She promised “extraordinary interventions” in the parastatal sector after Malusi Gigaba’s destructive stint at the helm.
But the signs are that her five-month exposure to Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet is starting to deaden her reforming zeal.
Remember the ringing declaration in Brown’s July budget speech? State-owned enterprises had to get the basics right, she told Parliament. That meant delivering quality, affordable and accessible services, and serving as “the instruments of industrial policy and economic inclusion” in pushing back “the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment”.
Managers must be “paragons of strong, visionary and strategic leadership, cutting-edge business practices, innovation and exemplary governance”. In a media interview, she also pledged to stem political interference in state-owned companies. Which makes her stance this week on the latest debacle at SAA hard to fathom.
In the climax to escalating conflict, the SAA board has been rocked by mass resignations in protest against the chairperson, Dudu Myeni, whom other directors describe as a “truant” and “workshy”. Instead of a general purge, Brown’s reaction has been to target Myeni’s critics, leaving the chairperson and her sidekick, Yakhe Kwinana, the only members standing.
It is surely no coincidence that Myeni is close to Zuma and that both she and Kwinana have strong links with the Jacob Zuma Foundation. Given the persistent and almost unanimous criticism of Myeni by her fellow directors, how can sparing her promote “strong, visionary and strategic leadership” and “exemplary governance”?
SAA, which suffered a R1-billion loss last year and recently announced its ninth turnaround in 13 years, is desperately in need of clear and decisive leadership, undistorted by political hedging.
Brown’s hands-off approach to a R43-million sponsorship deal with the New Age newspaper of the politically connected Guptas, reported in this edition of the Mail & Guardian, smacks of a similar reluctance to cross Number One.
The man who signed the deal, former Eskom interim chief executive Collin Matjila, is a known to be a member of Zuma’s inner circle who was associated with the Guptas through Cosatu’s investment company, Kopano ke Matla.
Given the R225-billion hole in Eskom’s balance sheet and addiction to above-inflation increases, Brown’s response – that the chronically troubled state enterprise “must run the business as they need to” – is just not good enough.
The parastatal sector has been abused by a succession of ministers mainly interested in leveraging its resources and strategic position in the economy to bolster their power and dispense patronage.
Brown must not go down the same path. She must stick to her stated mission of ensuring the efficient use of public money in the service of ordinary South Africans.