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Why isn’t Angie the new Manto?


So there I was, having dinner with my family, talking about Lance Armstrong and yellow bracelets, when I had a random thought: is Angie the new Manto?

They do have an awful lot in common.

Both instantly recognisable by a single name.

Both spectacularly bad at their jobs. Under Angie, we’ve embraced chronic and possibly terminal mediocrity. Manto was held responsible for the 365 000 premature deaths.

Both astonishingly thick skinned and breathtakingly obtuse. Sample Manto quote: “I can’t stop working. The health of the nation depends on it.” Sample Angie quote: “It (delivering textbooks) is an administrative function and it has nothing to do with me as a minister.” (She also rated herself 8 out of 10, to the bewilderment of anyone on the receiving end of her magnificent incompetence.)

Both exemplify the worst aspect of the administration in which they “serve”. Manto was to Thabo Mbeki as Angie is to Jacob Zuma.

In fact, Angie has been the new Manto ever since she became Minister of Really, Really Basic Education. So why hasn’t she become a cultural figure in the same way that Manto did? Why isn’t she instantly recognisable? Why doesn’t she feature in more jokes and more Zapiro cartoons? More tweets and status updates?

Why isn’t she the new Manto?

It might be worth bringing in some context here. Since 1990, South Africa — notably white, middle-class South Africa — has been enthralled by a string of powerful black female figures it loves to hate. Winnie’s reign as a figure who terrified white South Africa was the longest, later she was replaced by Dr No and then Manto. Now there’s Angie, who seems to inspire frustration and fury across the divides that still characterise our society.

You’d think, given the central role that education now occupies in public discourse — largely replacing those issues that used to preoccupy the tweeting classes, such as crime, health and Zimbabwe — that she would have become one of those figures who transcend politics and enter culture. Thinking about why this hasn’t happened, I can only put forward the following two suggestions:

1. Education is more complicated than antiretrovirals. Manto became associated with one relatively simple issue: the refusal to roll out drugs, and the proffering of nutrition as a solution instead. Angie’s refusal to accept responsibility for the failures of her department is a matter of evasiveness rather than stubbornness and the refusal to acknowledge accepted scientific fact. Shocking as the Limpopo textbook debacle was, it’s harder to identify her with a single issue in quite the same way.

2. There’s no beetroot. (And no liver transplant, no booze or kleptomania.) Manto was a gift to satirists. (I used her in the title of my second collection of South African insults, McBride of Frankenmanto.) Compare a Google search for Manto to one for Angie.

The only interesting thing Angie has done, apart from repeatedly distancing herself from responsibility for the endemic mediocrity to which we are dooming ourselves, is attend her daughter’s wedding, which featured on Top Billing.

Angie again

Simply put, Angie is too boring to be Manto.

The trouble is, we have short attention spans and, thanks to social media, it’s getting worse. We’re interested in soundbites and social objects — anything that lends itself to becoming a meme. Look at last year’s US presidential race: legitimate rape, binders full of women, hair flag lady. Or South Africa’s year: Nkandla, Marikana, Mangaung. If we can’t wrestle it down to a neat name and put it in a box, we lose interest in it. Cyril Ramaphosa is now synonymous (for some) with a very expensive buffalo because it offers a convenient shorthand for his wealth and, some would suggest, questionable priorities.

There’s no buffalo for Angie and so, horrific as her performance has been, we seem unable to find a convenient shorthand for her. That said, she hasn’t been in the portfolio that long compared to Manto, so all of this may change, and she’ll have her beetroot yet.

At the International Aids Conference in 2006, the UN envoy on Aids, Stephen Lewis, tore into the South African government. “The government has a lot to atone for. I’m of the opinion that they can never achieve redemption.” As it turned out, they did, sort of, at least when it comes to HIV/Aids.

Today, you could make much the same statement about the government’s handling of education. We can only hope that redemption is possible there, too.


  • During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.


  1. The Creator The Creator 21 January 2013

    MaNtombazana Tshabalala-Msimang was involved in a massive project providing tens of billions of rands for pharmaceutical companies. The stakes were high, so it was easy to manipulate the media to hate her. (Anyway the media naturally hate black women.)

