President or PR genius?

The latest Cabinet reshuffle by Jacob Zuma reeks of e-toll accountability avoidance.

Read time 4min 00sec

What a splendid childhood I would have had if Jacob Zuma had been my parent when I was growing up.

It may sound strange, and yes, I would have many, many siblings to fight with for his love and attention, but just imagine it - every time I forgot to do my chores, or broke a vase, or crashed the family car, he would just insert a new child to deal with the repercussions and slot me into a clean, new play area.

Nyanda didn't have to answer for his French tips, because the DOC wasn't his problem anymore.

Farzana Rasool, IT in government editor, ITWeb

He has a soft, parental nature. That would explain it, right? That would explain the three Cabinet reshuffles in the last three years?

What other possible reason could there be? True, he may have fired some nasty children in the process, but mostly, he just changed the activity groups.

Abandoning messes

The president yesterday announced another Cabinet shake-up. He moved several ministers around and filled a few gaps. He had to fill the position that was left empty by the passing of public service and administration minister Roy Padayachie, in May.

Padayachie took over from controversial minister of communications Siphiwe Nyanda in Zuma's first reshuffle, towards the end of 2010. Once that department seemed to have found its feet and a proper direction, Zuma - in October - moved Padayachie to public service and administration to take over from complacent minister Richard Baloyi, during the second reshuffle.

I understand the changes give new people a chance to step in and right the problems arising at the various departments, but it also gives outgoing ministers a chance to walk away from their messes.

Ministry manicures

The major problem with this is that the accountability link is broken and the public gets no answers as to why funds are so badly misused, or why service delivery is so poor.

New ministers say the problem preceded their term and the old ministers have already run far away, refusing to comment on portfolios that are no longer their own.

A prime example of this was in September, when an auditor-general's report highlighted irregular expenditure by the Department of Communications (DOC).

This comically included R11 000 for manicures and pedicures. The minister at the time of the revelation was Padayachie. However, it's not Padayachie's fingernails that looked bright and shiny. It turns out the treatments were had while military man Nyanda was still around.

So Padayachie was left with a mess that clearly didn't belong to him, and Nyanda didn't have to answer for his French tips, because the DOC wasn't his problem anymore.

E-toll debacle

The big, fat, red light flashing away in this latest reshuffle screams e-tolling, loud and clear.

The highly controversial system shook the country, with citizens outraged, and organised labour staging a massive nationwide protest against it.

The situation has escalated now that an anti-toll alliance has challenged the implementation of the system in court.

The main complaints around e-tolling are the lack of consultation that took place, the outrageously high operating costs, and the lack of a viable public transport alternative.

The heat was rising, and so Zuma removed his minister of transport from the line of fire.

As it is, Sibusiso Ndebele has said the e-toll issue is not his fault, because the system was decided by those who came before him and he just had to follow through.

Who wants to bet new minister Ben Martins will adopt the same argument when all the e-toll ammunition is aimed at him?

Also, citizens won't really associate Martins with e-tolling, because the situation blew up before he got here, and maybe this is what Zuma was hoping for.

Now Ndebele can slink off to the safe haven that is correctional services, and instead of cars, he can now focus on tagging prisoners, a system which the public will actually like.

PR genius

Zuma seems to be a master at saving face. The reshuffles make it look like he's doing something about severe problems within departments, while the naughty ministers get to quietly flee the scene.

Perhaps the president should have tried his hand at handling celebrity images instead of trying to lead the nation.

Then the next time Lindsay Lohan crashes her car or overdoses, or does whatever it is she's famous for, he could hide her away for a while and bring in a new, bright-eyed actress to distract everyone.

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