For Justice and Correctional Services Minister Mike Masutha, it’s a case of living with the sins of the father – and these appear to be both venial and mortal.
Masutha might well be asking why he is being punished in this way, given that President Jacob Zuma has tasked him with heading what were formerly two ministries – justice and correctional services.
It’s a double whammy, given that a long line of his predecessors did not acquit themselves particularly well in either of these portfolios, leaving our criminal justice system dysfunctional to this day.
The legacy Masutha has inherited includes a faction-riven National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), whose woes date back to then-president Thabo Mbeki’s tenure, and a correctional services system that continues to ensure its inmates graduate from jails that are overcrowded universities of crime with little chance of rehabilitation or integration.
The reality is that they are likely to find themselves back in the slammer after serving their term or released on parole. Masutha’s efforts at sorting out the NPA have failed to inspire. His apparent ineffectiveness might also be related to the fact that he’s not a member of the ANC’s national executive committee and is essentially a lightweight politically.
It is clear that Masutha appears to play second fiddle to Zuma and others in the presidency on criminal justice issues, and seems to be outclassed by several ANC MPs on the Judicial Service Commission. The poor maintenance of the country’s courts continues to bedevil the system, although this is not a matter for Masutha alone, who has to rely on the public works minister to try and improve things.
Masutha’s greatest failure so far is his apparent lip service to the administrative independence of the judiciary by failing to ensure that the office of the chief justice, not his ministry, has control of the purse strings where it really matters.
His recent announcement of the transfer of some powers and staff to the judiciary is largely cosmetic. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has repeatedly made his displeasure clear and been critical that senior staff in his office remain proxies for the minister.
With the controversial Legal Practice Bill having been tabled in Parliament by his predecessor, Jeff Radebe, but signed into law under Masutha’s watch, it is now left to him to ensure its proper implementation.
Masutha was barely in office when the thorny issue of apartheid death squad leader Eugene de Kock’s parole landed on his desk. The minister opted to delay the process by a year instead of taking a hard decision. De Kock’s lawyers have now turned to the courts to force a resolution.
Given that Masutha is still grappling with the mistakes of those who went before him and has only been in office for seven months, it would be premature to fail him. However, he will have to improve substantially if he hopes to be a cut above the rest.