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Makwetla’s cabinet reshuffle – why and what impact?

Zweli Mcube

Very often socio-political and economical analysts face a difficult task of having to analyse events, situations, pronouncements and or decisions taken by other people without having an insight of why such decisions are taken.

Sometimes we get accused of trying to be mind readers or of speculating about issues and reaching wrong conclusions. It is perhaps because of these reasons and many others that when doing analysis we are informed not by rumours and sentiments but by history which includes but not limited to past and present similar or different decisions or events but also by the prevailing environment that may lead to such decisions and or events. Where relevant and applicable we review literature and talk to people who are much closer to either the decision makers or to those directly affected by the decisions.

We do not and will never ignore rumours but anyone who does analysis and draws conclusions based on rumours alone run the risk of making serious mistakes. We jealously guard and protect our integrity.

The recent decision by honourable Premier Thabang Makwetla to reshuffle his executive generally referred to as the cabinet left people of Mpumlanga and those beyond the borders of the province with many unanswered questions.

A press statement was released in which the premier explained his decision to reshuffle the ‘cabinet’. Other tools like the local radio stations were also used to advance the reasons behind the decision. Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers including the deputy president at national level are appointed by the President of the country and serve at his pleasure.

At any given moment if he so wishes he can relieve (fire) them of their duties. Similarly members of the executive (MEC’s) generally referred to as provincial cabinet members are appointed by the Premier of the province and therefore serve at his pleasure. He can reshuffle and fire and hire as and when he so wishes. There is no law that requires him to consult either with his cabinet or anyone for that matter. If he chooses to consult he may do so purely from his personal consideration. Politicians are not unionised and are not afforded the opportunity to have any representation. They are hired and fired at will.

Because Provincial Premiers are appointed by the President of the country they are only accountable to the President. Both national and provincial legislatures have no say in the appointments of the provincial premiers.

Before I consider the press statement released by the Premier’s office which in the absence of anything else is the official document that explains the reasons for his decisions for organizational change in his cabinet let me briefly deal with the ‘when and why’ change happens.

Sometimes change is deliberate, a product of conscious reasoning and actions. This type of change is called planned change. In contrast, change sometimes unfolds in an apparently spontaneous and unplanned way. This type of change is known as emergent change. Author Mintzberg says that change can be emergent rather than planned in two ways. Firstly leaders make a number of decisions apparently unrelated to the change that emerges. The change is therefore not planned. However, these decisions may be based on unspoken, and sometimes unconscious, assumptions about the organisation, its environment and the future and are, therefore, not as unrelated as they first seem. Such implicit assumptions dictate the direction of the seemingly disparate and unrelated decisions, thereby shaping the change process by ‘drift’ rather than by design. Secondly external factors (such as the economy, competitors’ behaviour, and political climate) or internal features (such as the relative power of different interest groups, and uncertainty) influence the change in directions outside the control of leaders. Many people believe that the Premier’s decision was influenced by both the external (political climate) and internal (power struggles) factors.

There are many models that can help us explain the rationale for change. The most common and widely used model is the SWOT analysis. SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) focuses attention on the match – or lack of match – between what the organisation is geared up to offer and what the world outside needs and wants. But the real answers to the question, why do we need to change, lie in identifying and reflecting on the gaps between what is currently being offered (the status quo) and what is likely to be needed in future (the desired state of affairs).

Let us look at both the action (reshuffling) and the statement from the Premier’s office. With the exception of MECs Mashego-Dlamini,  Masuku and     all other Mecs have moved to new departments. Lubisi has been redeployed (demoted) to be ordinary member of the legislature. Jackson Mthembu has been promoted to the post of the MEC.  This reshuffling happens just more than a year after another reshuffling that saw Phasha and Mtshweni redeployed (demoted) and DD Mabuza and  Dina Pule   promoted.  Policies of the government are decided upon by the ruling party in this case the African National Congress. Because policies are a product of a collective effort, it is expected that anyone holding a senior position within the ANC should be conversant with these policies, which explains the argument that any ANC cadre should be familiar with policy and therefore should find it easy to adapt in any position that he or she is deployed to. This is an oversimplification of how things work and practically it is not as easy and simple as it seems. The party decides on broad policy and leaves the interpretation and implementation of that policy to technocrats (administrators). The individual departmental Mec provides guidance and political leadership.

