Concern has grown over the appointment of President Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Thuthukile, to the position of chief of staff at the department of telecommunications at the age of 25, earning her a salary of nearly a million rand a year.
Public opinion has been split over the news, broken by the Mail & Guardian on Friday, with some calling for an end to nepotism, while others have insisted that Thuthukile deserved the job given her qualifications.
Now the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is seeking clarity on the matter. Its national spokesperson Marius Redelinghuys is planning to submit written questions to Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele by the end of the week.
“Was it advertised? If not, why not? What criteria was set for filling this position, and what influenced the consideration? If it was based on the CV, I’d like to know what other CVs were looked at,” Redelinghuys told the M&G.
The department of public administration (DPSA) meanwhile has told the M&G it would look at the issue more thoroughly if it was “referred to us,” according to DPSA minister Collins Chabane’s spokesperson Brent Simons.
“Off the cuff: if proper procedures were followed and there were no technical problems with the interview process itself there should be nothing wrong with the appointment,” said Simons.
No rules broken
In an interview on Monday morning on Talk Radio 702, Chabane defended Cwele’s choice.
“If the minister is comfortable, and the department feels comfortable, I think they should be able to proceed.”
Chabane said that he wasn’t suggesting that people should like the appointment, paid for by South African taxpayers, adding: “I don’t think there has been a rule which has been broken.”
Of the R1-million annual salary for Zuma, Chabane said it was a moral issue, not a legal one.
“The appointment itself, and the legal procedures themselves, they are most likely to be correct,” Chabane said, adding that, legally speaking, the minister is entitled to appoint a person in the manner in which he did.
The issue has proven to be a divisive one, with even opinions in the DA differing slightly. Redelinghuys’s fellow national spokesperson Phumzile van Damme was more cautious on the matter.
“I don’t know Thuthukile Zuma from a bar of soap, but a lot of young people will be given an opportunity because their bosses see talent in them.”
Talent for the job
Thuthukile worked for Cwele as a public liaison officer in his previous department, the State Security Agency, “for just under a year”, according to state security spokesperson Brian Dube. She moved with Cwele to telecommunications after her father announced his new cabinet in May.
While Thuthukile has an honours degree in Anthropology and thus meets the academic qualifications for the job, she does not have “extensive management experience” required by job adverts for the position seen by the M&G.
But van Damme believed that this could have been overcome if a candidate was particularly successful.
“She might not have the experience but she may have the talent to do the job,” said van Damme.
Thuthukile and her department refused to justify the appointment when contacted by the M&G. Departmental spokesperson Siya Qoza said only that the appointment was “consistent with the rules and regulations governing the appointment of people in government ministries”. Thuthukile put the phone down on the M&G and refused to respond when asked to describe how she had worked to fastrack her career.
Van Damme pointed out that current DA parliamentarian Geordin Hill-Lewis served as the DA party leader’s chief of staff in 2009, at the age of 22. “I know a lot of young people like Geordin who applied for jobs like this and did them well.”
However this was not a government position.
Thuthukile’s position was a political appointment, which is the norm for personnel within the smaller ministry staff, as opposed to the wider department. Ministers have the prerogative to make these appointments without going through the normal processes, thus it appears the post was never advertised. However, several departments do advertise such posts to ensure they attract the best-qualified candidates.
Redelinghuys noted that public money was still on the line.
“It may not necessarily be a public service position in terms of the the Public Service Act. However, even having said that, because it’s a position that the public foots the bill for there should be still be criteria and guidelines and processes for filing such a position.”
Thuthukile is the youngest of the president’s four daughters with ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former Cabinet minister who is currently chairperson of the African Union Commission.
Shortly after completing her undergraduate degree in 2011, she worked – or “volunteered”, according to the ANC – at the ruling party’s headquarters. She subsequently joined the State Security Agency and spent less than a year there, before being appointed to her current position.
The University of the Witwatersrand confirmed that Thuthukile graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in April 2011 and received an honours degree in anthropology in June 2012.
A chief of staff can be a proxy for the minister himself, as a ministerial representative, if delegated by the minister.
Depending on the size of the ministry, the number of employees under the chief of staff can vary between 10 and 20 people, including ministerial spokespersons and very experienced staffers.
Even though ministerial advisers report directly to the minister, in some ministries chiefs of staff call the shots and regulate the advisers’ access to the principal. Depending on their relationship with the minister, some chiefs of staff even write speeches and act as de facto chief advisers to the politicians.
Cwele is obliged to answer questions submitted to him via the parliamentary process within 10 days.