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Skills revolution will suffer without Mantashe

The news that Gwede Mantashe will no longer head the government’s Jipsa programme is bad news for the skills revolution.

In early 2006 the Deputy President launched, Asgisa – the government’s drive for higher economic growth. The skills shortage was seen as the biggest impediment (or binding constraint) to reaching the target of 6% annual economic growth.

So at the same time that Asgisa was launched, the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa) was born.

At the release of the second annual report for Jipsa, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo–Ngcuka announced, quietly, almost under her breath, that Gwede Mantashe will no longer head the Technical Working Group of Jipsa.

This is the body that does most of the negotiation and work, before kicking the proposals upstairs to the Joint Task Team which comprises nine cabinet ministers, various captains of industry and other representatives.

“He’s no longer a unionist so can’t represent unions on Jipsa any longer,” we were told by the Deputy President. Bheki Ntshalintshali from Cosatu has joined the Technical Working Group.

It all sounds reasonable enough, but Mantashe wasn’t representing unions on the task team. He was appointed to the position by the national cabinet on the 7 March 2006. And he hasn’t been secretary general of the NUM since May 2006 –- so why is he suddenly not eligible?

Jipsa has never been a ‘stakeholder organisation’ where groups put forward candidates. All the businesspeople on Jipsa have only their companies listed against their names.

This is in contrast to the other national skills development body -– the National Skills Authority (NSA). With the NSA the four stakeholder groups put forward their candidates to represent them on the national body.

There was some controversy earlier this year when the DA called for Mantashe to be removed from his position on Jipsa because he was now the General Secretary of the ANC.

It’s very unlikely that Mantashe’s exit is because of the DA’s calls. If anything, that would have made it more likely that he would have kept the position!

It seems more likely that Mantashe opted out because he’s too busy with ANC duties these days.

Or maybe he didn’t want to be so closely associated to a flagship project of the national presidency. Is this a signal that Jipsa won’t survive a change in national leadership next year?

Mantashe’s role will be missed at Jipsa. While the meetings are rather secretive, all accounts are that he was a strong leader who refused to accept any holy cows.

Speaking at an NBI event late last year, Mantashe told how the education department was ‘our most difficult customer’. When one official objected to discussing a topic as it was already being considered by her minister, Mantashe pressed ahead, telling the meeting that everything was up for discussion.

It’s a great pity that Mantashe will no longer be playing this role. He was already successfully ‘banging heads together’ before Polokwane.

At the time, I wrote that his new power in the movement could lead to even more success. Unfortunately it’s not to be.

Everyone you speak to says that the skills shortage is the country’s biggest challenge. If a top leader of the ‘new’ ANC was focussed on solving the problem we might believe them!