Out of office, out of favour

The director general of the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department has quit the department after a bitter falling out with Minister Sicelo Shiceka.

A departmental spokesperson said Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela had resigned, but a source in the department said she was paid out to avert a bitter court battle with Shiceka.

The Mail & Guardian could not confirm information that she had been preparing to lay criminal charges about irregularities in the department. The circumstances of her departure remain unclear, though she stopped going to work last Friday.

Several staffers said that the minister and the director general had a poor relationship since Shiceka was appointed to the position in September last year. Shiceka replaced Sydney Mufamadi, who resigned in solidarity with former president Thabo Mbeki after his axing.

The fight is a throbbing reminder of an old headache—how government manages the relationship between new ministers and permanent bureaucrats.

Before taking office President Jacob Zuma promised civil servants that they need not fear that they would lose their jobs as a result of the transition.

Staff said that Shiceka and Msengana-Ndlela hardly ever met and that the minister often shot from the hip, making remarks that undermined the director general.

The deputy director general in the department, Elroy Africa, is now acting director general.

Shiceka’s spokesperson, Vuyelwa Qinga Vika, acknowledged the problems, saying that it was not an easy relationship.

When Shiceka was appointed minister by former president Kgalema Motlanthe in September last year, Msengana-Ndlela was on study leave at Warwick University in England. She arrived back in November to find the new minister in situ. Shiceka has brought in between 20 and 30 new people since assuming the portfolio, though his spokesperson denies that Shiceka purged Mufamadi loyalists in favour of Zuma-friendly staff.

Shiceka has gradually distanced himself from the work of his predecessor. In presenting his budget vote to Parliament this week the minister criticised the former department of local government and provincial affairs, saying its intervention in municipalities was technocratically driven, with inadequate political oversight and buy-in.

Shiceka said the department had primarily confined itself to a narrow focus on local government and did not address the underlying systemic and accountability problems.

“It did not resolve the fractures in intersphere relations as they relate to achieving cohesion and integrated development in municipal areas. The result has been a discordant choir producing dreadful music and not fulfilling the needs of its audience,” he said in his speech.

The department has achieved clean audits for the past seven years, but staffers said Shiceka downplayed this achievement, commenting “there was an obsession with clean audits in the department”.

Qinga Vika denied this, saying the minister has launched a project called “2014 clean audits” for all departments and local municipalities.

She said that Msengana-Ndlela left the department by mutual consent after discussion with the minister.

“As far as the minister knows, she wanted to pursue other opportunities outside government. But we cannot disclose the nature of the agreement because it was confidential. We are unaware of any criminal matter she was going to bring up,” she said.

Msengana-Ndlela, who worked for the department for seven years, refused to comment, saying she would do so only after she had seen the minister’s statement on the matter.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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