In the past few weeks, two directors-general of government departments have been suspended and the CEO of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) fired. The three cases have lots in common. The directors-general, water affairs head Dan Mashitisho and agriculture head Mike Mlengana, had been asked by their  political principals to sign contracts they believed were illegal or unprocedural. Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza has had a long conflict with his principal, Bathabile Dlamini, over her interference in the agency’s work, in particular finalising a contract with a new service provider to conduct the payment of social grants. If the Cabinet was the embodiment of SA’s collective leadership and not just, as Thabo Mbeki recently said, "a confederation of ministers" each pursuing their own agenda, alarm bells would be ringing. And if Jacob Zuma was a president who took the responsibility of governing seriously, he would have called in his ministers to discuss the situation. But, i...

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