    Angie Motshekga is involved in a much smaller project which largely provides hundreds of millions of rands to stationery companies — which aren’t multinational, so nobody’s sending e-mails to journalists telling them what to say.

    Also, the West wanted Mbeki out, whereas the West wants Zuma in.

    It’s simple, really.

    Oh, the chief difference between them is that Tshabalala-Msimang was actually hard-working and idealistic, whereas Motshekga seems to be an incompetent, lazy careerist. It’s hard for journalists not to identify with incompetent, lazy careerists . . .

  2. Mfundi Mfundi 21 January 2013

    “South Africa — notably white, middle-class South Africa — has been enthralled by a string of powerful black female figures it loves to hate.” If that’s correct, it is shocking. Nobody should be judged on their power, race or gender, but only on their behaviour and values. I hope this is tongue in cheek, as if it is correct, it is disturbing.

  3. DeeGee DeeGee 21 January 2013

    Strangely I had a similar thought this morning: I think Zuma’s our new Manto.

  4. Jerome Jerome 21 January 2013

    Also, Angie has to contend with the spectacularly asinine legacy of Kader Asmal – a hard act to follow, besides which mere incompetence diminishes into the imperceptible.

  5. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 21 January 2013

    Because Angie can handle her liquor.

  6. mike venter mike venter 21 January 2013

    “Also, the West wanted Mbeki out, whereas the West wants Zuma in.”

    How did you get to that conclusion? Can you elaborate?

  7. Sarah Britten Sarah Britten Post author | 21 January 2013

    #Mfundi: it would be nice to say it was tongue in cheek, but there were definitely powerful black women that scared white South Africa. Of course in an ideal world we should judge people only on their behaviour, but humans are complex creatures and race and class always come into it. I wrote an entire thesis on this currents in SA society and together with the research I did for the insult books, this came through very clearly.

    By way of contrast, Helen Zille is judged not on her performance, but on her race, class and gender – hence the frequent use of the “white madam” epithet. So it cuts both ways.

  8. BillyC BillyC 21 January 2013

    Angie is an unmitigated awfull manager of Education, but she was handed a poison chalice. Succesive DG’s in her dept have been senior SADTU cadres, who have allowed the union to run education into the ground. Inspectors were the first to go, followed by any form of meritocracy. Outcomes Based Policy had already been rejected by most sensible countries in the world, but we were commited to replace 3R’s “bantu education” at any cost.

    Until teachers teach, headmasters and provincial DOE’s manage schools, it won’t matter who’s at head office, eduction will flouder from one disaster to the next.

    The same applies to most Govt Depts. Cadre deployment was the worst thing to happen to SA public service

  9. Emma Louise Powell Emma Louise Powell 21 January 2013

    I think Section 27’s perpetual (& rightful) litigation has been inadvertantly diverting the attention away from Angie’s incompetency- the focus has been on the status quo as opposed to the reasons behind it. What a brilliant and relevant article. Share, share, share.

  10. The Creator The Creator 21 January 2013

    Mike, Mbeki was a terrible thorn in the West’s side, always interfering with their little plans for various African countries, and so he was smeared up, down and sideways in the Western media. Once Bush turned against him (after 2006 when Bush got interested in invading African countries because the Middle East and Central Asia had turned out badly) Mbeki was toast.

    Zuma was massively funded by Western big business via the “Friends of Jacob Zuma”; I also have a hunch that a lot of the black-bag money laundered by Libya actually came from the West.

    And didn’t you notice the cheers in the Western media when Mbeki was thrown out, and how thoroughly they’ve soft-pedalled the crimes of Zuma? Meanwhile Zuma’s basically done exactly what the West wants, even down to sending troops to help out French and American imperialism in Central Africa.

    Given that so much of our press is recycled garbage from the West — my brother-in-law looked at one local paper and said “Why would anyone want to buy yesterday’s Daily Mail?” — I’m not surprised that our press follows a Western narrative quite closely. The education scandal is a local issue, not of great interest to the rich, powerful and multinational.

