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Zuma’s top ministers: A thoroughly mixed bag

Jacob Zuma’s team is a mixture of star performers, retreaded failures, passionate activists and loyal lieutenants. We rate their chances based on past performance and departmental challenges


Angie Motshekga
Basic Education
Blade Nzimande
Higher Education

As long-serving bureaucrats try to figure out what two new education departments mean for personnel, office space and their work, analysts will be watching what the two new ministers put first: their political ambitions or the struggling education system.

Angie Motshekga, the new minister of basic education, and Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education and training, have earned their Cabinet posts on the strength of their allegiance to President Jacob Zuma.

Motshekga, president of the ANC Women’s League, had an unimpressive stint as Gauteng’s education minister. Once a leading education department, Gauteng has slipped and seems unable to contain the growing education crisis, particularly in township schools.

Earlier this year Motshekga, a former teacher, came under fire for choosing to attend Zuma’s appeal court case in Bloemfontein instead of the Council of Education Ministers meeting. This has prompted concerns that her main concern is upward mobility in the ANC.

Blade Nzimande
SACP secretary general Nzimande’s track record in education is more impressive. He was pivotal to overhauling apartheid education policies as the first chair of Parliament’s education committee but was overlooked as education minister in 1998.

Some analysts say he may become the most ‘ideological” education minister in post-apartheid South Africa. There are fears that he could be a ‘centraliser” and academics fear he might interfere in universities.

But Nzimande told the Mail & Guardian he was not ‘going to be a head prefect” and that ‘no one should be scared” unless they use autonomy and academic freedom to frustrate transformation. He said he wanted constructive engagement with the sector and ‘enjoyed a good debate”.

While the split was anticipated, planning has lagged behind. An inter-ministerial committee was set up this week to deal with ‘grey areas” in the next three to four months.

Early childhood development and schooling up to grade 12 fall under Motshekga and universities and further education and training (FET) technical colleges under Nzimande.

However, the FET directorate has historically dealt with schools from grades 10 to 12 and colleges and has units which have done cross-cutting work, for example, on the curriculum. These are considered ‘grey areas”.

The location of adult education has yet to be decided.

The labour department will also be affected, as sector education and training authorities (Setas) look likely to fall under Nzimande.

Former education minister Naledi Pandor opposed the split because of the need for coherence, but educationist Jonathan Jansen said this week that the size and complexity of the education system has made it unmanageable by a single minister. He said though officials dealing with schools and universities used to sit in one building and met every Friday, they did not appear to talk to one another.

Jansen said the challenge will be ‘whether there is the political will between the departments to plan together and this will depend on personalities.”

Otherwise, an acrimonious relationship could develop, as it had between the departments of labour and education. — Cornia Pretorius and Primarashni Gower


Gugile Nkwinti
Rural development and land reform

Tina Joemat-Pettersson
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries

Land activists and organised agriculture are enthusiastic about the ministers who will preside over their sectors for the next five years — Gugile Nkwinti and Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

Nkwinti says his immediate priority is to speed up land reform. He will also emphasise sustainable agricultural development of rural communities to mitigate unemployment and poverty.

Zuma’s new administration has prioritised rural development for the next five years. Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Nkwinti said his department would introduce new laws to improve land redistribution programmes — an indication that the new administration is likely to push to pass the controversial Expropriation Bill that stalled in Parliament last year.

During his tenure as Eastern Cape agriculture minister, he initiated programmes, which created employment for thousands of local communities.

His provincial department received awards for management, leadership and excellence in participatory governance through extensive stakeholder engagement. It was one of the few in the Eastern Cape to receive an unquali­fied audit opinion from the auditor general last year.

Land activists and farmers were ecstatic this week that the poorly performing and controversial Lulu Xingwana had been removed from land and agricultural matters. ‘She has finally left the building,” a Western Cape activist said.

