South Africa has a new (interim) president and cabinet! I’m quite excited, because it looks by-and-large like a good team. But mostly, I’m really excited because the new Minister of Health is my aunt!
I’ve had some people ask me about the situation recently, so here’s a very brief summary (what follows is of course entirely my opinion). The ruling party (the ANC) has been badly divided recently, between supporters of the outgoing national president Thabo Mbeki, and current ANC president and former national vice-president, Jacob Zuma. The issue is a drawn-out corruption trial against Zuma, arising from an arms deal quite a few years ago. Supporters of Zuma have been alleging interference from Mbeki in the various decisions to continue the prosecution, by the National Prosecution Authority. Supporters of Mbeki, and others, have been keen for the case to be heard — especially as at least some evidence seems fairly strong. Regardless, it’s been interesting to see marches and speeches on BOTH sides, all in defence of the independent judiciary and the constitution.
The most recent turn was a reference to possible interference from Mbeki and government, in a recent ruling in one of the High Courts. This, along with rapid collapse of support in the ANC for Mbeki, was enough to persuade the ANC’s National Executive Committee to recall Mbeki from his deployment as national president (as per the appropriate lingo). He duly resigned on Sunday, active today (the transition process has been managed very carefully and smoothly). Since South Africa is a parliamentary system, the new president is elected by parliament from amongst its members, and is Kgalema Motlanthe.
My thoughts are similar to those I’ve read elsewhere (eg. the Sunday Times): Mbeki was not doing a good job, and so it’s good that he has resigned; though the motives of the Zuma supporters are suspect. In my opinion, Mbeki has been a great statesman in many respects, especially in foreign policy. On the other hand, he’s had a few key weaknesses, notably HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe. More fundamentally, he has been very controlling, even paranoid, and has sometimes appointed key officials more for loyalty then competence or suitability — notably the outgoing health minister. This has led to far too much corruption and mismanagement, and the subversion of many of the ideals of the struggle. It’s good to see the pendulum finally swing against this leadership style, but the lasting damage is there — even those working most vocally against Mbeki have been using some of the same underhanded and paranoid approaches that he has. This is a huge shame, and it’s not at all clear that Zuma will re-introduce the missing moral high-ground.
As interim president (until the elections due in April or May), however, Kgalema Motlanthe sounds great. From all accounts, he more than almost any senior figure caught up in the divisions has kept a sense of the correct way of handling issues. He has a lot of respect from people across the board, and has been willing to call out some of the more … outspoken Zuma supporters when they have been out of line. So I was quite happy with his election.
And then at 5pm today, the new cabinet was announced, and my aunt is the Minister of Health! Health is of course a huge post in any government, but especially in South Africa, due to HIV/AIDS and related tuberculosis outbreaks, and the poor state of nursing in many of the state hospitals (there are parallel public and private health systems, with healthcare available to all through the public system, but often with poor nursing). The outgoing minister of health was really not at all great at the position, and was an endless source of crazy quotations on mostly AIDS issues. Taking the lead from Mbeki, she has not rolled out the AIDS treatment programme nearly as fast as it could have been — which of course has cost many, many lives and additional infections.
My aunt has more of a financial background, but in recent years has been very interested in the HIV/AIDS crisis, and has worked closely with the Treatment Action Campaign (the group that fought so successfully for the introduction of AIDS drugs). Personally, I think she’s awesome, has a great sense for what needs to be done, and works very hard and with great dedication to ensure that it is achieved. So I really hope she’ll have enough time in office to make profound changes to the healthcare system, and really solve the AIDS problem.
I’m also excited about what her appointment suggests about the new government. In Motlanthe’s first speech, he emphasised the continuity of government policy, but with a focus on successful implementation, and a healing of the divisions in the ANC. The fact that my aunt has been appointed suggests he really means it, since she has stayed out of the fight, and certainly is not one to pander to those in power. So yes, it’s not an entrenching of a power base or payback for a political favour, which is very welcome indeed!
So yeah, I certainly think we have a great team in government now! I haven’t heard from my aunt yet, but since she can’t have been approached about this any more than three days ago, I imagine she’s very, VERY busy right now. And probably a little scared too! The only bad news is that she’s been helping my parents oversee some renovations in Cape Town recently. I imagine she won’t be doing that as much now.