Naledi Pandor is undeniably one of South Africa’s hardest-working Cabinet members. She travels the country and the world lobbying for her portfolio. She is the face of pan-African science and technology, and her impassioned and eloquent speeches make people at home and overseas believe that science and research are key to the continent’s development and future.
On the international stage — whether it is at the World Science Forum in Jordan, the World Conference of Science Journalists in the United States or the unveiling of a radio telescope in Ghana — she manages to repair some of damage (albeit far from all) done to South Africa’s international image by the shenanigans of other members of government.
At home, her department continues to have clean audits and she has managed to defend its small budget. It received R7.5-billion for the 2017-2018 financial year. Although that figure is constant in nominal terms, it is not keeping up with inflation or the country’s weakening currency.
That said, Pandor is a political heavyweight with years of Cabinet and parliamentary experience and is largely responsible for safeguarding the department’s limited income from being cut in the face of increased economic turmoil.
“The funding is not yet at the level we want to see it,” she said before her departmental budget vote in Parliament.
For the past few years, she has received As for her performance, for overseeing a well-functioning and effective department, which is thrown into sharp relief when viewed against other ministers and departments. But, even if a department is functional and its civil servants are hard-working and dedicated, it cannot help but be contaminated by the inefficacy of others.
In the case of the department of science and technology, it suffers from “pilotitis”, a proliferation of successful pilot projects of problem-solving technologies and ideas that fizzle out when they are handed over to other departments, which her department has to do because it is so small.
Although Pandor runs a tight ship and boosts South Africa’s — and Africa’s — international image, she has staunchly adhered to party lines and has not criticised other departments and her fellow Cabinet members for failing to do their jobs.