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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. Photo: GCIS

Zweli Mkhize: Meet South Africa’s tardiest cabinet minister of 2019

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize is 2019’s No 1 repeat offender when it comes to dodging questions and responsibility.

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. Photo: GCIS

There seems to be general consensus that South Africa is not specifically blessed insofar as the standard of its members of Cabinet is concerned. But who is the tardiest at being held to account?

The Executive (the Cabinet, to most of us mere mortals) is accountable to Parliament. So says the Constitution, that grand document sometimes honoured more in the breach than in the upholding thereof.

So if we want to know who holds Cabinet to account, and which Cabinet members cock a snook at such oversight, Parliament is the best place to check. For such a check, formal parliamentary questions are the best measure.

And fully 70% of the formal oversight questions in Parliament in 2019, the year we are bidding farewell, was asked by the Democratic Alliance (DA). The EFF asked 16.4% of the questions, the IFP 7.8%, the Freedom Front Plus 4.3%, the ANC 0.3% and the nine smaller parties 1.2% of the questions to keep ministers accountable.

Who were 2019’s ‘repeat offenders’?

And the tardiest minister for 2019, according to the formal parliamentary figures, is … (drum roll): Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize, who shows such disregard for Parliament and thus for South African democracy, as well as for South Africans in general, that he only answered 43% of questions directed at him.

Mkhize is a repeat offender. As minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) – the country’s municipalities – he dodged responsibility as diligently. More of that unfortunate portfolio follows.

The second-worst offender is Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, who answered 45% of questions and dodged 55%. His fellow communist Thulas Nxesi, who is minister of employment and labour, answered 48% and dodged 52%, while two ministers tied for fourth place in this particular race to the bottom, coming in at 50%: Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza. 

Next followed another repeat offender, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who could only be bothered to answer 54% of questions posed to her.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: Greatest disdain for democracy

But maybe these are not the worst. Parliamentary journalists would have no hesitation in naming Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the one who shows the greatest disdain for Parliament and for democracy. 

More than 50 of the questions were actually answered through stating that “the information is not readily available”. 

And whose fault might that be, minister? What an absolute disaster, what an embarrassment. She does not easily pitch for oral questions, either, and neither does madam arrive when requested by the watchdog committee, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa). 

Meanwhile, the municipalities in her care are an absolute disaster. How does she sleep at night, knowing that she draws a parliamentary salary? An honest day’s work as a parliamentarian she certainly does not do.  

Kudos to these ministers who take their mandate seriously

These sluggards put to shame some of their colleagues, notably Police Minister General Bheki Cele, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who, despite managing much larger departments and far more complicated questions, take their democratic mandate seriously.

Cheers to them – they are an example to these sleepy, disdainful colleagues, such as Dlamini-Zuma, Mkhize, Mantashe, Nxesi, Gordhan and Didiza.

Deputy President David Mabuza to blame

There is a way to improve all this – the guy who should keep discipline and see to it that the parliamentary regulation of having all parliamentary questions answered within ten working days, is the head of government business.

But he is one David Mabuza, the deputy president, which means nothing will happen to tighten discipline and respect democracy. How great it would be if at the end of 2020, with 20/20 vision, we could state that we gave Mabuza too little credit, and that he could actually be bothered to do his job.

But we would not advise you to hold your breath…