recommended chief executive of the state's information technology agency. And his colleagues are worried that Baloyi spent too much of his first quarter in office in Limpopo where he is deeply embroiled in local politics. In the new year Baloyi should turn his attention to the large vacancy rates in the senior state service—a factor in the slow rates of delivery across government.
Minister of Intelligence Services
Grade: Too soon to tell
Siyabonga Cwele is affable, endowed with a hearty guffaw and an instantly disarming smile. This medical doctor from the south coast is untainted by scandal and unencumbered by the theatrics of his predecessors, Lindiwe Sisulu and Ronnie Kasrils.
As one of the post-Mbeki appointees to Cabinet, Cwele has yet to leave his mark on the ministry, but his performance as chair of Parliament's joint standing committee on intelligence may give a measure of the minister he is likely to make.
People who have worked with him describe him as hardworking and independent-minded. His public statements have included a welcome emphasis on the basics: intelligence as a means of combating crime and guaranteeing public safety.
But to the extent that his attitudes were those of the parliamentary committee, as one must assume they were, there is serious cause for concern. The committee is supposed to act as the public's watchdog over intelligence services, exercising oversight in an area where national security considerations are habitually used to avoid public accountability.
The problem is that the committee has chosen to operate behind closed doors. It appears that its members have become so cosy with the spooks that they have forgotten their primary accountability is to citizens.
This and the influence of ANC factionalism was particularly visible when the committee trashed the inspector general of intelligence's report which found against former NIA director general Billy Masetlha in 1996. The Zuma camp's interests were served, but there was no serious, visible follow-through by the committee on the NIA's obvious abuse of its mandate when it spied on businessman Saki Macozoma and others.
The committee under Cwele habitually chose opacity over transparency, such as when it complained that the rest of government was not taking information security seriously enough. And when Cwele served on the ad hoc committee considering the Protection of Information Bill, he went as far as questioning whether judges were qualified to consider securocrats' decisions to classify information.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Grade: C (2007: C)
The new year will see the end of South Africa's term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations security council and, although Thabo Mbeki's paws have been all over South Africa's voting behaviour in that forum, it is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who must carry the responsibility for our successes and failures.
It has been a very mixed bag. The rest of the world was made to sit up and take note of South Africa as more than just another middle-income country from the developing world—but not always for the right reasons. Controversial votes on issues like rape as a weapon of war and blocking the council from discussing the Zimbabwean crisis sent shockwaves through the diplomatic community.
Dlamini-Zuma has been the worker bee, putting foundations under the aerial castles of the ousted Mbeki. His dreams of a functioning and influential African Union and vibrant south-south relations through partnerships with India and Brazil became hers to implement. The India-Brazil-South Africa summit was held in India this year and South Africa will have to work hard to avoid being reduced to the junior partner of these two regional powerhouses. It must also balance its alliances with Western powers and the new orientation towards Africa, countries of the south and Russia and China.
Short on charisma and charm, Dlamini-Zuma has devolved dealings with the media to her deputies. She confines herself to carefully crafted statements that say as little as possible. She has been notably silent, as she has for years, on South Africa's most vexed foreign policy headache—Zimbabwe.
Hardworking and no fool, she has held her own with other foreign ministers. Those around her say she is keen to retain her government job and it is quite possible that she will survive into the next Cabinet, stepping out of Mbeki's shadow.
Minister of Public Works
Grade: Too soon to tell, but shows promise
Geoff Doidge is a hardworking, well-organised loyalist, all qualities that have ensured a steady climb up the political career ladder for him.
He served Parliament in various management capacities, finally running the powerful committee of chairpersons before becoming public works minister in September following the resignation of his predecessor Thoko Didiza.
Doidge operates largely under the radar and his critics say he was one of the ANC MPs who ensured that a probe by the legislature into the arms deal was rail-roaded.
Doidge has been quick off the mark in his first three months in office: he's kept up an energetic schedule. And he has an ear to the ground. The Built Environment Management Bill — which sought to alter the entry levels into engineering, architecture, quantity-surveying and project management — was withdrawn after an outcry from the professions. Public Works is a hodge-podge portfolio, which encompasses everything from the management of the state's extensive property portfolio to the more exciting expanded public works programme. The minister is a good manager of such a diverse range of work.
The works programme is not the panacea for unemployment that the state once punted it as, but has created more than one million work opportunities this year. Doidge would do well to focus on this part of his work in 2009.
Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry
Grade: C (2007: B)
The year ended badly for Hendricks, with cholera spreading in Limpopo, pollution killing crocodiles in Kruger Park rivers and a controversial report by a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) expert indicating the country faces a water crisis.
The South African Institution of Civil Engineering and the Water Institute of South Africa also reported that the recruitment and education of engineers and water scientists had become a 'critical bottleneck” that would seriously affect the water affairs department, local authorities and water boards.
In her favour Hendricks said she was aware of the huge challenges facing the water sector and was taking corrective measures to avert a crisis. About 12% of the population, or 1,34-million households, still lack water services and illegal water use is a significant problem in many areas.
The 'bucket” system of sanitation still operates in three provinces and 5% of municipalities do not meet drinking water quality standards.
One of Hendricks's best moves this year was to appoint Pam Yako, the well-regarded former director general of environmental affairs and tourism, as her director general in April.
In response to fears about water shortages Hendricks said recent good rains left most major dams more than 80% full. In early December Cabinet approved the implementation of phase two of the Lesotho Highlands project, which will supply water to Gauteng and the rest of the Vaal River water supply area.
In the forestry sector challenges included widespread forest fires and the slow pace of transformation. Progress included the signing of a broad-based BEE charter in the forestry sector and the launch of Women in Water and Forestry, which will promote female participation in these sectors.
