The fix is further in. The Cabinet has been announced. O Joy — the Freedom Front Plus is on board! Afrikaner white racists who think that apartheid was too nice for the blacks are now marching arm in arm with the people’s heroes.” Is it just me, or is everything shit?”
It’s not just you.
Some of the changes are cosmetic, and some of the cosmetic changes may actually be an improvement. The Ministry of Safety and Security was so-called because the term “Minister of Police” brought back so many delightful memories of John Vorster, Jimmy Kruger and Adriaan Vlok. Now everybody has forgotten what those names meant, and forgotten the “straight fuck-you gait” of the barathea-clad Suid-Afrikaanse Polisie, and so Ministry of Police has made a comeback like the return of the repressed. At least this is real.
On the other hand, Ministry of Housing changes to Ministry of Human Settlement. This is a bit like Architecture turning into the Built Environment — it seems like a plethora of syllables to no good effect. On the other hand, the Ministry of Housing provides, er, housing — whether it be RDP houses or brick-shaped tenements or whatever, at least it’s supposed to be better than tin, plastic and tarpaper shacks, and it could even be better than wattle-and-daub huts (though not always). Human Settlement seems to suggest, on the other hand, a Minister who points, says “Settle here, humans!” and then dusts off hands and walks away, murmuring “My work here is done”. It seems to be a hint that responsibilities are being cast aside. (Unsurprising, given that the job has been handed to a billionaire BEE property developer.)
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Intelligence (a joke in itself) has been renamed the Ministry of State Security. This brings back jolly memories of BOSS and General Van Den Bergh. It also brings back jolly memories of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Besopasnosti, the Committee on State Security which did such important work in ensuring that the Soviet Union never collapsed.
However, these changes may mean nothing. Other changes are a little more important.
The first big obvious change is the demolition of education. Instead of a Ministry of Education, we now have a Ministry of Higher Education and a Ministry of “Basic Education” (that includes high schools, for those teachers out there who still had any self-respect). Education is, admittedly, an immense problem, largely due to the reluctance of government to address the real problem of demotivated, unskilled or careerist teachers. (This problem has sucked money into salaries rather than into educational infrastructure, and it shows no sign of going away — in fact, since one of the Ministers is the corrupt panderer Blade Nzimande, and the other is a weakling, it will almost certainly get worse.)
However, education is a conveyor-belt. You have good primary education (which we don’t have, although it was promised by the very first Education Minister as his priority back in 1994) and then you pass competent kids on to good secondary education, which passes competent young adults on to good tertiary education. “Good” here meaning an education which provides the learner with enough challenges to develop skills and enough understanding of the world to recognise the need for continuous learning and continuous improvement of those skills. That’s what we don’t see anywhere, and that’s certainly not what is being called for by the corporate vocational-training choir which dominates the press and the official public space.
If you want to get good education — in fact, even if you want competent skills creation, let alone education — however, you cannot have breaks in this conveyor. If your kids haven’t learned arithmetic, they are not going to learn calculus as adolescents even if they have the best teachers in the solar system. If your kids haven’t learned how to think about their place in the world as adolescents, they are not going to be able to make head or tail of economics or sociology when they are young adults.
So dividing education in this way — and dissing the schooling system in your ministerial title — is a recipe for chaos. It suggests a lack of coordination which will be fatal for good educational practice. It is also, in a very fundamental way, a class divide. The people who go to university in South Africa are, for the most part, the people with wealth and power — and the students are going there in part because they want good jobs. Setting up a special Ministry to look after the interests of these people is appalling. You might as well have a Ministry of Rich People tasked with keeping the streets of Sandton well swept and the swimming-pools of Constantia nice and clean.
That’s the bad news. What’s the good news? Dream on, sucker.
A number of new Ministries, some of them existing in name only, have been created. There’s a Ministry in charge of planning, headed by Trevor Manuel, and there’s a Ministry in charge of checking up on the performance of Ministries — a Ministry of Ministries, as it were. Neither of these should actually be Ministries, but in principle, both are not bad ideas. It would be very nice to have a plan. It would also be very nice to have someone checking up on whether the plan is being implemented, and if not, why not. What is more, it is logical to ensure that such things are supported by centralised authority. Nobody, surely, can seriously challenge the creation of such structures . . .
