South Africa

ANALYSIS

How low can they all go, Mr President? The case of the still unbreakable Mr Mbalula

From left: Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sydney Seshibedi) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

While President Cyril Ramaphosa still appears to be the dominant political figure in the country, certain dynamics and personalities exemplify the limits of his power. Such a person may be Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula.

Despite Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s lying, bombast and generally weird behaviour unbecoming of a Cabinet minister, Ramaphosa is not moving against him. Neither has the president moved against Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who actually accused him of lying. This suggests that, for the moment, there are important boundaries to Ramaphosa’s power and that these limits are set by the ANC and not our society.

This may be important as it shows, once again, how the ANC is losing touch with voters — that for its own internal reasons it is not able to take action against people whom many voters disapprove of on a daily basis.

Over the weekend, the Sunday Independent reported that Ramaphosa had told Mbalula to leave a virtual Cabinet committee meeting after he had not properly prepared for the discussions. Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele has angrily denied the report, saying that it’s not true.

Mbalula has also recently claimed, on Twitter, that he had “Just landed in Ukraine”. He was lying. When he was confronted with this tweet he simply refused to discuss it.

At the moment, Mbalula appears to be making promises and announcements at a high rate, even for him. He appears to be having press conferences often, claiming that the railway network will be expanded, that Prasa will be fixed, that e-tolls will soon come to an end. The list goes on.

But Mbalula has also shown himself not to live up to his promises.

When he took Prasa into administration at the start of the pandemic, he could not explain which section of the law allowed him to do so. In the end, inevitably, the decision was overturned in court.

More recently, it has emerged that he has been trying to help the suspended CEO of Prasa, Zolani Matthews, telling him in WhatsApp messages that the board was going to remove him in order to continue with its “self-enrichment” scheme.

This is a minister, going around a board and speaking directly to a CEO, and making claims against the board.

All of this suggests that Mbalula’s continued Cabinet presence is hard for Ramaphosa to justify.

This may be further illustrated by an interview given by Gungubele to this writer on SAfm on Tuesday morning, where he was asked about the Sunday Independent report and his reaction to it.

Gungubele: We said we reject that with the contempt that it deserves. Over and above that Cabinet discussions are by convention, confidential discussions, but having said that… we really reject that with the contempt it deserves… there is no such.

Grootes: Okay — so we can assume that Fikile Mbalula is properly prepared for the meetings that he attends?

Gungubele: That is not what we are going to discuss with the media. We don’t discuss those issues, these are confidential matters Stephen, these are Cabinet discussions.

Grootes: Okay — so you can’t tell me if a minister is prepared or not for meetings?

Gungubele: I mean ministers are always prepared.

The conversation then moved to Mbalula’s Ukraine tweet: 

Grootes: Fikile Mbalula recently tweeted that he landed in Ukraine — it was clearly a lie — it was not true — he was asked about it — and he refused to discuss it — so we have this lie from a Cabinet minister that is just out there… is the President going to act against him for that?

Gungubele: That is a different story now, in so far as the question you raise is concerned, Stephen. That one is a matter that can probably be handled by discussions between the minister and the President.

In some ways, this interchange may demonstrate that Ramaphosa cannot act against Mbalula, or will not act against Mbalula, even though Mbalula publicly lied.

But there is other evidence of the limits of Ramaphosa’s power here.

Earlier this year, after a face-to-face meeting with Ramaphosa, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu claimed, through a media statement, that Ramaphosa had lied. She said she had not accepted that she was wrong to publish an opinion piece in IOL insulting black judges and the Constitution.

This means then, that Ramaphosa has one Cabinet minister who clearly lied, and another who has accused him, in public, of lying, and yet he has not made any moves.

This points to a fragile balance of power within the ANC; there are also no obvious candidates Ramaphosa can appoint to their positions.

However, it may also suggest what could be a big disconnect between the electoral demands facing the ANC and the demands of its internal constituencies.

There is very little evidence that either Sisulu or Mbalula actually have a strong constituency in the real world. Certainly, no one appears to be campaigning for them for any position, no ANC regions or provinces have publicly displayed support for them and there appear to be few public gestures of support.

It is also clear that both the tourism sector and the transport sector are vital for voters, with tourism being a job generator engine. Transport literally affects millions of people’s lives every day.

And despite all the bombast from Mbalula, or the promises from Sisulu, there is little evidence that they are doing their jobs and working to improve the lives of voters.

And yet they stay in Cabinet.

That surely poses a risk to Ramaphosa.

Mbalula cannot even appear in public without facing criticism. He appears to be the only politician able to make comments that are condemned by both the taxi industry and the SA Council of Churches.

