Nqakula – an assessment


Defence minister Charles Nqakula assumed his current portfolio in September.


At number 29 on the Independent Electoral Commission’s list of elected African National Congress Members of Parliament he is in line for a senior post in President-elect Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet, although where I am not about to speculate.

(We`ll all know by Monday.)


Regardless of whether he stays or goes, it may be an opportune moment to assess how he has done. Nqakula has been defence minister for just over six months. His previous task was police minister.


He is an affable man and – from a media perspective – easier to engage than his predecessor: and that is not just my opinion.


A retied officer-turned policy pundit says “Nqakula was probably more visible and assessable in his short spell at defence than Lekota had been in the last few years.


“This is probably due to [Mosiuoa] Lekota`s focus on his role as chairman of the ANC and his involvement in the internal party struggles.”


A senior colleague says “both the Army and the Navy seem to have perceived him as more interested, more approachable, more willing to listen to their concerns, and more open to ideas than his predecessor.


“But you must bear in mind that Lekota was hobbled by being party chairman, being tasked with all sorts of foreign policy work that that minister could not be trusted with, and by being given, shall we say less than adequate, people as deputy minister and secretary for defence.


“The result was that what time he had available for his actual portfolio had to go into putting out the fires those people started. I believe that this was deliberate on the part of the ANC: Lekota had a potentially vast following as a result of his previous position in the UDF [United Democratic Front, an internal “wing” of the ANC during the democracy struggle], and there was no way the exile – read SACP [SA Communist Party] – community was going to have a UDF man stand a chance of becoming the president; so they gave him the senior post that his stature and the role of the UDF demanded, but also made sure he could not perform well.”


The last paragraph sounds rather Mbekivellian, but sadly rings true of the former president. But it is neither Mbeki nor Lekota that is under discussion here, but the affable Nqakula.   


From my vantage point, the minister has been a consummate “team player” and departmental champion, although this has placed him in the awkward position of having advocated, as police minister, that the defence force be removed from borderline protection; and as defence minister that the military remain.


Similarly, he this role placed him in the embarrassing position of having to tell the media in March that the SANDF had to date received no money to back its mandate to support next month`s Confederations Cup or the Soccer World Cup next June. In fact, he said the police was refusing to share the funds Treasury had allocated to protecting the two events, considering the whole about R1.2 billion as its own. An uncomfortable place to be – but he handled it with aplomb.





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