Jacob Zuma. GETTY IMAGES/AFP/PHILL MAGAKOE
Jacob Zuma. GETTY IMAGES/AFP/PHILL MAGAKOE

A startling new report by the Institute of Race Relations has revealed the extent of the chaos and instability of the Jacob Zuma administration.

The report tracks the churn at the top of the government, measuring how long Cabinet and director-general posts are occupied by the same person and the length of time the same minister and head of department will, on average, spend working together. The findings are shocking.

The trend from May 2009 to July 2017 indicates the average national department will be subject to a cabinet reshuffle every nine months.

The average director-general will serve 22 months before their contract ends, or they are fired, suspended, given a golden handshake or redeployed. The length of time any minister and director-general will work together before a change is made to one of them is 14 months.

Zuma has never been serious about government or governance; he chooses the Cabinet on the basis of political patronage; and the directors-general are not the best and brightest

Leadership and management churn of these proportions would be detrimental to any organisation. In the government, where most programmes are multiyear and may even have a longer lead time than the five-year term of the government itself, this is seriously destabilising.

The worst case is the ministry and department of communications, which has had six different ministers since 2009 and 10 directors-general over the same period.

While the report highlights the extent of the problem, it does tell us what we already know: Zuma has never been serious about government or governance; he chooses the Cabinet on the basis of political patronage; and the directors-general are not the best and brightest the public service has to offer, but are selected because of their political suitability.

The cabinet reshuffle has been used by Zuma as a political weapon.

While all presidents and political parties do this to some extent, Zuma has taken it to extremes. His Cabinet has about a 20% retention rate, with only seven ministers still in the positions they occupied in 2009.

Only one department — basic education — has had the same minister and deputy minister since 2009.

President Thabo Mbeki, by comparison, had a retention rate of just less than 40%.

An increasing number of Zuma’s appointments are people who lack political stature in the ANC as well as any leadership or management capability.

The consequence is that these appointments – think Faith Muthambi, Mosebenzi Zwane and David van Rooyen – are beholden to the president (and quite possibly the Guptas) rather than to the Cabinet, the ANC or the country and exist only to do his bidding.

Muthambi, for instance, was plucked from obscurity in Limpopo and parachuted into a R2.3m-a-year ministerial position. There she presided over the looting of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the destruction of much of the organisation’s talent and is responsible for SA’s failure to migrate to digital broadcasting.

Now, in an even more senior position as the new minister of public service and administration, she will shortly lead the next round of the public-sector wage talks, probably the most important event over the next three-year budget cycle.

While rampant corruption is the biggest and most damaging consequence of Zuma’s eight-year presidential reign, the hollowing out of the government at its top levels and the dysfunctionality of the Cabinet are a close second.

It is another two years before his second term comes to an end. For those who argue that the departure of Zuma before that will make little difference to governance and the government, think again. It is urgent that integrity and stability return to the Cabinet and the public service.

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