Someone told President Jacob Zuma that reshuffling your Cabinet often is a good thing, so he’s shaken up things four times.
In the game of political musical chairs, only 47% of his original ministers are in the same portfolio since he took office in 2009.
The first reshuffle was refreshing – it marked a sea change from his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who left people in office to atrophy because he didn’t want to be seen to be responding to the chattering classes.
President Zuma did the right thing by axing the antimoderniser Dina Pule from the communications portfolio. But on the whole the latest reshuffle will not accelerate better governance as the president promised in his short statement.
It’s not that new Communications Minister Yunus Carrim is not a good politician. As Carol Paton wrote in financial daily Business Day this week, he
is a sea change from Pule, being energetic and ascetic.
Lechesa Tsenoli, who is now the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, is also a hard-working hand. Connie September is a unionist with a long history in the liberation movement.
But incumbents to key Cabinet positions are ill-suited to the 21st century and reveal how the ANC has failed, in the main, to shape a modern executive.
University of Pretoria political analyst Mzukisi Qobo says South Africa should take a page from Kenya’s book, where all members of Parliament must have degrees.
The Cabinet features 18 technocrats, many drawn from business.
In Rwanda, the pattern is the same and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has called back big business leaders from the diaspora to head economic, communications and trade portfolios.
We should be more African about our Cabinet making.
As President Zuma says, the governing party has not done badly in its first two decades in power. But we are stuck now.
The Cabinet and the large layer of deputy ministers is bloated and expensive. The civil service has ballooned in the Zuma administration, all
of which has blown the era of savings and taken us into perilous public finance waters.
Energy policy is muddled as this week’s announcement that Medupi, the new power station, will not make its deadline.
Energetic Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba wiped egg deftly this week after promising that heads would roll if it did not come on stream by year-end.
And what about education, mineral resources, labour, transport and agriculture? All of these portfolios, on which our prosperity depends, are in trouble.
This is not because there is no political will, but because there’s a lack of technocratic skills. At this point, our Cabinet should be a careful blend of political allies and technocrats. The era demands it.
We are out of the state formation and transformation imperative and into the era of building a modern and capable state, as set out in the National Development Plan.
Those departments with technically proficient political heads are doing well: health under Aaron Motsoaledi; science and technology under Derek Hanekom; home affairs under Naledi Pandor; and trade and industry under Rob Davies.
Departments like social development, home affairs and the treasury have encouraged and attracted the best skills, so they have depth and technical competence.
But those upon which our prosperity and wellbeing most crucially depend suffer the twin problems of poor ministers and bureaucracies staffed with cadres.
Something has to give if our country is to grow as needed.
Either the policy of cadre deployment must end to ensure departments attract top skills, not the leftover cadres who did not make it on to three sets of lists, or the president is going to have to blend in managerialist skills when he appoints his post-election Cabinet next year.
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