Was Shiceka fired for promoting the DA?

by The Editor

FEATURE: As part of the speculation preceding President Zuma’s decision to fire former co-operative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka it was reported the ANC was unhappy with the way his department kept highlighting in its reports how well DA governments were performing. Since he has been fired, the national department has produced none of the comparative statistical information it did in the run-up to the 2011 election. So, was the way the minister’s department promoted the DA a contributing factor to his removal from office? And, more to the point, will the ANC government ever make that kind of comparative data available again?

Was Shiceka fired for promoting the DA?

By: Gareth van Onselen

28 March 2012


When President Jacob Zuma effectively fired former-minister of co-operative governance Sicelo Shiceka in October 2011 he offered no explanation, setting out the reasoning behind his decision.

Indeed, the announcement was somewhat usurped by the fact that, at the same time, he announced both a Commission of Inquiry into the arms deal and a Board of Inquiry into allegations of misconduct by the police commissioner. It was a clever piece of marketing. If you have bad news, best to get it all out in one go, that way the details become a secondary consideration.

The result of that, however, is that to this day we don’t know the President’s thinking on the matter. The consequences of this are twofold: one the one hand, there are the obvious implications for accountability – if the country doesn’t know what sort of behaviour necessitates consequences, accountability is denuded of its worth and any corrective action seems random; on the other, transparency suffers – the president has a responsibility to account to the public for the decisions he makes on their behalf.

In the case of Shiceka, this was somewhat alleviated by the evidence against him at the time. The primary problem being the fact that he was suspected of spending R600 000 on un-sanctioned luxury travel including a number of overseas visits to see a girlfriend imprisoned in Switzerland for drug smuggling, at the state’s expense. And so few questions were asked. But of his performance as a minister, nothing was said.

Is one to conclude he performed well as a minister but his misconduct underpinned his removal from office? Or was his personal condition the factor? (He was seriously ill for much of his time in office.) Or some other consideration? Perhaps a combination? We shall never know. One can only speculate.

That is bad leadership on the President’s part, but typical of the ANC government’s attitude to accountability and transparency.

A possible contributing factor

One important contributing factor, overlooked amidst the all the other substantial problems surrounding Shiceka at the time, were the political implications of his tenure for the ANC – always a consideration when dispensing and withdrawing patronage. On this front, prior to his removal from office and in a piece speculating his firing was imminent, a May 2011 Sunday Times story titled ‘Free-spending Shiceka’s head set to roll’ contained the following information:

“Some ANC leaders also feel that Shiceka’s awarding of accolades to DA-municipalities has not helped their campaign in the Western Cape.”

In response to that bit of news, the DA released a statement arguing that:

“It is essential for good governance that a department like the Department of Cooperative Governance be able to gauge, fairly and objectively, the performance of local authorities. Otherwise effective oversight is impossible, leading directly to even worse service delivery.”

And that,

“If DA-run municipalities feature well in any such analysis, it is because they perform well in the real world. Changing the statistics will not change the facts.”

Outside of that, however, the press never picked up on or chose to pursue this significant admission and nothing more was made of it.

How national government statistics highlighted DA governance

It is true the DA made extensive use of national government statistics in its election campaign, the overwhelming majority of which demonstrated that, where the DA governed, it delivered to a higher standard than the ANC. As most DA-run councils are in the Western Cape, it makes sense this sort of statistical information would compromise the ANC’s campaign in that province (and elsewhere actually) – which ultimately boiled down to dereogatory racial-rhetoric. Certainly it offered the public next to nothing when it came to delivery or policy.

Of these various statistical reports, the department’s Universal Household Access to Basic Services Index (uHABS) was perhaps the most devastating for the ANC. It identified Cape Town as the leading metro in the country when it comes to the provision of sanitation, refuse collection, electricity and water.

The study found that of the 24% of Cape Town households that live below its defined poverty line, an effective 100% (i.e. over 99.5%, rounded to the nearest whole number) had basic access to water and 91% “higher access”. For sanitation services, 94% had basic access and 93% “higher access”. In refuse collection the figures were 98% basic and 94% higher; in electricity both figures were 95%. By 2010, the City of Cape Town had achieved an effective 100% coverage in both water provision and refuse collection. As a result of these things, the uHABS report rated Cape Town at the very top of the ranking of district and metropolitan municipalities in South Africa.