Experts were cautiously optimistic about the splitting of the former land affairs and agriculture ministry. They warned, however, that communication between the two ministries would have to be carefully coordinated to ensure that there was enough support for new landowners, which they said is severely lacking at the moment.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson
Agriculture representatives point to Joemat-Pettersson’s strong agricultural background as provincial minister. She is especially popular with farmers. For the past two years she has won the Farmers’ Weekly poll for best MEC.

Land activists are more cautious in welcoming her, citing her weak administration of the funds of the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development in the Northern Cape as an example of her not doing enough for emerging farmers.

She is on record as not supporting the Expropriation Bill — which the new administration might push. She has said the Bill is unconstitutional, in the process angering many of her fellow ANC land activists who believed the Bill should have been passed.

Blessing Karumbidza, new director of the Association for Rural Advancement, said he was worried about the appointment of Pieter Mulder as Joemat-Pettersson’s deputy. ‘It is a bold political move to demonstrate that the Zuma administration is prepared to involve everyone, but agriculture should not have been the place it was done,” he said. ‘We hope that Dr Mulder will not allocate most of his time to pushing the interests of the organised lobby in these sectors.”– Matuma Letsoalo and Yolandi Groenewald

Maite Nkoane-Mashabane
International Relations and Cooperation

President Jacob Zuma has chosen an unlikely figure as South Africa’s top diplomat, suggesting foreign affairs will not be high on his priority list.

Maite Nkoane-Mashabane
Former Limpopo housing minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane is seen as ‘the big shocker” of the new Cabinet, after foreign affairs (renamed ‘international relations and cooperation”) was widely expected to go to former deputy president Baleka Mbete or former housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

For 10 years Nkoane-Mashabane served as ambassador to Malaysia and India, but she has not served as an official in the department.

After her stint in India, while her diplomat-husband Norman Mashabane was accused of sexual harassment as ambassador to Indonesia, she returned to serve as Limpopo’s housing and local government minister.

She admitted in an interview that her recall surprised her. ‘I was wondering — from international relations to housing? What did I do wrong?”
After Polokwane she served on the ANC subcommittee on international relations. The committee’s chairperson, Ebrahim Ebrahim, now serves as her deputy.

In foreign affairs circles she is relatively unknown and some ANC sources believe her appointment shows the portfolio will be downgraded.

Zuma’s message is apparently that domestic issues are paramount. Nkoane-Mashabane agreed that Zuma wants a balance between domestic and foreign affairs. ‘Government’s 15-year review says we must now deal with the domestic challenges.”

It has been suggested that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe may be saddled with more foreign affairs responsilibities, becoming the face of South Africa in diplomatic circles.

Nkoane-Mashabane sees her key task as being to inform people about her department’s role, as ‘South Africans don’t care what this department does.”

Zimbabwe will feature on the agenda, with South Africa encouraging investment and aid, but ‘we will not be our brother’s keeper”.

She welcomed the decision to open borders to Zimbabwean migrants because her experience as Limpopo local government minister brought her close to the problem. She believes the decision should have been taken earlier.

Nkoane-Mashabane won the national award for best provincial housing minister, although detractors say some houses she built have crumbled.

As Limpopo’s local government minister, said the DA’s Limpopo leader, Desirée van der Walt, ‘she failed to rise above factional politics when municipalities were engaged in them after the Polokwane squabbles. Political purge was her practice.” — Mandy Rossouw


Buyelwa Sonjica

The environment portfolio might have been strengthened with the inclusion of water in the same ministry, but environmentalists are dismayed by the appointment of former energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica.

‘It is actually shocking,” a prominent anti-mining activist said. ‘Under her tenure as mining minister lots of mining permits were issued in sensitive areas and the fear is that she will bring that baggage to the environment [ministry].”

Buyelwa Sonjica Critics say that Sonjica is now the authority to whom concerned parties should appeal to stop mining in sensitive areas. So ‘the same person who issued the licences will now hear the appeals”, said one. ‘Talk about being player, referee and coach all at once.”

