Grade: Too soon to grade
A little more than six months ago, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula inherited a desk that must have been groaning under the weight of unresolved issues left behind by Lindiwe Sisulu. She has not made great strides in resolving many of those issues, but her approach shows promise.
VIP flights continue to haunt defence, but Mapisa-Nqakula`s willingness to feed Sisulu to the parliamentary wolves on her extensive use of luxury jets worked out well for her. It established her as tough enough for the job (sadly still a test that a woman in charge of the military must pass) and as willing to be responsive to Parliament (something her predecessor notoriously was not).
The cancellation of the procurement of a new aeroplane for use by President Jacob Zuma technically did not come under her watch, but sorting out the mess that is VIP aeroplanes and their use will be entirely up to her – and may come to define her term, unfair as that would be.
However, her grade here is determined by her actual performance to date, and that has not been sparkling. Mapisa-Nqakula has been treading water, showing little sign of having solutions for anything from infighting at board level at the state-owned Armscor to the fundamental dysfunction of the military. When the department of defence itself admits that redeploying soldiers to borders has left the army unable to adequately protect the country against attack, we would hope for a minister with a clear plan – and the ability to get her troops to fall in line behind it.
Her handling of a defence review that painted a grim picture of the state of readiness of the defence forces also falls short. If she has been advocating and lobbying for the increase in military spending required to plug the holes – an increase that will be unpopular, to say the least – she has managed to keep it remarkably well hidden.
But the most disappointing part of her tenure has been the panicked response to an announcement that axed ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema would speak to a small group of disgruntled, suspended soldiers. A minister of defence who shows little faith in her commanders` ability to maintain discipline in the face of a labour dispute is worrying. One who subsequently does nothing to improve that discipline is worse.