Mecs are political appointees with little or no managerial or administrative experience.  It then follows that their success or lack of it depends on the people they appoint as heads of departments and other senior, middle and lower management team. In his state of the province address early this year, Makwetla identified and singled out one department that was experiencing serious problems that needed urgent attention.  The department in question is that of health under Lubisi. It was therefore not surprising when Lubisi was fired from the cabinet. What came as a surprise is the reshuffling of all other Mecs with the exception of the few. With less than twelve months left before the next general elections it is not clear how the reshuffling will enhance or advance Makwetla’s need to improve service delivery.  It cannot be true that all other seven Mec s were failing in their duties hence the need to move them to other departments. If indeed it is true that they were failing there is no evidence that they will make success of their new positions especially if one takes into consideration the argument that policies of the government are made by a collective. He should have fired all of them. But we all know he wouldn’t dare do that.  Of all the Mecs that have been affected by the reshuffle none of them have been more affected than Fish Mahlalela.  Within a period of about 48 months he has been reshuffled three times. Firstly he was deployed at Roads and Transport and then moved to Safety and Security, now he is at Health and Welfare. If Makwetla was asked to give a performance appraisal of Fish Mahlalela what would he say of him?  Would he tell the province that Mahlalela has failed to deliver in both departments hence the need to move him to his third department?

The return of Jackson Mthembu is seen as no surprise by many. Following the appointment of Ndaweni Mahlangu as the Premier of Mpumalanga, he became a victim of the first cases of the scorpions that gave us a glimpse of how they were going to operate which of course is another reason why they are being disbanded.

Mthembu was paraded in public by the scorpions as a criminal that was about to be arrested for corruption. Needless to say that, the court case was baseless and unfounded. The charges against him were withdrawn when the scorpions could not provide evidence of wrong doing.

Notwithstanding that his name was cleared and his highly decorated political profile, he was ignored for any political position in the Executive under the Premiership of both Mahlangu and Makwetla.

Before and during the journey to Polokwane ANC conference last year he was outspoken and unwavering in his support for Jacob Zuma for the position of President of the ANC.

It is an open secret that Makwetla has very little or no grass-root support as a politician. Indeed he does command respect or at least used to at national level. He is seen as a Mbeki man and regarded by many as having no constituency at provincial level.  He was elected to the position of ANC chairmanship of the province largely because he had the political backing of DD Mabuza and others. The ANC in Mpumalanga has a long history of factionalism and different groupings. Long before the so called Mbeki and Zuma camps Mpumalanga was divided into at least two visible factions. Like all other provinces it is now divided into Mbeki and Zuma camps. Allegiances and loyalties in the province have a habit of shifting like sand. With the provincial conference coming very soon it is possible that the reshuffle was motivated by the desire to influence politics and win favours. Some people believe that politicians use state resources at their disposal in dishing out tenders to those who are supportive of their cause.  By removing individual Mecs from departments that have more resources and place them in departments that have fewer resources you are able to reduce their influence. In other words the Premier was trying to influence the cheque politics of the province. If he can have Fish Mahlalela on his side and a few others maybe just maybe they can neutralize DD Mabuza and deliver the province back to the Mbeki camp. This, in my opinion is highly speculative and may or may not hold water. It is neither here nor there.

Mecs together with management are responsible for identifying priorities within the broader framework policy of the ruling party. They plan and present budgets to the legislature. Each politician has his or her own approach on how to implement the budgets. Mecs in their new potfolio will be expected to deliver on other Mecs’priorities . In the event that this year’s matric results are poor Coleman will have to shoulder the blame for something she was not party to during the planning stage. If they are good she will take undue credit. The success of the department is also depended on the working relationship between the Mec and management particularly the head of department.  This is one of the reasons among many that led to Lubisi’s downfall. Besides the fact that he himself lacks some leadership abilities, he has never been fortunate to find a department that has strong administrative management.  He can argue that he was never responsible for appointing heads of departments and therefore cannot be held accountable for non delivery by departments that he has been asked to lead. In fact he can point fingers at the Premier’s office which was responsible for appointing or recommending some of the departmental heads who have proved to be disaster. Nevertheless Lubisi could have done better. He can only have himself to blame. He is just too sweet and too nice to fire people. That is what happens when you cannot fire incompetent workers, you get fired.

In my opinion there is no evidence that the recent cabinet reshuffle was done to and will result in improving service delivery. If the Mecs were not effective in their previous departments it will take a miracle for them to be effective in a new area given the fact that they have just about a year left do so. It will take them six months before they can have a bonding working relationship with management and also understand the broader goals and objectives of their new departments. They will have to call for endless strategic planning workshops. Authors Weick and Quinn make a distinction between episodic and continous change. Episodic change is infrequent, discontinous and intentional. It is sometimes called radical and involves replacement of one strategy or programme with another. Continuous change in contrast is ongoing, evolving and cumulative. It is also referred to as incremental. At best Makwetla’s cabinet reshuffle can be described as radical episodic and at worst disruptive and chaotic. Chaos, that could have much deeper meaning depending on what happens in the near future.

(Zweli Mncube is an independent socio-political and economical analyst. His views expressed here are his personal views and do not represent the views of any organization that he may be a member of , and or, a director of).


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