Speaking after her appointment, Sonjica said she would try to walk a tightrope between development and the environment. This sparked fears that her tenure might be more pro-development than those of her predecessors.

But by far the sharpest concern has come from climate-change lobby groups, who are worried about Sonjica being thrown into the deep end at the climate change conference at the end of the year. Former minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk had established an assured presence at such conferences — often described as complicated diplomatic bunfights — and many organisations had been looking to him to provide leadership.

Van Schalkwyk, now tourism minister, confirmed this week that he would not be going to Copenhagen to negotiate the critical treaty. His spokesperson, Riaan Aucamp, played down fears that South Africa would lose its way, saying the department had a great team in place.

But it was unclear whether one of the team’s brains, ministerial adviser Sean Vorster, would follow his boss to tourism.

There is also a concern that the migration of fisheries from the environment department to agriculture has taken the emphasis off conserving South Africa’s marine resources and has send a message that our fisheries are a commodity to be used.

Experts say the move will certainly drive aquaculture, but that the environment department will not be around to check the many environmental pitfalls that may arise in the industry. — Yolandi Groenewald


Aaron Motsoaledi

A collapsing public health system, demoralised health workers and the implementation of a complex national health insurance scheme loom large among the challenges facing new Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Acceptance by the country’s health community could be another. Health activists are disappointed that President Jacob Zuma has not retained Barbara Hogan to lead efforts against public health crises — not least HIV/Aids.

With her strong financial background and inclusive style, Hogan became popular during her short tenure. Many in the health field responded cautiously to former Limpopo education minister Motsoaledi’s appointment.

The Treatment Action Campaign warned that a strong financial background, which Hogan has, is essential in managing the health portfolio, and that Motsoaledi must closely monitor the often overspent budgets of provincial health departments.

The TAC voiced concern about the government’s under-budgeting for antiretroviral drugs, which interrupted treatment in the Free State earlier this year. Free Staters are dying as a result of this ‘catastrophe”, it said.

Aaron Motsoaledi Motsoaledi’s performance will also be judged by his handling of negotiations around the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD), the forum in which state health workers’ salaries are renegotiated.

A recent breakdown in the talks prompted an illegal strike by doctors demanding pay rises of between 50% and 70% to give them parity with other public servants.

Ashraf Coovadia, of Johannesburg’s Rahina Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, warned that unless this topped Motsoaledi’s agenda there will be ‘dire consequences for an already strained healthcare system”.

One of Motsoaledi’s toughest tasks will be to implement the ANC’s controversial National Health Insurance Scheme, which could double the costs for South Africans with private health insurance.

Newly appointed director of hospital services Eddie Mhlanga, who has studied and worked with Motsoaledi, said the new minister is up to the challenge: ‘He’s a superb implementer, speaks his mind and listens to what people have to say.”

The president of the Democratic Nurses Organisation of South Africa, Thembeka Gwagwa, also studied with Motsoaledi and is a fan.

‘He’s extremely energetic and accessible,” she said. ‘We hope he’ll give nurses the respect they deserve — we’re the backbone of the health system.”

Motsoaledi served as Limpopo’s education minister from 1994-1998 and again from 2004-2009, and as health and agriculture minister. Education insiders generally speak well of him, but one also commented that he is ‘sometimes a bit of a loose cannon”. — Mia Malan


Edna Molewa
Social development

Edna Molewa

Former social development minister Zola Skweyiya was a hard worker who served the people of South Africa with compassion and distinction. Questions are being asked about whether Edna Molewa has what it takes to follow him.

Molewa is widely seen as having failed as premier of North West, which saw little infrastructure development or poverty alleviation during her tenure.
Her relations with provincial ANC leaders were marked by acrimony and she was a late convert to the Zuma cause. Her ANC colleagues insist, however, that she is forceful and works well in a collective.