It is surely only a matter of time before he says something which embarrasses himself, Ramaphosa, the government and the ANC to an even more dangerous degree. Are Ramaphosa and the ANC prepared to risk losing the support of more voters, to keep someone like Fikile Mbalula in Cabinet?

In other words, will he remain unbreakable? DM

 

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All Comments 19

  • There is another side Stephen. Every member who is removed from cabinet, every comrade who loses. a job by the hand of CR moves on to strengthen the opposition (RET) then can even more blatantly defy CR. One has the power of being a woman the other is popular with he young ones.

  • Both these ministers should be rejected with the contempt they deserve! Mondli Gungubele: spouting incomprehensible nonsense is not dignified, and as this is an open democracy, why should cabinet discussions be top secret?

    • There are still some things that should remain confidential and one of those is cabinet meetings so that full and honest discussions can take place there. Do not forget that Faith Mthambi was leaking cabinet decisions to the Guptas.

  • Nobody to replace him ?
    There are 50 million people + in SA probably 40% are adults
    Stick a pin into a census report with your eyes closed, Presto you have a better candidate
    Did he ever successfully explain away his Holiday to Dubai that was paid for when he was minister of sport ?

  • The ANC is in its death throes and cannot be saved. In my opinion, the President has only one choice, replace ALL incompetent ministers, and there are many more than just the two mentioned, with people who can do the job. This would give him such support by the population that the various factions will not succeed when opposing this.
    Yet, it appears that Ramaphosa is either unaware of this or so afraid of his own shadow that it paralyzes him.

  • Ramaphosa simply cannot act against his incompetent cabinet ministers. If he does they will switch sides and he will lose his position as president of the ANC, and ultimately the president on the country.
    Cadre deployment is used to keep incompetent people in powerful positions, and the knock on affect is total destruction of everything they touch.
    There’s no such thing as a government for the people. Poverty and equality will never be eradicated when the people who can make it happen, are in it for themselves.

    • Superbly put! Ramaphosa has been in this untenable situation since attaining the position of president. All he can do is wait for the December 2022 ANC conference and hope that he will be voted back with a greatly improved majority. The only problem with this is; will the voting public be that patient?

  • Mbalula is addicted to the perceived power and glory of the “the blue light brigade.” In addition he loves the sound of his own voice and seems to think he should speak as often as he can find a microphone or audience. The problem is that it is all garbage. Nothing he says or promises makes any logical sense. Here is a classic example of the “Peter principle ” at work….he is totally unqualified to head up Transport which is an abominable mess. In any normal democracy he would have been fired a long time ago but alas, there are no consequences in SA for incompetence or failure.

      • Exactly, normally with the audio quality of a recording of a cellphone from someone’s pocket in row F. Is there no one with any influence who can see these adverts are a joke?

  • Have heart ! If RP start dismissing ANC comrades for telling lies then given their collective incompetence & feeding frenzy who will be left? Rather focus on key performance failures to make public consistently aware so they start to demand change & action.

  • And then there is the small matter of the cancellation of numerous road project tenders, amounting to multi-billions of Rand, on the grounds that they were infected by corruption. What more resounding indicator of ineptitude can there be than a Minister cancelling tenders relating to the core business of his Department on grounds that they are likely to be corrupt? Imagine the knock-on costs of this to the construction sector? Beyond tweeting, what does he and Mr Ramaphosa perceive his responsibilities as a Minister to be?

  • So DM, with the rubbish ANC going down, all the way down with luck, it is about time that YOU, and the media at large, start a discussion on just which party is best for South Africa after the elections. I would suggest a liberal democratic party. A party broadly similar to the German. Norwegian, Swedish seems great to me. One with a record of good governance would be helpful.

  • Interesting article. I recently saw a guy on YouTube doing a risk analysis on Putins options regarding Ukraine. Fascinating stuff and his reasonings were rock solid. I suspect Cyril and his advisors do something similar and then decide what he can and cannot do, aka risk management and mitigation.

  • In all the ministerial posts he has served Fikile Mbalula proved himself time and again to be an inept, blustering, big-talking, useless individual. Why he is still in the position of transport minister is beyond me. Everthing that has to do with roads, especially maintenance is a dismal failure under his command. President Ramaphosa should have gotten rid of him long ago.

  • That old saying about keeping your enemies close comes to mind. Mbalula is digging himself a hole with every one of his disasters. Disasters do get noticed and erode his support base. CR can fire him when the ANC starts moaning about him.

  • For what its worth that looks suspiciously like a Rolex Sub Mariner on our heroes wrist, perfect for a deep dive into the trough.

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