Minister of Health
Grade: Too early to tell, but a provisional A
After the popping of champagne corks following her appointment in September, Barbara Hogan shot out of the starting blocks with as much determination as Oscar Pistorius. Only time and elections will tell if she has entered for a sprint or the Comrades.
Her initial run has been encouraging. She got down to business by dismissing the ghost of Aids denialism haunting South Africa and she has appointed two advisers with proven track.
The appointment of human rights lawyer Fatima Hassan will hopefully mark the end of resource-consuming and policy-stifling legal challenges to poorly conceived legislation. That of health management expert, Nicholas Crisp, should assist the minister in understanding the mechanics of the health system.
Hogan has also freed the South African National Aids Council of some of its shackles, so it may now be able to provide the leadership in fighting HIV it has failed to give for years.However, one of Hogan's toughest assignments will be to alter the system's culture of unaccountability and rein in officials who fail to serve the public interest.
Hogan will have to convince the national treasury that the department not only needs, but can spend efficiently, the increased budgets required to tackle both a growing population and an increasing disease burden.
Hogan is surrounded by seas of trouble, among them the problems bedevilling the district health system, the struggling tertiary and academic systems, the TB and HIV epidemics, an antiretroviral programme that is both too small and becoming unsustainable in its present form, the crippling impact of previous health decisions—including pay rises for some nurses that have wrecked budgets—and the desperate shortage of healthcare workers.
Minister of Arts and Culture
Grade: B- (2007: B-)
Pallo Jordan knows and has a feeling for his portfolio. He is energetic as a self-styled philosopher-statesman — though artists complain that he could attend more opening nights.
In November the DA accused him of running a 'poorly performing department”, reminding him that it received a qualified audit opinion for 2007/2008. It said he had tabled a response in Parliament a month after its due date, in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.
The Robben Island World Heritage Site drew flak this year: the island ferry was attached in August because R26-million was owed to the boat builder and three key staffers at the museum were suspended in July for fraud.
Jordan does have a record of trying to strengthen the underresourced library sector. The year kicked off with an announcement that the government would invest almost R200-million in rebuilding libraries and buying books and R300-million was earmarked in July for a new home for the National Library.
Some legislation still needs overhauling, including the South African Languages Bill, which seeks to promote linguistic diversity and has been in the works since 2003. However, a parliamentary review committee revealed that although proposed tax incentives for arts sponsorship and funding had not been implemented, nine language development centres were established.
One feather in Jordan's cap this year has been the department's Investing in Culture programme, which supported 394 projects and created more than 7 000 jobs and training opportunities.
Minister of Public Enterprises
Grade: F (2007: Grade GG—formerly Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development)
After her abrupt sidelining from justice to public enterprises, Brigitte Mabandla was seen sitting in the corridors of Parliament in a state of tearful shock.
She had no right to be surprised. By universal consent she was a hopeless justice minister, incapable of decisive leadership and buffeted every which way by the crosscurrents in the ANC and the strong-willed officials and politicians who surrounded her.
Into the ministerial vacuum moved justice Director General Menzi Simelane, intent on ingratiating himself with Jacob Zuma by driving the offensive against the Scorpions and the National Prosecuting Authority, and Deputy Minister Johnny de Lange, intent on clipping the wings of the judiciary through a raft of controversial justice Bills.
One of the overriding themes of 2008 has been the attack on the independence of South Africa's judges and law enforcement authorities by both factions of the ANC. The low notes have been Thabo Mbeki's interference in the case against police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi, the dismantling of the Scorpions, grave allegations of partisan meddling against Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe and the new ANC leadership's frenzied campaign to head off the corruption charges against Zuma and railroad him into the Union Buildings. Amid this unprecedented challenge to the Constitution's core values, Mabandla was nowhere to be seen.
A small point in her favour was this year's enactment of the Sexual Offences Amendment Bill, which may have disappointed activists but modernised the statutory treatment of rape and the Child Justice Bill.
Not surprisingly, Mabandla has done nothing in her new portfolio. She is patently unsuited to the oversight of major state enterprises such as Eskom and Denel and it is a racing certainty that she will be put out to pasture after next year's election.
But the decision to appoint her, rather than a heavyweight, to public enterprises raises interesting questions about the future of that portfolio. With the departure of empire-builder and senior 'Mbeki-ite” Alec Erwin, there is strong speculation that it will be parcelled out among line ministries (Eskom, for example, would fall under minerals and energy) and partly outsourced.
Minister of Science and Technology
Grade: C+ (2007: A)
Science and technology functions better than most ministries, but 2008 has been a difficult year for Mosibudi Mangena. It climaxed with the breakdown of Africa's only radio wave telescope, the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory, last month.
There are other unwelcome reminders of the limits to the ministry's powers. South Africa has no ability to launch satellites, making the country dependent on strangers. An agreement has just been signed with Russia to launch Stellenbosch University's environment-monitoring Sumbandila satellite in late March from Kazakhstan.
But because of last year's mysterious Russian refusal to allow the 80kg satellite to go up with a ballistic missile from a navy submarine, South Africa's satellite programme is three years behind schedule. The satellite is supposed to monitor disasters—not be one.
On the learning front Mangena has been unable to persuade colleagues in the education department to keep South Africa in the respected Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Evidence that South African classrooms could not produce competent scientists and mathematicians was so embarrassing that the government decided to duck the study altogether.
The ministry's vaunted 'chairs of excellence” campaign has been rocked by bitter complaints. Academics relate stories of indifferent ministry employees who only want to know about racial breakdowns, not research. The idea was to create space for new researchers, but most chairs have recognised people who were already doing research and supervising students.
In addition, the bureaucracy required by the Public Finance Management Act has often alienated the ministry's biggest supporters—science centres and festivals, researchers and teachers.
2008 Cabinet report card: Part Two