The firing of Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge from her position as Deputy Minister of Health is causing giant waves in political circles. The full story of the motivations, specific issues and processes related to the dismissal is still emerging. Comment has come from many quarters and many more wise heads will pronounce, I'm sure, but I will still add my tuppence worth:
1. The action to dismiss is at best puzzling and at worse a cardinal error. Given the rifts and ructions in the party, President Thabo Mbeki appears to need friends; it is not a time for further disturbing a hornet’s nest. The past year and more has seen a block of opposition build up against him. If one takes the pervious ANC National General Council (held last year) as a marker, he has become something of a rallying point for a variety of sub interest groups and disaffected persons who are united only in their opposition to him, including:
- Some who feel denied their share of the BEE gravy.
- Those who feel bypassed in the appointment of provincial Premiers.
- Those more generally who have their eye on top positions - they believe they can get there if they join some kind of united mobilization for a new leadership order.
- Those bitter and angry because they feel top ANC leaders continuously undermine the Tripartite Alliance.
- Those (including communists in the ANC) who remain angry about the adoption of Gear and the austerity programmes that the country has recently emerged from.
- Supporters of Jacob Zuma who feel he was being victimized through the use of state agencies such as the Scorpions.
- Those from marginalized social groups who feel they have not yet benefited from transformation (e.g. unemployed youth, local ANC activists angry about gaps in local government delivery and ANC members who feel that demarcation decisions mean a much longer wait for delivery).
In this context, the axing of Madlala-Routledge is almost certain to add to Mbeki's problems of political management and maintaining cohesion in the party.
2. The axing may be positive in at least one sense. It would indicate that President Mbeki has broken his moratorium on firing members of Cabinet, even where they perform dismally or fall seriously short of expected leadership behaviour.
3. Madlala-Routledge is a leader to many of us. Her leadership standing is not only related to the role she played in building unity of stakeholders around a clear and strong platform on the issue of HIV/Aids prevention, treatment, care and support. It dates way back to the eighties when she was active in mass democratic movement structures and was a central figure of women’s organization in KwaZulu-Natal.
4. The official comment from the Presidency around the axing of Madlala-Routledge is that the President owes no one an explanation. I think the president’s spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, should distinguish between rulership and leadership. Rulership requires the minimum engagement and communication with subjects; under that conception of governing, a leader needs to do the bare minimum required by law. Leadership, on the other hand, entails constantly engaging and enrolling others - the public, stakeholders and interest groups - behind the leader’s thinking, what s/she stands for and the direction s/he is taking.