Motshekga brings political experience and tertiary education learning to the defence and military veterans’ portfolio

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa naming long-serving basic education minister Angie Motshekga as defence and military veterans minister for democratic South Africa’s seventh administration raised eyebrows in the wider South African defence fraternity.

It is public knowledge her background is education going back to a higher national diploma in education followed by a BA Education, a BA in Educational Science and an education Masters.

When announcing the executive of the seventh administration on government television on Sunday, Ramaphosa pointed out people with the necessary experience, skills and capabilities were considered for GNU (Government of National Unity) Cabinet positions. “It is important that we deploy into positions of responsibility people who are committed, capable and hard-working and who have integrity,” he told the nation.

Soweto born Motshekga, an African National Congress (ANC) member of 34 years standing, was part of civil and political activism in the years leading up to democracy in 1994. Among others she was involved in and part of the then Soweto Education Crisis Committee, the National Education Co-ordinating Committee, the United Democratic Front (UDF), the National Education Union of SA and the Pimville Civic Association. She was also national convenor of the teacher unity talks that led to the formation of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU).

She joined the ANC in 1990 with her first appearance on the post-democratic political stage as chair of the Gauteng provincial legislature standing committee on education in 1999. This was followed by provincial member of the executive committee (MEC) posts in the social development and education portfolios.

In 2008, a year ahead of being named Basic Education Minister by then president Jacob Zuma, Motshekga was elected as ANC Women’s League National President, a post she held for seven years. Cabinet-wise, her tenure at the basic education portfolio was extended by Ramaphosa when he replaced Zuma in 2019.

She has the distinction of – briefly – being South Africa’s first woman president. This was in an acting position while Ramaphosa represented South Africa at former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda’s funeral in July 2021.

She is, open source information has it, married to Mathole Motshekga, the second premier of Gauteng succeeding Tokyo Sexwale in 1998. His political career saw him serve five years on the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), ANC Chief Whip for four years – all the while remaining an ANC public representative in the National Assembly (NA).

Defence expert Helmoed Heitman told The Citizen that, “the president has been very unfair to the defence force and the new ministers by appointing new people, two of them with no apparent relevant background when the SANDF faces a very difficult situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and must complete the withdrawal from the failed mission in Mozambique”.

He said it would have been better to keep the existing team until things were stabilised and that it would have been better to appoint Bantu Holomisa as minister rather than deputy, a role in which he now serves alongside Richard Mkhungo.