What was Cyril thinking?

Andrew Donaldson on the President's 'performance agreements' for cabinet



OH dear, and very much alas and alack and all that, but … performance agreements? Seriously? You may as well try some team-building exercises after hitting the iceberg.

No good, surely, can come from the use of the dark arts of human resource management in our political affairs. And yet it is to this execrable corporate hokum that Cyril Ramaphosa has now turned with his announcement that cabinet ministers are to sign such agreements outlining the objectives and responsibilities of their posts.

Given the childlike fascination with the recently fangled, this development has unsurprisingly been hailed as a turning point in the New Dawn presidency. Here, according to his cheerleaders, is a sure sign that Squirrel means “business”. He is matching words with deeds, they say, and walking the talk. 

As Ramaphosa himself put it during his televised address on Wednesday: “Where performance is unsatisfactory, action will be taken.” 

Well, and not to put too fine a point upon it, one would certainly hope so. 

But given that performances have been, at best, considerably less than satisfactory for more than a decade, the time for such action was years ago. Getting in the HR drones at this late stage, with their brain-numbing babble of core competencies, balanced scorecards and the like, is an act of futility from a very weak leadership.

My own experience of performance agreements is that they are a deeply unpleasant business that has little if anything to do with the performance of employees. 

Their sudden appearance in the work environment, handed out in a cavalier fashion by a cretin from upstairs with the instruction they be signed and returned to managers by the end of the day, is a sure sign that a “realignment” is on the cards. It is at such times that the services of a labour lawyer be retained, and pronto.

If I may further digress, it is often taken for granted that the parlous state of South Africa’s remaining newspapers is due to the internet and the rise of digital journalism. Very little, however, is ever said of the appalling management that existed for years at the media houses. The places were run by f*ckwits.

For many journalists, the end came with prattle of “corporate culture” and other Orwellian horrors from the HR management manuals. Suddenly, there were posters about social values in the stairwells and next to the elevators. 

Guff about strategic vision, talent nurture, value-building, cultural integration and onboarding programmes rose like the gorge on the socio-auditory scale, but nowhere, oddly enough, was anyone talking about producing newspapers.

Little wonder, then, there came the ritual humiliation of signing performance agreements and the denials of retrenchments followed inevitably by actual retrenchments. 

But back to our buffalo billionaire. It is true that Ramaphosa has done a bit of downsizing. But the reduction is minimal and this is certainly not “the sparsest cabinet in South Africa’s history”, as the Times of London enthusiastically reported on Thursday, and it remains a bloated beast of worryingly supersized proportions. 

Some of the ousted ministers were long overdue for redundancy notices. 

They include, for example, Susan Shabangu, whose tenure at the departments of social development, safety and security and minerals and energy was one train smash after another. 

In 2003, she was charged with public indecency for apparently lifting her dress over her head in exasperation while going through airport security. Five years later, Shabangu was telling police officers in Pretoria: “You must kill the bastards if [criminals] threaten you or the community.” It’s unclear which was the more worrying display.

Then there’s Siyabonga Cwele, until recently the minister of home affairs, a position he arrived at after looking after state security and the intelligence services. The CV would perhaps have appeared a bit more impressive had his wife and the mother of his four children not been arrested and jailed in 2010 for international drug smuggling.

It’s a pity, though, about Derek Hanekom. He wasn’t a bad tourism minister. This is not a portfolio easily mishandled, at least not after home affairs has given it the kiss of death. But then, in 2017, he did have the spine to file one of the several motions of no confidence in Jacob Zuma. So, obviously not a team player.

The most welcome departure, though, is that of the shambolic Bathabile Dlamini. Performance agreements are probably of no use whatsoever where she is concerned. She is said to suffer from a form of diplopia so severe that she not only has double vision but often sees objects upside-down hanging in cupboards. Signing agreements and documents are out of the question as she routinely struggles to place pen on paper.

Dlamini’s replacement as minister of women, youth and persons with disabilities is former rural development and land reform minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. A fiercely loyal supporter of Accused Number One, she comes to the job with an apparent disability of her own: she once claimed in a TV interview that she had a hole in her skull from carrying buckets of water on her head as a child.

Nkoana-Mashabane is just one of several baffling inclusions in the new government. David Mabuza is on board as deputy president. Which is just plain scary. Angie Motshekga is back as basic education minister. Just as scary. 

For light relief, though, Nathi Mthethwa returns to arts and culture which has now merged with sport. Expect then social cohesion programmes for rugby players. 

Lindiwe Zulu, a staunch Zuma supporter who openly displays her loathing for public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, remains on as small business development minister. Something of a street fighter, especially in the corridors outside the National Assembly, she is known as the “Ginger Ninja”. Opposition MPs refer to her as such at their peril.

Also promising much in the way of amusement, Fikile Mbalula is now the transport minister. Which is not a bad choice as the little guy knows a thing or two about flying to Dubai. Speaking of which, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula remains in charge of defence, despite all that hoo-hah of smuggling a friend into the country on a military aircraft. Bheki Cele, all mouth despite the murder rate, is still in charge of the police.

So it goes, and commentators have rightly pointed out that there’s nothing really new about this new government at all. It’s largely made up of the same tired and inept functionaries that have underwhelmed so spectacularly in previous ANC governments. 

In this regard, there is perhaps, when you think about it, not all that much to choose from. One really fresh face is former ANC Youth League deputy president Ronald Lamola, who is now our youngest justice minister ever. He has no previous experience in government whatsoever. But he at least is a highly qualified lawyer.

And it may explain why Ramaphosa has given the public works portfolio to outsider and former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. She’s had a few dinners with property developers in Clifton and knows a thing or two in this regard. 

But she is an independent sort who reportedly knows her own mind — in much the way Mussolini was an independent sort who knew his own mind — and the ANC may come to regret their association with the loyalty-fluid De Lille in much the same way the DA did.

Part of the reason the president’s new men and women all seem so unimpressive is possibly due to the delay in their announcement. The jokes have not been kind, and I particularly enjoyed the comments on Twitter that, for all their faults, the Guptas never took this long to choose their cabinet.

Lastly, you don’t need performance agreements to see who’s not pulling their weight in government. The normal employment practices as laid out in the Labour Relations Act do not apply when getting rid of rubbish ministers.

Some testicular fortitude is all that’s required.


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