Except. For a start, both planning and performance management are located within the Presidency. Performance management is headed by a virtual nonentity whose power derives directly from Zuma. Manuel, of course, has had clout in the past, but his support base depended heavily on Mbeki and on the Western Cape coloureds who supported the UDF; Mbeki has been fired and the Western Cape coloureds have been chased off into the Democratic Alliance. Hence Manuel is a token; he’s there because big business would have been spooked if he had just been kicked down the stairs. Zuma can do with him what he likes, much more than Mbeki could have done.
As a result there is good reason to doubt whether either of these Ministries will function as they should function if the state apparatus were being run for the benefit of people and nation. It is worth remembering that Harold Wilson, whose British Labour Party gained power after thirteen years’ opposition, was a great enthusiast for planning. In his stump speeches he talked about it all the time. When he gained power, he set up a Department of Economic Affairs to develop a National Plan and headed it with one of his competitors for party leadership, George Brown, an enthusiastic but inept and alcoholic politician who speedily failed. After a year, the National Plan was presented, and was duly ignored and buried; the DEA and Brown were buried (in Brown’s case, literally) not long after.
What worries the Creator is that this looks very much like what will happen under Zuma, and may indeed be Zuma’s game-plan. Unlike Wilson, Zuma has shown no interest in actual planning (though he enjoys rhetoric about punishing people for incompetence, this is probably more reflective of Zuma’s intellectual brutality and sadism than of a real love of efficiency and productivity). Amazingly, the SACP has provided not even the skeleton of a national plan; not even a set of aims and objectives other than the standard ones pursued by every government since 1994. Not even a mission or vision statement such as Zuma’s beloved corporations invariably possess. Without guidance or leadership, how can a meaningful plan be developed? And, without a meaningful plan, how can performance management be more than a series of ad hoc interventions at best? Of course, much more likely is the fact that Zuma will abuse “performance management” in order to punish people who disagree with him, or threaten his authority in some way — standard practice in Zuma’s beloved corporate world.
Meanwhile, separate from this altogether, and not housed in the Presidency, is the Ministry of Economic Development. Once again, one can hardly challenge the idea of a Ministry of Economic Development. What a good idea? Who is opposed to economic development, apart from a few air-headed greenwashing radicals, most of whom have private incomes? The fact that, once again, it is to be led by someone without much experience or authority is not a huge problem — after all, Gordhan, the new Minister of Finance is also someone with little authority, and whose experience is chiefly of administration and of doing what Trevor told him to do.
But, hold on just a minute. That means there is another Ministry to do with economic issues. We already had the Ministry of Trade and Industry. We already had the Ministry of Finance. We now also have the Ministry of Planning which is headed by the former Minister of Finance and which will inevitably devote much of its energy to economic issues. That means there are four major figures in the Cabinet whose interest lies in grabbing as much authority over economic issues as possible, in order to build their empires. In consequence, there is no one centre of economic authority — unless that is to be the Ministry of Planning, but Planning would obviously have to take other issues under consideration as well. It’s as if the Ministry of Defence were to be broken up into the Ministry of Soldiers, the Ministry of Killing People, the Ministry of Buying Guns and the Ministry of Pretending To Have Won. It would be a hell of a way to fight a war.
There is a Zuma pattern here. Zuma felt that the Scorpions were a problem, so he disbanded them. It didn’t matter to him that the country needed an organisation like the Scorpions, because he didn’t like them and they needed to be punished — and also his advisors wanted them eliminated so that the nation could be made safe for corporate crime. Zuma’s allies in the SACP and COSATU have had clashes with the Ministry of Finance, because they were stupid, ignorant and too lazy to develop proper arguments to challenge the Ministry. So, rather than develop a centralised structure capable of implementing a more centralised economic plan of the kind a socialist would be expected to prefer, they are weakening the Ministry of Finance by ensuring that it doesn’t exactly know — that nobody exactly knows — where its responsibilities lie.
In a way, the two actions are similar. The Ministry of Finance could, potentially, prevent business from plundering the nation through its oversight over international currency transfers, and punish business for misconduct through stringent taxation. If other Ministries are able to butt in, they can disrupt its capacity to do either; Trade and Industry could argue (as they always have) that companies should invest outside South Africa and hence exchange controls must be loose, while Economic Development may argue that taxation must be loosened in order to encourage people to spend. Planning, meanwhile, may argue that Finance should run up a bigger deficit so that the National Plan’s targets can be more easily fulfilled. Potentially, this is a recipe for a huge mess.
And the man to sort out the mess which he has cooked up is, of course, the President, who once again becomes the Saviour of the Nation, as the newspapers tell us, even if the Nation goes bankrupt in the process.