/ 3 November 2010

Experts cautious on Mkhize’s appointment

Skills sector specialists canvassed by the Mail & Guardian are in the dark about the appointment of the new Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training but are hopeful her appointment will benefit the sector.

President Jacob Zuma on Sunday appointed Hlengiwe Mkhize to the position as one of nine changes to his Cabinet. Mkhize was formerly deputy minister of correctional services.

Mkhize has no recent education experience, but spent 11 years as a lecturer, at both the University of Zululand and at Wits, before taking up various other positions in civil society and government. These include a stint with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and three years as South Africa’s ambassador to The Netherlands.

Hlengiwe’s roots lie in community activism dating back to her involvement in student politics and in addition to being chair of the Peace Commission of the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID) she was also vice president of the Member States at the International Criminal Court from 2006 to 2008.

Making his announcement on Sunday, Zuma hinted that Mkhize’s appointment could be aimed at boosting government’s commitment to strengthening the skills sector.

Joy Papier, head of the UWC Further Education and Training Institute, told the Mail & Guardian that while she has no personal knowledge of Mkhize she is glad that an appointment has been made.

“This is critical portfolio and even though she might not have intimate knowledge of the skills sector there is lots of policy of the table so hopefully she will be able to come in and implement it.

“What is more of an issue for me is that the department moves quickly to beef up capacity at all levels. It is a new department so it is important that all portfolio’s are properly staffed.”

Her view was echoed by Alan Hammond, the publisher of the Skills Universe website.

“I’m not familiar with who she is but I am glad the department has taken steps to beef up its capacity. It’s too early to say whether she will be focussing exclusively on the skills sector but it’s a move in the right direction,” he said.

“As to her not having direct experience in the skills sector, I am not too worried as there are structures in place to provide guidance. Between the department’s advisers and structures like the National Skills Authority she should be able to manage without specialised knowledge. However, there are still other key vacancies in the department that need to be addressed and the departure of the director general is also a blow.”

Government’s main avenues for skills development and dealing with youth unemployment are Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and the sector education and training authorities (Seta). Recent figures suggest that more than 50% of our 18- to 24-year-olds are not in education, training or work.

Minister Blade Nzimande recently held an FET colleges summit and a separate skills summit to address what could be the most significant governance change affecting education and training for 10 years: the bringing together under one department, after last year’s elections, of Setas (previously under the eye of the labour department) and FET colleges (previously under the education department and in particular provincial departments).