Voices

The good, the bad and the ugly in Cabinet

2015-05-19 08:50

Safe hands

The safe hands are Cabinet veterans who do not lurch from policy to policy and whose portfolios reflect a predictable coherence. Like Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who is not faddish. With her deputy, Enver Surty, she is establishing a system for public schooling that can pay dividends over the medium term.

Pupils are tested regularly. And while infrastructure gaps are headline-grabbing, the minister’s school-building programme, Asidi, is under-heralded. As of this week, 106 new schools had been built.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi can say the damndest things. For example, he will appeal a successful right-to-die judgment because he believes it will encourage people to prematurely kill their loved ones to collect on insurance.

Or he rails against lawyers who represent patients in medical negligence claims. But his cleanup of clinics and hospitals is the first significant effort we have seen – and he is a passionate advocate of public health.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is Cabinet’s man of truth: his policy speeches are scrubbed down paeans to clear speak. The economy is struggling, he says, and it will not grow at more than 2%. Austerity measures are in place.

Big spenders

This week’s big spender is Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, who announced a R23 billion injection for black industrialists (manufacturers) funded by the Industrial Development Corporation, which he oversees.

The second prize goes to Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, who this week said the state would extend social grants to young people who remain in school after the age of 18.

She said this would only include targeted children, according to the government news agency. “Is poverty sustainable?” the minister asked in reply to questions about how much bigger the social safety net in South Africa could grow given the declining fiscus.

The minister added that South Africa’s child grant was recognised by the World Bank as the fifth-best social safety net in the world.

Meanwhile, Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane also complained that her extensive portfolio of international engagements and agreements was not sufficiently funded.

Rising stars

Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has effectively built a solar and wind energy market throughout the country. It is the best news of this Cabinet’s term.

And, while the president is stalling the release of the Marikana report, Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has overseen the construction of 4 000 houses in mining towns. A lack of housing around mines is combustible.

Land is the story of the second term of President Jacob Zuma and he has an able helmsman in Land Minister Gugile Nkwinti. Nkwinti is energetic about his portfolio. And realistic. He has finessed restrictions on the size of farms in negotiations with industry.

Equally passionate is Small Business Minister Lindiwe Zulu. She is continuously lobbying for small business and, while government has not yet managed to pay small businesses in 30 days, there is progress. She is unfairly tainted only by her statement on Somalian trade secrets. This week, a survey showed that South Africans’ entrepreneurial zeal is growing.

Hot seats

The minister in charge of local government, Pravin Gordhan, has taken on a Sisyphean task. “It is clear,” he said this week, “that local government is the crucible in which the complex processes of development, governance, transformation of life and living conditions are taking place daily.”

Gordhan banned mayors from buying expensive wheels. And he has 58% of municipalities now reporting regularly on a set of performance indicators. The number of councils spending their infrastructure grants properly has doubled – important in the face of the 2016 local government election that will be fought on infrastructure. In the year ahead, he will have his work cut out as municipal bosses and mayors spend to stay in power.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown is faced with one basket case parastatal after the next. Other than the Airports Company of SA, can you name one that is not a mess from hell? It explains why Brown often looks harassed and angry. At least she’s honest about what she faces and does not gloss over problems.

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi is going to miss the biggest deadline of her political career by more than a mile. Our country is nowhere near ready for the June global deadline to switch to digital TV transmission. A large part of her team at the government spin machine, the Government Communication and Information System, has declared unilateral independence and taken refuge in the Union Buildings. At the SABC, chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng is conducting his own orchestra.

Announcement junkies

President Zuma narrowly pipped Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba to this prime spot. This practice defines government as a series of announcements that win plaudits on the day but are not really borne out in good governance if history is to be the judge.

This week, the president staffed a youth task team with 14 deputy ministers, “responsible for coordinating and championing interventions to promote youth development across government”. I guess you have to find something for all the deputy ministers to do – South Africa has one of the largest layers of deputies in the world. One day they may shoot the sheriff, so best to put them in task teams.

Gigaba managed two big announcements in a week. He launched the Moetapele Initiative to turn home affairs centres into “model offices”. Then he launched the SA Migrants Awards – for the best non-national working in South Africa and the best South African working in another African country.

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August 18 2019