POLITICS

216 DGs Axed, Shifted Or Suspended In The Zuma Years

New research shows most relationships between DGs and ministers last less than a year. It is one reason service delivery is so poor.

21/09/2017 05:59 SAST | Updated 21/09/2017 06:00 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma.

When home affairs boss Mkuseli Apleni was suspended this week, he became the 216th director-general (DG) axed, shifted or suspended since President Jacob Zuma took office in 2009.

Apleni, who is challenging his suspension in court, is relatively lucky -– he kept his job as home affairs DG for seven years, when the average lifespan of these senior bureaucrats is 14 months. That's according to Gareth van Onselen, who in August produced an explosive piece of research on how quickly the state fires DGs.

File
Former Home Affairs Director General Mkuseli Apleni is latest in the firing line.

Called "Political Musical Chairs", the report detailed how unstable the senior public service has become since Zuma took over.

In just over 100 months of the Zuma administration, 172 DGs were appointed across 38 departments, while 81 of these senior civil servants were in acting positions.

In almost six in 10 times, the relationships between DGs and their ministers lasted less than a year. "Being a DG is becoming a terminus rather than a stepping stone [to better things]," says Van Onselen.

Ferial Haffajee

Home Affairs Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize is not commenting on why she suspended the veteran DG because her dispute with him is still being investigated. Her working relationship with Apleni lasted just five months before it hit the skids.

In just over 100 months of the Zuma administration, 172 DGs were appointed across 38 departments, while 81 of these senior civil servants were in acting positions.

Apleni is one of just six DGs who has lasted in their roles since 2009. While Apleni has been tarred with the brush of the irregular naturalisation of the Gupta family, he is also regarded as a key player in the turnaround of the home affairs department.

He was a major in the SA National Defence Force and holds a Master's in military studies from Stellenbosch University. Posters at home affairs offices feature photographs of Apleni and each of his senior team members and -- get this -- their cellphone numbers too. You can supposedly call them if you are having a tough time.

Service at home affairs is much better and it is no longer the "horror affairs" department that the Daily Sun dubbed it for years and years. This department is at the heart of citizenship, from birth to death, and there is very little a South African can do without an ID, passport or birth certificate.

"Ideally, the two [minister and DG] are supposed to mirror each other. And for good reason. Together they constitute the political hand and administrative glove designed to guide and deliver services to the public," says Van Onselen, adding that, "on a grand scale, the numbers are astounding. The majority of relationships between ministers and directors-general, around 60 percent, will last 12 months or less and more than 40 percent of all of them will involve an acting director-general".

The director of the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI), Ivor Chipkin, says the public service is a lot less stable than it was under former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. "There has been a growing increase in the numbers of ministers and the movement of DGs under Zuma," he says.

The majority of relationships between ministers and directors-general, around 60 percent, will last 12 months or less and more than 40 percent of all of them will involve an acting director-general.

And he adds that when there is such a tremendous increase in the changes to Cabinet, "weak ministers coming in create tremendous instability". He was not referring to Mkhize.

Chipkin says the South African civil service has never built a sufficiently robust distinction between political and professional appointments. Politicians are supposed to set policy, while DGs implement policy. "But every time there's a new minister, there's a new plan. Departments are in a state of permanent restructuring. It explains why there is a huge breakdown in service delivery."

Graphics24