Being the political face of a military involved in conflict has to be one of the toughest jobs in government. In her first full year in office, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula had to deal with the consequences of soldiers coming home in body bags from the Central African Republic, Sudan and Namibia.
The circumstances of the deaths did her no favours: a training exercise, an apparent suicide and a mission in support of what turned out to be an ill-liked leader without, in retrospect, any prospect of hanging on to power. It`s not what a minister wants to confront at a time when she has to convince the country to spend considerably more on the military, while a new inquiry digs up old dirt on an already controversial arms deal.
She had to handle all this while forming part of the security cluster fighting public opinion on President Jacob Zuma`s Nkandla upgrades. Not even the success of South African forces against M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo was going to offset those problems.
But Mapisa-Nqakula laid some important foundations during the year. She oversaw the creation of an education fund for the families of soldiers who die in action and presided over the implementation, finally, of free medical care for veterans. All of this is more than balanced out by her inability to overcome the never-ending bane of her portfolio: VIP flights on military planes at great expense to the taxpayer.
She started out so well, too, looking willing to put her predecessor, Lindiwe Sisulu, through the grinder as she halted the profligate use of the air force as a private airline. But then she fell into the trap of using a military helicopter to travel to Tlokwe, before citing security reasons for keeping details of flights by Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe secret.
You can do better, minister.