Give skilled technocrats places in the next cabinet
The next big news item in SA politics will be the composition of the cabinet of the sixth administration of the democratic era.
That is, unless there are further revelations of state capture, of conspiracies to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa or former DA leader Helen Zille’s twidrama (a drama played out on Twitter) continues.
If there is one guess that I would venture, it would be that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will be in the new cabinet.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious.
Ramaphosa has to hand a sop to the people in his own party who oppose him (Dlamini-Zuma has been linked with this faction) and he will bring more women into the new cabinet.
In both senses, she is an outstanding candidate.
A decision to include Dlamini-Zuma in the next cabinet – and this may well apply to all appointments – will be based on political considerations.
A case can be made for the inclusion of technocrats in the next cabinet.
In the simplest of terms, this would mean appointing someone because of the skills, experience, insights and sensibilities he or she has in his or her given portfolio.
I should add, in haste, that this is not a call for the retention of previous cabinet members just because they (now) have experience.
For the most part, the last cabinet included bargains struck with Jacob Zuma’s political allies in the ANC, Cosatu, the SACP, and any other actors and agents to whom he owed fealty or favours.
One example of the appointments Zuma made, which illustrates the point about the difference between technocrats and political appointees, is Blade Nzimande.
Zuma appointed him minister of higher education and training on May 11 2009 – let’s imagine he had some technical skills and insights – and he was kicked out by the former president after he (Nzimande) called for Zuma to step down.
At the stroke of a pen, on February 28 2018, Nzimande was minister of transport.
Nzimande’s first appointment was part of a bargain struck with the SACP, and because Zuma systematically shored up his power with political figures from his home province, KwaZulu-Natal.
The second appointment (by Ramaphosa) was to bring a sense of unity and stability to the ruling alliance after the fractious Zuma years – unless, of course, Nzimande had sound technical and institutional skills, and knowledge of transportation.
The same recycling of political figures is evident with Malusi Gigaba, who was deputy minister of home affairs (April 2004 – November 2010), and then minister of public enterprises (November 2010 – 2014).
It remains a mystery why he was appointed minister of finance by Zuma on March 31 2017, but he was sent back to home affairs in February 2018 and eventually resigned in November last year.
Dlamini-Zuma, too, went from one cabinet position to the other.
She has been minister of health, of foreign affairs, of home affairs and minister for planning, monitoring and evaluation.
The longest-serving cabinet minister is Jeff Radebe, who started out in public works (1994 – 1999), then went to public enterprises in 1999, onward to transport in 1994, until 2009, when Zuma appointed him minister of justice and constitutional development.
On February 26 2018 he became minister of energy.
The point I wish to make is that each one of these appointments was made for political reasons, which is probably fair.
If you win an election, you have the right to appoint a cabinet.
However, it is the ANC (especially the executive led by Zuma) that has brought the country to where we are – with due consideration for exogenous factors.
To recycle the same names and faces (and drawing from the same pool of politicians) cannot address the very deep structural and technical problems that beset the country.
Now would be the appropriate time to appoint technocrats to the cabinet.
Such appointees may have no “political constituency”, but they should be able to address some of the most urgent matters in the country.
Most urgent would be attracting domestic and foreign investment, job creation, improving the cost of doing business, turning around beleaguered state-owned enterprises, fixing education, healthcare, energy generation and distribution, etc.
They could achieve goals set by the president and be held accountable by parliament.
This would save any one of them the ignominy of reporting to a nomenklatura that is loyal only to “the party” or to “structures”.
Across time and place, technocrats have gotten a bad reputation.
But where or when countries have been gripped by multi-dimensional crises, there has always been a reach for technocrats.
As things stand, there are very few people on the ANC’s list whom one would swear has any sound technical, professional or even basic vocational skills.
If they did, they would expose themselves to the private sector.
They are on the ANC’s list for political reasons.
When it comes to solving the country’s problems, it might be a good thing to give technocrats a chance to correct things.