Molewa’s ministerial priority is to implement the national anti-poverty strategy, bringing together the government, business, labour and civil society.

She said this week that she also wants to help children in conflict with the law by placing them in rehabilitation centres and to intensify the fight against substance abuse, which is spreading to rural areas. ‘The [Central] Drug Authority that we have in the department is really toothless,” she said.

Civil society organisations accepted Molewa’s appointment, but warned that she faces a ‘mammoth task” and they will expect a great deal from her.

‘Income support for the unemployed and working poor through a Basic Income Grant is fundamental,” said the Black Sash’s Elroy Paulus.

Government’s inter-departmental task team is discussing a work seekers grant for unemployed adults, but this is only likely to be introduced in 2013.

Paulus said Molewa should ensure that key proposals are implemented, including a chronic illness grant for people with HIV/Aids, epilepsy, diabetes and other chronic diseases and the ‘harmonised assessment tool”, which will allow people with disabilities to receive free healthcare.

Under Molewa’s watch social development in the North West experienced serious problems. In a presentation to Parliament’s finance committee last year her former social development minister said the province was struggling to fulfil its mandate because local authorities did not know their social development role and state programmes did not meet the needs of the people.

Molewa said that until a proper model was found for helping the poor, the government’s high social-grants expenditure was unavoidable. Because of high unemployment and job cuts grants are now supporting entire families.

Molewa, chairperson of ANC Women’s League in the North West, survived infighting in the province’s ANC, which nearly saw her vacate the premiership before her term ended.

She has been in government since 1994, beginning as an MP and serving the North West in three portfolios — tourism and environment, economic development and agriculture — before becoming premier. — Mmanaledi Mataboge


Nathi Mthethwa

Nathi Mthethwa

Siyabonga Cwele
State Security (formerly intelligence)
Jeff Radebe

It is significant — and worrying — that in the key security portfolios Zuma has chosen people whose chief attribute is their loyalty to him.

It is also telling that the most crucial — intelligence and policing — were selected under Kgalema Motlanthe, who in other areas retained a number of Mbeki appointees. Sinister, too, is the decision to give the intelligence portfolio the Orwellian title of ‘ministry of state security”.

‘The name change of the ministry does not bode well for those of us attached to the idea of openness, transparency and a democratic intelligence dispensation,” said Lauren Hutton of the Institute for Security Studies.

  • Siyabonga Cwele, who served as chair of Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence, has hardly distinguished himself since taking over from Ronnie Kasrils. He has suppressed the intelligence review report commissioned by Kasrils to look at systemic problems within the services — and he has not uttered a word about the intelligence leaks that not only let Jacob Zuma off the hook but have exposed how the intelligence services were spying on their president.
  • Cwele, while gentlemanly, is a traditional securocrat. The fact that he was low on the ANC’s election list means he does not have an independent power base and will do as he’s told. His wife’s association with a drug mule adds to his vulnerability.

  • Nathi Mthethwa has also hardly made a splash. His chief project following his appointment eight months ago appears to have been to manage the dissolution of the Scorpions and the creation of the new police directorate of priority crime investigation. While the skills built up within the Scorpions have bled away, the new boss of the directorate is still to be named.
  • Mthethwa has also butted heads with the existing police top management, notably acting police commissioner Tim Williams and acting crime intelligence boss Mulangi Mphego, both regarded as being too close to Mbeki. It seems unlikely that either will be purged without a fight.

    Rumours that former defence intelligence chief Mojo Motau is a candidate to replace Jackie Selebi as police commissioner (Selebi’s contract expires in June) add to the perception of the re-militarisation of the police.

  • Jeff Radebe, while a trained lawyer, is a party hack whose most cultivated skill has been the art of political survival. He replaces the respected Enver Surty, demoted to deputy minister, perhaps for giving Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe such short shrift.
  • Sam Sole

    Zuma-ites eye higher tariff walls, Page 14

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