Reported political differences and decisions over the delayed appointment of an MEC for Education came to an end yesterday (Wednesday) with a minimal reshuffle of the Provincial Cabinet, resulting in a single casualty and two new incumbents being welcomed onto the Executive Council (Exco).
After taking two oaths in the time span of a few hours as both Legislature member and Member of the Executive Council (MEC), Phophi Ramathuba was sworn in as Limpopo’s new MEC for Health at a noon ceremony at the Premier’s Office yesterday. She replaced Ishmael Kgetjepe, who moved over to fill the existing vacancy of MEC for Education. At the same time Rob Tooley took the oath as new MEC for Provincial Treasury, replacing Rudolph Phala. The latter was seen a befitting choice by Premier Stan Mathabatha, for Tooley served as Head of Department (HOD) of Provincial Treasury during the Mathale era.
No opportunity was created for Mathabatha to address the media after the swearing in ceremony, but he was quoted in a subsequently released media statement saying that he had no doubt that the changes would add value to their commitment to accelerate delivery of services to their people and ensure an improvement in the overall administration of the provincial government.
The swearing in of Ramathuba, a medical doctor by profession, as Legislature member during a low key ceremony officiated by Speaker Merriam Ramadwa yesterday morning paved the way for the later announcement. Seemingly Ramathuba’s experience in the medical field made her the appropriate candidate for MEC for Health, which necessitated the reshuffle.
General expectations about an actual announcement reached fever pitch this week. According to sources in party ranks, a fair amount of preference sharing based on political sentiments had occurred before Mathabatha would have arrived at the final decision. Mathabatha’s choice for a substitute Education MEC had to fall on a candidate capable of saving the embattled department, rather than boasting so-called struggle credentials.
Considering the bigger scheme of things, the greatest pressure to perform would be on Kgetjepe to rapidly come up with a quick fix for a department that stands at a dismal 38% overall achievement rate as set out in its fourth quarter report of 2015.
As recently as Tuesday the blame for failure to appoint an MEC of Education that had thus far cost Limpopo dearly, was placed squarely on Mathabatha. The Premier came under fire from Democratic Alliance (DA) Provincial Leader Jacques Smalle for not acting timely to prevent the underlying mess the slow-moving department seemingly finds itself in. In an interview Smalle, in his dual capacity as leader of an opposition political formation in the province and member of the Portfolio Committee on Education, ascribed the status quo at the Department of Education to the Premier hesitating to appoint a replacement in a vacancy in one of the key departments in Limpopo. According to Smalle none of it could be attributed to then acting Education MEC Jerry Ndou, who was seen biting off a big chunk while he in addition remained in charge of the Public Works, Roads and Infrastructure portfolio and is leader of government business in Limpopo. Smalle then emphasised that an appointment of an MEC had to be made as a matter of urgency.
“If the department were a corporate, the sheriff would have moved in to close down the business long ago,” Smalle exclaimed as he sketched the magnitude of the problem that centres on several thorny issues that are at the core of departmental principles, including quality of teaching, infrastructure backlogs and appropriate learner teacher support material.
In the meantime the Department of Education literally came under physical attack in the early hours of yesterday when a departmental tender box, situated along Biccard Street, was apparently set alight. The incident occurred on the last date for submission of tender documents related to the National Schools Nutrition Programme, it was stated in a communiqué released shortly after. It was explained that the tender process commenced last month and was supposed to close yesterday.
When approached for comment, Provincial Police Spokesperson Ronel Otto told Polo-kwane Observer a charcoal Mercedes-Benz had driven into the premises of the Department of Education whereupon an occupant alighted and inserted a document into the tender box. A loud bang had subsequently been heard, she said. According to her the possibility existed that explosives could have been used. A case of malicious damage to property and arson is being investigated, it was learnt.