The MK and ANC veteran, Mavuso Msimang, once penned a moving tribute to the Luthuli Detachment. Writing in tribute to the late SANDF General Lehlohonolo Moloi, Msimang’s piece, “The Dream the Luthuli Detachment heroes died for”, paints a heart-wrenching picture of the guerrillas who fell during the Wankie Campaign.
What made me recall Msimang’s moving article was the thought I have been grappling with as my mind debated the state of the republic and the calibre of leaders who are at the helm. Of great concern to me was the shining absence of a number of Cabinet ministers as well as the incompetence of those who take to posting on social media every time they do the bare minimum. Their OCD with public attention only masks their urge to have South Africans clap hands for a fish’s ability to swim.
Let’s first contextualise the South African Cabinet before I borrow from Msimang’s use of MK poet George Shea’s oration, “The Roll Call” in my own roll call of incumbents of the various portfolios in government leadership.
Since the advent of democracy, South Africa has had eight Cabinets varying in sizes. Nelson Mandela had a Cabinet of 21 ministers. Thabo Mbeki’s first term had a Cabinet of 28 ministers, while his second term had a Cabinet of 26. Interim president, Kgalema Motlanthe, who took the reigns at the resignation of Mbeki, had a Cabinet of 28 ministers. The much-hyped “father of RET,” Jacob Zuma, had a Cabinet of 36 ministers in his first term and 35 in his second term.
Mind you, all these ministers had deputies. In came current incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 with his first Cabinet of 33 ministers and an equal number of deputies. In his “reshuffling” of Cabinet in 2021 he decreased the number to 23 — a move hailed as being progressive in terms of cutting what was seen as the ruling party’s comrade employment scheme. However, this “restructure” had a cat in the bag — a total of 36 deputy ministries.
In total, the current government has a complement of 59 officials who are supposed to be implementers of government policies and ensure that such policies translate into delivery of services to the voters. The sad reality though is that an overwhelming majority are missing in action and yet the electorate keeps on footing the wage bill.
I am sure that the community of scribes, Mavuso Msimang included, will allow me to borrow from “The Dream the Luthuli Detachment heroes died for” as I use this piece to call on those that we have entrusted with our vote to account for their absence in the time when our people need them most.
Unlike the Luthuli Detachment that Msimang writes fondly about and the Light Brigade that Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote about that marched with, “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death…”.
The brigade we have in the Cabinet does not charge and ride boldly and well into serving the republic and its citizens.
Just like Msimang doing a roll call for the Luthuli detachment, I would like to do my own roll call for the Cabinet but allow me too to invoke George Shea’s “Roll Call”:
“Not all men
Nor any other book but the register
Will bear me out, that all are present and well.
But to make sure let us have a roll call.
And if none answers to his name,
Know that it is for your own good
And mine that he has fallen;
Fallen never to rise!
Now hang on my lips
And listen to the roll call.”
In my lament at the Cabinet’s dereliction of duty, both Shea and Msimang would permit me to do a roll call and say — Pravin Gordhan! He is not here, sir. While the republic is plunged into darkness and the state airline is grounded to fly no more under the banner of the republic, the ports are in shambles and recently the container terminal in Durban was besieged by floods, Minister Gordhan is missing in action.
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane! She is not here, sir! When women in the country are beset by the worst form of gender-based violence, and young people making up the huge number of unemployed in the country are resorting to drugs and alcohol, the minister is missing in action. The last we heard of her was when she was talking about a hole in her head.
Angie Motshekga and Blade Nzimande! They are not here, sir! Our basic education system continues to lose hundreds of thousands of learners in the 12-year period of schooling. Children are learning under trees and others are drowning in pit latrines. The higher education and technology sector sees black children sleeping in corridors of universities and the department has failed to ensure that we constantly update the country’s critical skills list and match those to what universities should be churning out. The ministers are missing in action.
Thembelani ‘Thulas’ Nxesi! He is not here sir! For years his department has been in shambles and has failed to ensure compliance with the country’s labour laws to the extent that opportunists have taken advantage of his absence and styled themselves as protectors of jobs for South Africans. In fact, in his absence, the country found itself in a state where 94% of companies are not in compliance with the Employment Equity Act. The minister is also missing in action.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams! She is not here, sir! The last time we heard of her was when she thought the 4IR was a fashion statement. It is said that she moved to Small Business Development yet small businesses which can stimulate employment in the country continue to die every day, entrepreneurs lack funding. I can go on and say a lot about her shining absence but it’s best I just summarise and say the minister is missing in action.
We have a Cabinet brigade that is twice the size of a developed state such as Germany and yet they cannot produce a fraction of the work produced by their peers. A Cabinet that is slightly above that of its Brics counterpart, China, yet being competitive with these counterparts remains just a daydream. In the meantime, the taxpayer has to foot almost a billion rands in wages.
Allow me to continue with the roll call.
Thandi Modise! She is not here, sir! While Durban was ravaged by floods, the army was sleeping at the barracks and were the last ones to arrive at the disaster scene. The minister is missing in action.
Fikile April Mbalula! He is not here, sir! The rail infrastructure was vandalised and stripped while he was indulging in self-admiration on a social media platform. He is missing in action.
Mmamoloko Kubayi and Lindiwe Zulu! They are not here, sir! People have resorted to invading any available piece of land and have established “settlements” and those looking at the state for social relief have but given up hope. The ministers are missing in action.
Nathi Mthethwa! He is not here, sir! The arts fraternity has crumbled while he sits holding his pen waiting to write a condolence message at the passing of an artist, like a vulture which was captured through the lens of Kevin Carter while waiting to feast on a child dying of hunger in South Sudan. The minister is missing in action.
I can do a roll call on all the Cabinet and their unknown 36 deputies, who no one seems to know what their job is. The response will remain the same with each name being called out — he is not here; she is not here. The accompanying final response will still be the shameful shout — the minister is missing in action!
It is not only the brigade of ministers in the Ramaphosa Cabinet that is missing in action. This has been a trend over the years with the successive Cabinets. The current lot and those who rode on the erstwhile gravy train of the Mandela era, those of the Mbeki blue-light brigade era and the post-Polokwane Wabenzi brigade should all hang their heads in shame for dereliction of duty. All of them have failed to heed the call by Msimang when he pleaded, “let us honour these heroes (Luthuli Detachment) by rekindling the collective resolve to alleviate the dire lot of those for whom freedom has not seen much betterment of life.”
The betterment of life that Msimang called for will forever remain elusive for the children of the republic because, as the roll call has noted — the ministers are missing in action. DM