/ 30 July 2012

Pressure grows on Zuma to act against Motshekga

President Jacob Zuma has defended Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga from calls by NEC members for her to be fired.
President Jacob Zuma has defended Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga from calls by NEC members for her to be fired.

Following weekend newspaper reports that the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) had called for a "frank" discussion to be held on the matter, the ANC Youth League on Sunday went a step further, calling for Motshekga to be axed from her post as basic education minister.

"As our deployed cadre has been unable to protect our future and the aspiration to open the doors of learning and teaching, we call on minister Motshekga to do the honourable thing and resign," league spokesperson Khusela Sangoni-Khawe told the Mail & Guardian on Sunday.

Sangoni-Khawe said the matter was indicative of administrative bungling on the minister's part.

"Tenders, service provider issues or bureaucratic bungles should never deny our young people, our very future, an opportunity to education. To do so, makes a mockery of our hard-won freedom and the future of our nation," she said.

According to the Sunday Times, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe had warned at the party's NEC meeting on Saturday that the ANC "could not afford 'to be found wanting in dealing with crisis points in society'."

Zuma reportedly defended Motshekga from calls by NEC members for her to be fired. He is likely loath to remove her ahead of the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung, where he hopes to be re-elected as the party's leader, because Motshekga is also the leader of the ANC Women's League – a powerful voting bloc within the party.

Pushing Zuma out
And without the support of the ANC Youth League, which has made it clear that it wants Zuma out of the driver's seat, the president may well feel he needs all the help he can get.

If Zuma were to act against Motshekga, it seems he would run into immediate trouble from the women's league.

"The ANC Women's League gives minister Motshekga our full support during this difficult time and will continue to do so in the future," Troy Martens, ANC Women's League spokesperson told the M&G, suggesting Motshekga should not be held personally responsible for the textbook saga.

"We understand there may have been instances of sabotage that resulted in the non-delivery of textbooks," said Martens. "We hope the ongoing investigation yields positive results in that it roots out any rotten elements in the department of basic education."

The president may have a way out of his bind, however. With Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma headed to Addis Ababa to chair the African Union Commission, Zuma might find the prospect of shuffling Motshekga into her vacant portfolio enticing, as it would both appease those calling for her head, as well as placate her supporters.

This remains in the realm of speculation, though, as Zuma's stance on the textbook scandal has so far seemed almost indifferent. The presidency has commissioned an investigation into the matter but Zuma himself has been criticised for not appearing to take the debacle seriously enough.

Overlooking the issue
"It's scary how Zuma is just overlooking this issue," Ebrahim Fakir, political analyst at the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa, told the M&G. "He appears not to be too troubled and he needs to realise how badly this is projecting onto his presidency."

"Either way this thing is making the president look extremely bad. Whether it is him simply being blasé about the whole debacle or trying to cover up and protect those guilty of corruption or maladministration, his image is being damaged the longer he doesn't take action," Fakir added.

Fakir added the longer Zuma did not act, the worse it made the president look.

"He claimed to be the man to take us back to basics, when he was criticised for not having the vision of a Thabo Mbeki, but to now disappoint like this with something as basic as textbook delivery, it makes it seem as though he is pre-occupied with other things," Fakir said.

But, there are suggestions Zuma is not acting out of the ordinary. "We don't have a culture of simply firing ministers when they perform badly in South Africa," said Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg on Sunday. "It didn't happen during the Mandela administration and it certainly didn't happen under Mbeki, so we shouldn't be surprised it is not happening now."

But perhaps there is a shift going on within both the ANC and the government. At its recent policy conference, the party mooted a "step aside" approach to officials caught up in allegations of wrongdoing. And on Sunday Obed Bapela, the performance deputy minister in the presidency, told a Moral Regeneration Movement event that public officials who know they had erred should admit their mistakes and vacate their positions.

But so far this trend in party and state thinking has seemed to apply only to officials personally accused of misdeeds such as fraud or corruption, and does not extend to leaders taking responsibility for debacles that have occurred under their watch. The pressure remains on Zuma to fire Motshekga, as there is no sign that she will fall on her own sword.