WE have reached that time of year when children’s thoughts turn to a jolly, bearded and seriously overweight man with questionable fashion sense — not African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, but Father Christmas.
The myth of Santa Claus can help South Africans solve many of their most perplexing political problems.
Take, for example, the conundrum of ministerial evaluation exposed last week by the launch of the Democratic Alliance (DA)’s “cabinet report card”.
This scorecard was allegedly calculated on the basis of key performance indicators including ministers’ policy direction, openness and effectiveness in policy implementation.
The ANC’s monitoring and evaluation minister, Collins Chabane, allegedly used an equally rigorous evaluation methodology, based on performance contracts, to guide President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle last month.
The difficulty confronting citizens is that the two competing methodologies have produced widely divergent results. Former public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan was awarded eight out of 10 by the DA; Zuma sacked her.
In the media statement accompanying its report, the DA inexplicably singled out almost every prominent Zulu minister for condemnation.
The ANC’s evaluation process, by contrast, recommended that ministers Siyabonga Cwele , Blade Nzimande and Nathi Mthethwa retain their portfolios.
Indeed it was claimed that the Presidency’s finely calibrated evaluation systems had scientifically proven that ministers from the Eastern Cape should be replaced wherever possible by comrades from KwaZulu-Natal.
Even when DA and ANC recommendations concurred, it was for inconsistent reasons.
The official opposition praised Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan because he respects policy orthodoxy and has a benign appearance; Zuma retained him because he believes only Indians can run financial affairs even more complicated than his own.
Citizens alarmed by such shocking inconsistencies can turn to Eric Harvey’s classic management text, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, for more scientific assistance in evaluating ministerial performance.
This valuable book suggests that a minister can be judged as “naughty” or “nice” on the basis of his or her contribution to a complex gift-giving operation.
Ministers must manage employees (elves and reindeer), maintain facilities (the workshop), communicate with clients (through gift lists), and deliver public services (presents).
Santa dispenses punishment and rewards to his ministers.
But ultimately the most important people are little girls and boys, with names such as Julius and Floyd, who have written letters to Santa with their crayons asking him for toys, candy and government contracts.
Leadership Secrets has three very clear messages for those such as Zuma, who are charged with improving the performance of government ministers.
First, in a section entitled “choosing your reindeer wisely”, it recommends “hiring tough so you can manage easy” and “promoting the right ones for the right reasons” — two lessons Zuma has so far signally failed to learn.
Second, the book enjoins managers to “listen to the elves!” As Congress of South African Trade Unions chief spokesman Patrick “pointy ears” Craven observed earlier this week, the elves are the true creators of national wealth.
Despite the appointment of an elf minister to the newly created Elfin Development Department, Zuma does not appear to have taken the interests of this key constituency to heart.
Finally, the authors of Leadership Secrets note that Santa himself must “set the example”: in short, Zuma must “Be Good for Goodness Sake!”
If the ANC’s own leader fails to “walk the talk”, he will lose the people’s confidence and trust.
Eventually, if he continues to be naughty, ordinary citizens will simply stop believing in him.
?Butler teaches politics at Wits University in South Africa.