Defend Truth


Testosterone, ego and public office make a bad mix


Stephen Grootes is the host of the Sunrise show on SAfm. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

The last few days have shown how people like Maroga, Mbalula and Mthethwa can make us all suffer. If it wasn’t so important, it would make for a great tragic comedy.

But instead, it has all the ingredients of a farce, with a dose of real depression chucked in. The Maroga mess is a festering wound that continues to ooze racial pus while no one really cares about the famous “reserve margin”, as the clock ticks down to total darkness.

Now we can chuck in the Mthethwa-Mbalula spat, and we really are off to the races.

Good news is, with proper management, President Jacob Zuma can get this all out of the way, quickly and painlessly.

The Maroga issue at least appears to have some kind of principle at stake. Intertwined with all the ego there is an argument about which “vision” for the future is best: Does Maroga have the better understanding of what Eskom needs to do for South Africa to avoid catastrophe, or is the board’s idea the right one? Even though the rhetoric of the Black Management Forum (over the weekend it promised to “drive Maroga to work to face his enemies”) doesn’t emanate from the rational end of the spectrum, there is at least some kind of principle there, agree with it or not.

All of that is missing from the police department vaudeville. The minister Mthethwa / deputy minister Mbalula spat appears to be about pure ego. There’s no principle at stake, no dispute over policy as they’re both happy to tell the police to shoot to kill, and often. There’s also no real ANC policy dispute between them (that’s publicly known). It’s simply that Mbalula would have preferred to have a proper ministerial job and Mthethwa would have preferred to be the one who swings.

With hindsight, making Mbalula a deputy minister was always going to suck for whoever he had as a line-boss. He’s the guy who marshalled the Youth League troops at Polokwane. The one who really put his career on the line for Jacob Zuma, the bloke who can get through to the Presidential Hotline first time, and every time. The one who rescued the ANC electoral campaign from Cope-induced shock. But he was too young for a real cabinet post, so he got one of the best deputy jobs going. Add to that the fact that he’s got one of the most combustible personalities in South African politics, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Poor old Mthethwa doesn’t really stand a chance. But to make matters worse, it seems he may not have the best personality for managing Mbalula either; luxurious spending and all.

And so it’s come to this, the warnings from a “senior official” that they’re “bound to come to blows, and soon”. Think about it: the country is just recovering from the trauma inflicted on the crime cluster by the Mbeki administration. Jackie Selebi is finally, officially, the “former” police chief. Bheki Cele hit the ground running, visiting each police station in the country, the president met all the police commissioners. And now, after all that effort, we’re reduced to the sight of the two bosses of the ministry wanting to swing at each other.

If you were the president, what would you do? For a start, you have to end the spats. Now. Start with Laurel and Hardy at the People-with-Guns Department. March them to the Union Buildings. Make sure you get pictures of them having a beer in public. Make sure they come out and shake hands, with a flashbulb nearby. Then, make sure they get an all-expenses-paid trip to the tenth floor of Luthuli House, where Gwede Mantashe will be waiting to tear a strip off them. Then get them to come out the next day, with a new policy announcement (it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it can appear substantive), side by side. Make sure Mbalula shows respect, in public, for Mthethwa. For good measure, you can throw in Mthetwa’s promise to stop spending on luxuries. Then let them, and the country, move on.

The Maroga issue is easier. Simply instruct Barbara Hogan to follow the law, quickly, and do nothing else. Let the board finish the issue, and “accept” his resignation. Make a public statement, when asked at your next press conference, that you did not get involved, because, legally speaking, it is none of your business anyway.

These two issues started the ripple that can tear this country apart. They also have the potential to keep political journalists on the front page for months (thank you very much). But they must be dealt with properly, legally and cleverly. They both make the country, and by implication, the president look like headless chickens. But, with proper management, they could both be over by Monday lunchtime. The usual denials won’t carry water in either case. They require action. The issues must be dealt with now. Today, not tomorrow. Now.


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