Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This week began with a call by the former Minister of Intelligence, Mr Ronnie Kasrils, for the President to replace the Minister of Police. It echoed calls from various quarters for the President to replace the Minister of Communications, based on her Department spending R40 million on a website
– which is only the latest in a string of scandals dogging the Minister – and calls for the President to replace the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities for setting back race relations in our country with her racist and baseless allegation that Afrikaner men are wife-killers.
The prospect of Ministers being removed made me think once more how detrimental it is to institutional memory to have Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Directors-General swopped around from line function to line function, giving them little time to even become familiar with a Department before having to take on an entirely different set of challenges, needs and issues.
I believe it was wisdom on the part of President Thabo Mbeki that kept me in the position of Minister of Home Affairs in 1999, when the Government of National Unity expired and the ruling party could legitimately have sent me packing. For reasons of reconciliation and respect, President Mbeki followed the lead of President Nelson Mandela and kept me in his Cabinet. The decision to keep me in the same line function, however, is what enabled me to continue the work of the full legislative transformation of the Department.
Some have quipped that the ANC had landed me with one of the biggest headaches of the first democratic Government, for a Department that had previously served only a minority of South Africa’s citizens suddenly bore the responsibility of documenting millions of South Africans, from cradle, to altar, to grave. Perhaps the ANC was not ready to take over such an onerous and complex Department when it came time to distribute line functions to Ministers in 1999.
Regardless of the reason, however, staying in Home Affairs for ten years gave me the benefit of accumulating institutional memory. It allowed me to see what works, what doesn’t work and what could work in Home Affairs, which avoided the need for the endless turnaround strategies that began when my time at Home Affairs ended.
Being the Minister of Home Affairs also gave me the authority to appoint the van Zyl Slabbert Commission to investigate South Africa’s electoral system and recommend electoral reform if needed. The Commission’s report recommended abandoning the proportional representation list system and adopting a mixed system between constituency and proportional representation.
The ANC vehemently rejected that recommendation. In fact, I was instructed by Cabinet not to distribute the Report, but to destroy it. I was raked over the coals in Cabinet when I sent the Report to a university for safekeeping, but I have never regretted the decision, because I knew the time would come when popular opinion would again call for electoral reform and the van Zyl Slabbert Report could be revived.
That time, it seems, has come. When she launched Agang, Dr Mamphela Ramphele made it clear that the call for electoral reform would be high on her agenda. In fact she is planning a million signature campaign to call for change in our electoral laws. The DA has now also taken on this fight, tabling a Private Member’s legislative proposal in the National Assembly.
They could do this, I must add, because the IFP’s Dr Mario Ambrosini was willing to take the Speaker of the National Assembly all the way to the Constitutional Court to ensure that ordinary MPs are able to table legislation in the National Assembly, rather than in a committee which could ensure that it never sees the light of day.
Dr Ambrosini is another person with an extended institutional memory.
Indeed, he is one of many Members of Parliament in the IFP who have served in the political arena for decades, the longest serving being our Parliamentary Caucus Chief Whip, Mr Koos van der Merwe, who is South Africa’s longest serving MP.
Time and again I have seen how valuable it is to be surrounded by people who remember what it was like in their particular sphere five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago. They have accumulated a wealth of knowledge that cannot be learned in a three month training period. In fact, some of it cannot be learned at all in any way other than through experience.
I was reminded of this when I received a letter recently from a concerned citizen in Montclair, Durban, Mr Charles Rogers, who has been doing extensive research on the state of South Africa’s leadership and governance.
He wrote, “We can send peace keeping forces out to other African States, but cannot repair two brand new German submarines which are sitting in dry dock to date. How does Vice Admiral Refiloe explain how they ended up in dry dock? Again, we can use retired Generals and Officers to do random quality control checks.”
He has a good point. Should we not use people with experience and expertise, and one of the most precious resources: time, to monitor quality in all spheres of governance? We could use retired judges, officers and officials to monitor how our prisons are being run, how our police force is operating, how our police stations and indeed our entire justice system is functioning.
So many professionals with years of experience have retired, taken a package or emigrated, and we feel the loss of their expertise. As Mr Rogers points out, “Our President stated he wants to revive the railways to save our roads network. This is a good idea, but where does the State get the finance and expertise?”
Older citizens have a valuable role to play and we should not overlook the possibilities they bring to the table.
I am, of course, keenly aware of what older citizens have to offer since I myself am still a Member of Parliament and the leader of an opposition political party. The ANC keeps suggesting I retire. Ironically there are people in the President’s own Cabinet who want him to retire.
But I cannot stop working just because the ANC dislikes me. In fact, I cannot stop working for as long as the ANC mismanages the governance of our country, for I cannot keep silent while people suffer. So I will continue to offer my leadership, my experience and my expertise, and I call on our Government to bring in more older citizens to hold them to account. In fact, I dare them to.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP