/ 13 November 2009

Hogan must go for her own good

The ANC should consider firing Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan. Better still, she should resign before she loses all self-respect.

I say this not because I think she is incompetent but because she has lost the respect and confidence of many of her colleagues in government, as well as in the ANC. She is clearly bereft of political clout and no longer in a position to enforce her own decisions.

I listened to her in Parliament trying to defend Eskom chief executive Jacob Maroga and her voice was lacking conviction. I subsequently watched her play a spectator role as events that culminated in the resignation of Bobby Godsell and the apparent, perhaps short-lived, retention of Maroga unfolded around her. Maroga, I think, held on to the position just to make a political statement and will soon leave anyway.

And it’s not just Eskom. Hogan is in charge of South African Airways, Transnet, Eskom, Denel, SA Express, among others, but she seems to be losing control. SAA, the SABC and Transnet are led by acting chief executives and it is evident that once she has to make permanent appointments all hell will break loose with lobby groups trying to impose their candidates.

Since Julius Malema complained about a lack of representation of Africans in the Cabinet economic cluster, it has become clear that there is a very strong lobby within the ANC that believes Africans are being undermined in government. It is the same lobby that stood up tenaciously for Transnet Freight Rail chief executive Siyabonga Gama when he was suspended by the Transnet board at the height of his bid for promotion to chief executive of the entire group. Remember that it was Jeff Radebe who said in effect: Gama is our candidate and he will become the chief of Transnet. It was a clear violation of ministerial boundaries; Radebe as justice minister should have no say in public enterprises appointments. But Radebe felt no scruples because he knows who is really in charge — and it is certainly not Hogan.

The next question is whether Hogan is treated with such disdain because she is white. I would say not, considering that her predecessor, Alec Erwin, although he was not a great minister, was a powerful Cabinet operator who kept tight control over his portfolio. So is it her fault or is it a function of ill-discipline within President Jacob Zuma’s ANC where everyone is allowed to run riot?

Perhaps the media should take some blame, not least because we consistently fail to recognise the effect that our choices have on the dynamics within the governing party.

President Thabo Mbeki used to insist that the media were out of touch with the opinions of ordinary South Africans. Of course the duty of the media is not to fall in love with popular politicians but to reflect on their work and hold them to account regardless of their popularity.

But too often we fail to understand that those we caricature, sneer at and look down upon in the media, we help to shape as national heroes.

I still vividly remember how most of the media wrote off Zuma pre-Polokwane, saying he was a spent force as a result of the personal tribulations he was facing. In those stories there was usually a minor footnote that said some diehards, particularly in the youth league, insisted that he would pull through. But he was essentially written off.

We saw the same phenomenon with Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, who was treated with similar disdain.

Personally, I remain relieved that he did not crack it as a Constitutional Court judge, but I cannot forget that while we read a flood of stories about some of his weird supporters, we did not say a word about the academics and judges who themselves were a forceful lobby actively campaigning against him.

Perhaps something similar happened with Gama and the error is in danger of being repeated with Maroga. So in uncritically embracing Hogan and knee-jerkedly laughing off the likes of Maroga we are popularising them.

In his new book, Poverty of Ideas, William Mervin Gumede warns against us being afraid to criticise, for fear of being labelled, or of us sugar-coating our criticism so as not to offend.

It is hard to disagree, but part of me does. Maybe I have read too much of novelist Somerset Maugham. His recurring theme is that “there is so much goodness in the worst of us and so much wickedness in the best of us”. I feel that we wave the hand of dismissal way too often and in the process do damage that we really have not counted on.