Frustrated Joburg motorists have spent the last month dodging council employees painting new road markings. Normally, such upkeep would be welcomed, but it hardly seems like the most pressing necessity, given the gaping potholes on most of those roads.
Someone in my suburb has spray painted the word ANC in bright green next to each pothole, which they have helpfully circled in the same lurid colour. This phenomenon is happening all over Joburg.
It’s an apt metaphor for the state of the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s much-delayed cabinet reshuffle was a bit like those new road signs, painting over the cracks of a broken system. This long-awaited announcement was “not about overhauling” but “to fill vacancies” and continue “the important task of ensuring stability and continuity in the work of government”.
The surprising new minister of communications and digital technologies is Mondli Gungubele – which is a supremely odd choice given that he has no known expertise in what is a crucial sector for any economy. He is one of Ramaphosa’s main allies, but – and I don’t want to seem ageist here – isn’t it a bit late in his career to be taking up running a cutting-edge technology and telecoms ministry?
I know seasoned executives with decades of experience who would baulk at that national challenge; let alone of lifting our country out of the stagnancy we’re mired in. At 66, it’s a very late start to get up to speed with this challenging industry – and a listless ministry that has been devoid of meaningful leadership for decades.
At least we can be thankful that the non-performing Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has been swapped out to some nebulous, but powerful, role as a minister in the presidency. At least we can assume she knows what TikTok is.
Communication is key, obviously
The biggest problems in that discombobulated communications and digital technologies ministry are a lack of vision, a lack of understanding of legislation, and a tragic unwillingness to let the SABC actually run itself and make a profit.
It’s mind-boggling that the public broadcaster hasn’t had a board for nearly five months. In the departing board’s last annual reports, it quotes Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke’s warning that “a material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the public (entity’s) ability to continue as a going concern”.
There is also an election coming up next year and the unfettered SABC coverage was important to reaching its mainly rural voters, who tend to only have access to state-owned media. Just ask Fikile Mbabula.
Maybe this is why the experienced Gungubele has been swapped with the ambitious Ntshavheni. Her sudden promotion will include responsibility, says Ramaphosa, for “various tasks ranging from state security” and running the government communications agency GCIS. Talk about failing upwards.
There are two verifiable facts that its worth pointing out in Ramaphosa’s speech. Firstly, he knows what the problems are: “those issues that concern South Africans the most: load shedding, unemployment, poverty and the rising cost of living, and crime and corruption”.
It’s hard to miss. Even with a cold.
Secondly, Ramaphosa tacitly admitted he’s a procrastinator. As he finished, he went off script to add: “I apologise for keeping you waiting for much longer than it was necessary”.
Until next year’s elections – when the ANC, mark my words, will be lucky to get 40% – we have to live with fresh paint on our unpassable potholed roads.
- This article first appeared in the Financial Mail