One simple comparison shows why South Africa’s ministers are so poor at their jobs

 ·1 Jul 2024

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new cabinet, announced on Sunday evening (30 June), has many ministers in portfolios they know nothing about.

In the run-up to the 2024 national elections, all political parties promised a competent and efficient government to serve the South African people.

South Africa’s two largest parties, and ANC and the DA, advocated for a smaller cabinet and more efficient state.

Ramaphosa promised to cut the size of his cabinet and national government departments to become more efficient and save money.

The DA called for a reconfiguration of the government with 15 ministries to create a nimble, cost-effective executive.

After they received their votes, calls for a smaller cabinet changed into a squabble over ministerial positions in the new national executive.

The result was that South Africa ended up with a bloated cabinet with 32 ministers and 43 deputy ministers.

Instead of cutting down on ministries and government departments, Ramaphosa separated certain portfolios to accommodate all the new people who wanted cabinet positions.

He claimed the bigger cabinet was needed to ensure it was “inclusive of all the parties to the Government of National Unity (GNU)”.

Apart from the additional costs, a bloated national executive results in worse service delivery and increased inefficiency.

However, an even bigger problem is that many of the new ministers have no qualifications or experience in their portfolios.

The ANC has always had little regard for qualifications and experience, and the new government of national unity is no different.

The leaders of the prominent political parties in the GNU all secured ministerial positions for their leaders.

It includes the DA’s John Steenhuisen as Agriculture Minister and IFP leader Velinkosi Hlabisa as Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister.

The PA’s Gayton McKenzie is Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, Good’s Patricia De Lille Tourism Minister, and FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald Correctional Services Minister.

They were not appointed because of their skills in these areas. They were handed these positions because they were part of the political elite.

That is not to say it is not an improvement in the previous cabinet. It is. However, it confirmed that cabinet positions are about political connectedness rather than skills.

New Minister of Defence and Military Veterans

A good example of providing ministerial positions as a political reward instead of skills and experience is Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Angie Motshekga.

In advanced economies like the United States, suitably qualified and experienced people are selected for important cabinet positions.

In the United States, the Secretary of Defense is a former general with decades of experience in the army.

The current Secretary of Defense is retired general Lloyd Austin, who spent over 40 years in the military.

He is a four-star general who served as the twelfth commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) before retiring from the military in 2016.

Austin commanded divisions, corps, and field armies in combat, including in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He received the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valour, for his actions during the Iraq invasion. He also received five Defense Distinguished Service Medals.

Austin has in-depth knowledge of the United States defence forces and is highly regarded in the sector. This is needed for army generals and other officials to respect and follow his leadership.

South Africa’s new Defence Minister, Angie Motshekga, is a former high school teacher and educational lecturer.

She is well-qualified, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. She is also highly experienced in education.

However, she has no experience in the South African National Defence Force and does not know much about the army, fighting wars, or defending the country against hostile forces.

She thinks like an educator and politician. She does not think like a soldier or general, which is needed when giving orders or making decisions about the Defence Force.

To expect Motshekga to perform well in her new portfolio is misguided. This is why the United States picked a four-star general for the job instead of an educational specialist.

The infographic below compares the US Secretary of Defense to South Africa’s Minister of Defence.

Read: Ramaphosa announces new cabinet – these are all the new ministers and deputies

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