As chief whip of the ANC in Parliament, and an ardent supporter of Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid for the party’s presidency, Mthembu was always going to be rewarded with a plum Cabinet position.
As minister in the presidency, he is Ramaphosa’s eyes and ears in the administration, as well as the public face of the Ramaphosa government.
In the latter part of the job, Mthembu has decided to adopt a more open style of communication than his predecessors.
He is also the official spokesperson for the Cabinet. His interactions with the media have been fruitful and forthcoming. He answers with clarity and gives explanations during post-Cabinet media briefings, sometimes even if particular issues were not discussed in Cabinet meetings.
His job is to tout the government line of the day.
Mthembu has also been the public face of Ramaphosa’s response to several key issues in the country.
After a flurry of protests against gender-based violence, it was Mthembu who had to answer for government and say what it was doing, and where it was failing. He also had to make sure that his boss was on public platforms denouncing violence and giving the state’s position on protecting women and children, and punishing criminals.
In August, Mthembu stepped in and convened a meeting between a government agency, the Media Development and Diversity Agency, and small media outlets. The hyper-local media outfits complained that they were not receiving government grants. This would see radio stations and newspapers closed.
Mthembu stressed the government’s commitment to media freedom and the diversity of voices in the media landscape.
But Mthembu and his department have work to do. As head of the government’s monitoring and evaluation department, it is his job to make sure departments are meeting the needs of citizens through service delivery.
With dozens of municipalities on the brink of collapse as a result of failing infrastructure, citizens not paying for services, and resultant threats of disconnection by Eskom or local water boards, there has been little word on how Mthembu is bringing together the departments of co-operative governance, public enterprises, and water and sanitation to find solutions to these problems.
This is a critical failing. Although departments in the presidency occupy a grey area, they should be providing vision for other parts of government. That’s the only way that big problems — such as water scarcity and gender-based violence — will be tackled.