The dispute between Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and her bosses in the ANC has escalated to President Jacob Zuma’s doorstep as party insiders question why Zuma ignored a deployment committee decision to axe Muthambi during last month’s Cabinet reshuffle.
The public spat in the ANC comes as branch delegates at last week’s national general council (NGC) “hammered” government deployees who were seen to ignore party decisions and conduct themselves in a manner that suggested they were bigger than the party, according to those who attended the sessions.
Emboldened by the tone of discussions at the general council, ANC communications subcommittee head Jackson Mthembu publicly lashed Muthambi for not consulting with the ANC when taking decisions about government’s digital terrestrial television migration project.
Muthambi oversees the country’s set-top box tender, but it has missed the June 17 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union for the switchover.
Mthembu’s rebuttal of Muthambi prompted a sharp response from her in which she claimed that the digital migration policy was not up for reversal and was not even discussed at the NGC. Subsequently, the ANC issued a strongly worded ANC statement condemning Muthambi’s response as inaccurate. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe also laid into Muthambi for saying that she had consulted all stakeholders. Mantashe said the ANC was not a stakeholder but the ultimate boss of all ministers. Now her job hangs in the balance after defying the ANC by speaking without being mandated to and accusing Mthembu of lying.
There was also unhappiness from the SA Communist Party about Zuma’s reluctance to crack the whip on Muthambi, who is a close ally of SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Among those who were expected to be affected by last month’s Cabinet reshuffle were State Security Minister David Mahlobo (demotion), as well as Deputy Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo (promotion).
But Zuma shifted Ngoako Ramatlhodi from mineral resources to public service and administration, and appointed the little-known Mosebenzi Zwane to replace Ramatlhodi. Both Mahlobo and Muthambi survived.
A national executive committee (NEC) member of the ANC told City Press this week there was “a serious battle” involving Muthambi within the party. The NEC member, who is sympathetic to Muthambi, said the battle was about whether the 5 million set-top boxes expected to be procured by government for the digital migration programme should be encrypted.
The ANC, which is said to be “fed up” with Muthambi, is in favour of encryption because it believes it will open up the pay TV market and create room for competition. Cabinet took a decision early this year that the boxes should have a control system, but will not be encrypted. These boxes will be provided for free to citizens who cannot afford them.
A source said the decision on digital migration had “passed through Cabinet and was announced. Zuma was there and that means the ANC knew. It is reckless for the ANC to say she never briefed them if it went to Cabinet.”
Another ANC leader said Muthambi had anticipated that she would “get support from above” when she responded to Mthembu. The source said Muthambi and her group were “humiliated” by delegates at the general council and “lost the debate on the set-top boxes”.
“The thing with some government officials is they tend to think that because they do business with Zuma’s family, they have the ear of the president. That’s a mistake.”
A state official said Muthambi’s term in office was on the line.
“To go to the extent of showing disrespect is what angered the ANC. She felt the NEC was nothing. She is not even in the NEC. There are people in NEC that are senior to her,” said the source. City Press heard that the ANC deployment committee had wanted Mahlobo to be reshuffled and Dlodlo promoted. “That was the agreement, but everybody was caught by surprise,” said an ANC insider.
“This guy from the Free State [Zwane] was only to be seconded as the deputy minister to Dlodlo. That was the agreement at the deployment committee and the recommendation by Zuma.”
The plan with Mahlobo was either to “remove him and make him an ambassador or move him to another department that is less demanding”