These were highly notable achievements that belied any sort of claim the DA-run city neglected the poor. And, in doing so, went directly against the ANC’s election narrative – that the DA was an anti-poor party which cared only for white South Africans. Indeed, it was to undermine the ANC’s very legitimacy. For how could the one true ‘party of the people’ be delivering less to the poor and marginalised than its sworn enemy?

One can just imagine how much it must have irked the ANC to shown up by its own government.

Elsewhere, many other national, provincial, even local awards and reports produced by ANC-controlled governments recognised the DA’s achievements.

Notably, a survey commissioned by the office of the premier in Gauteng showed that the DA-run Midvaal municipality scored highest when it came to quality of life – the only municipality in the province where more than half of residents (68%) reported they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their local government. Significantly, the survey also found Midvaal had the lowest unemployment rate in the province (25%).

Again, one can image how this must have annoyed the ANC. It disproved the very empty rhetoric the ANC so heavily relied upon.

During the election campaign, chairperson of the ANC Sedibeng region (a district municipality in Gauteng), Simon Mofokeng, would claim, “such surveys are done in a skewed way, old ways and apartheid-style”. A bizarre comment if ever there was one. Why would the ANC government commission ‘apartheid-style’ research?

Ironically, Mofokeng also serves at the Executive Mayor of the Sedibeng District Municipality which, just a few months before the election, had awarded Midvaal three 1st places at Sedibeng’s Leaders and Achievers Awards, designed to compare the performance on municipalities in the district:

• Joint 1st place: Doing the most to attract both foreign and local investment.
• Joint 1st place: Doing the most for job creation.
• 1st place: Doing the most to fight crime and generate social upliftment.

There are many, many other examples – led by the national department – of ANC administrations finding that, on the facts, DA administrations delivered to a better standard.

Was Shiceka fired for promoting the DA?

Did the national department’s role in all this play a part in the President’s decision making process when it came firing Sicelo Shiceka?

We shall never know absolutely. The Sunday Times certainly suggests it was a very real factor.

But, it has been noticeable that, since the election, there has been relatively little comparative information coming out of the national department. It’s been well over a year since the uHABS were released.

Other institutions, independent from the national government, have found in various different areas that DA administrations deliver to a high standard. The Auditor-General, for example, again reported that the Western Cape was the first province to achieve financially unqualified reports for all its departments.

In the private sector too, various reports continue to find that DA-run councils outperform their ANC counterparts. The Municipal Financial Sustainability Index (MFSI) released by Ratings Afrika, for example, recently ranked Midvaal best municipality for financial stability in the province. Perhaps more significantly, the Municipal Productivity Index, released by Municipal IQ, found the top six performers across the whole country in this category were all DA-run councils. There are other examples.

But nothing from the national department. The ANC was badly burnt in the election. And to ensure it doesn’t happen again, it would appear it has decided to stop producing matches.

So, what does this mean in practical terms?

One of two possible things. Either the national department might clamp down on the kind of comparative statistical data it releases (or, at least, release it in a way that does not allow for the kind of comparisons the DA has made in the past) or it might simply release data selectively, that demonstrates what the ANC needs.

But I would image you can be fairly sure there will no further general releases that mirror the uHABS, for example.

It is a thesis easily tested: a parliamentary question to the current minister of co-operative governance, asking when the next uHABS is scheduled to be released might make for an interesting answer. Perhaps this is something the DA should do.


Should there be a clamp down on comparative statistics, it would not only be dishonest but to profoundly misunderstand the relationship between party and state. Government serves in the public interest and, indeed, at the publics’ pleasure. It has a duty to citizens to report fairly and accurately on the performance of all governments, at every level. And nowhere is that need more important than when it comes to the department of cooperative governance.

If that information shows the ANC up, well that is just too bad. In fact, if anything, that should be an incentive to improve its performance – which is the very point of competition, transparency and accountability.

Perhaps I am wrong, and the department of cooperative governance’s silence on this front is just the result of a general ineptitude. Time will tell.

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