Editorial: Halt DG merry-go-round

South Africans who deal with bureaucracy often blame its apparent paralysis, or at least lethargy, on corruption, incompetence or laziness, but neglect a frequently more corrosive ailment that one might call structural failure.

To be sure, there are departments and ministries that function well, or as well as can be expected given their huge, almost impossible tasks in very trying circumstances — but the bulk often seem to have either imploded or come to a grinding halt.

When there are five directors general of government departments on suspension, as there are now, there have to be questions raised about whether those departments are still able to function efficiently and effectively. The conflict between (and the contradictory accounts of events given by) the minister of social services, Bathabile Dlamini, and her former director general is worrying. Dlamini is facing a judicial inquiry into the social grants debacle, one outcome of which was the rupture between her and her director general.

In this instance, as in others, one is inclined to blame the minister — because she has a history of high-handed behaviour and refusal to account. Directors general are all too frequently the people holding ministers in line, or at least keeping their noses to the grindstone of governance, something that may be hard to do when the minister is busy doing factionalist party work on behalf of a presidential hopeful.

It was reported this week that Minister of Public Service and Administration Faith Muthambi had served three senior officers with notices of suspension: the department’s director general, the deputy director general responsible for administration, and the chief financial officer. It was claimed that they stood in the way of some of her expensive plans for the department, including izimbizo and roadshows. It sounds like they were just doing their job.

So far this year, the directors general of agriculture, water affairs and home affairs have been placed on suspension. Court challenges are afoot, and some dirt is coming out — the agriculture director general, for instance, says he lost his job because he wouldn’t sign off on a dodgy contract. We shall see where that goes. But in the meantime, can the government legitimately claim that these departments are functioning properly, if at all?

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Roads flooded, buildings washed away in latest Durban downpour

No deaths have been reported after mudslides caused by heavy weekend rains

Nthikeng Mohlele comes up short with ‘The Discovery of Love’

The talented novelist Nthikeng Mohlele’s debut short-story collection lacks the vitality that makes short stories magical

What is at the root of white anxiety in post-apartheid...

Some white people think any discussion of racism or its legacy is an attempt to shame or condemn them for the ‘sin’ of their whiteness

OPINION| ANC’s socialist thinking is crushing South Africa’s future

The Cold War ended more than three decades ago. That period of history showed that socialism, at a country scale, is unsustainable

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…