  11. The Creator The Creator 21 January 2013

    And, Jerome, I wouldn’t deny that Asmal was a very, very bad Minister of Education, but you seem to have forgotten that he bowed out in 2006, and that most of his damage was done in further education and universities. Motshekga has had four years to straighten out the mess left by Naledi Pandor. She hasn’t done very well — of course, she can’t really, because she’s denied the money to do anything effective.

  12. MLH MLH 21 January 2013

    You forget the wonderful, classy Noeke lady, Mbeki’s deputy and our present AU chairwoman; neither vilified by the press.
    The biggest mistake about Manto’s beetroot and garlic fix was that the state didn’t offer to provide them free. How many people would be on ARVs now if they were paying for them themselves? If you can’t afford basic food, you can’t afford ARVs.
    There are other magnificent black women that the press treats kindly: the Public Protector is one. Thank God she and a few others are too smart to align themselves with the ANC’s dirty politics.
    And on that note, don’t blame us for our short attention span; there’s a new fraud and corruption scandal every day, courtesy of the ANC. We just cannot keep up anymore: information overload it’s called, I believe.

  13. Julian Frost Julian Frost 22 January 2013

    @The Creator:
    “Once Bush turned against him (after 2006 when Bush got interested in invading African countries…”
    Which African countries were invaded in 2007/2008?
    “Zuma was massively funded by Western big business via the “Friends of Jacob Zuma””.
    LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL! I’d like to see evidence of this “massive funding”.
    “And didn’t you notice the cheers in the Western media when Mbeki was thrown out, and how thoroughly they’ve soft-pedalled the crimes of Zuma?”
    I’m sorry, are you serious? “Soft-pedalled” Zuma?
    Your name suits you. Unfortunately, you’re a creator af fantasy.

  14. Dave Harris Dave Harris 22 January 2013

    Just to put this “textbook saga” into perspective.
    Nowhere in the world has any secretly funded organization like Section 27 be allowed to take a Minister of Education to court over the late delivery of textbooks!!!

    Yes, the bashing of powerful women is quite common especially in mainstream corporate media – that corporate old-boys network. Just like Winnie Mandela was crucified by the apartheid propaganda machine, Sarah Britten continues this tradition by juxtaposing Angie Motshekga with Winnie Mandela (accused but not convicted of the vilest of crimes) and MaNtombazana Tshabalala-Msimang (made Mbeki the laughing stock of the world).
    Its an old marketing trick and Sarah’s marketing background becomes valuable in peddling these divisive politics to suit the interests of the privileged who want to blame our education problems caused by CENTURIES of Bantu education, on the government for the late delivery of textbooks!!!

  15. Charlotte Charlotte 22 January 2013

    Loved your comparisons. Brilliant
    @ DeeGee
    To take it a step further, Zuma is to politics what Lance Armstrong is to cycling.
    Only difference, Lance isn’t hiding it any more, while Zuma is still riding high.

  16. The Creator The Creator 22 January 2013

    Julian —

    1. The reference was to the American invasion of Somalia which caused the bulk of the current disaster. This was followed by a much-increased Western assault on Africa (Ivory Coast, Libya, DRC and now Mali). Also, of course, the expansion of AFRICOM.
    2. Who do you think paid Zuma’s gigantic legal bills? And you don’t think that all those cronies were following him like sheep for free, do you?
    3. During the 2005-2009 period the media systematically subverted all representation of Zuma’s actual criminal activity and sided with the judges who undermined the NPA and protected Zuma against prosecution. You may also remember how the media regurgitated Zuma propaganda again and again and covered up for the NPA’s fraudulent abandonment of the prosecution case. For the next couple of years there was almost complete silence about Zuma’s criminal activities although there was extensive criticism of the crooks whom he appointed to the Cabinet. Subsequently there has been some criticism of Zuma over peripheral issues such as Nkandla, but no actual criticism of his policies because the media supports them.

    Try reading the media sometime. You’d be surprised at what you’d learn.

  17. The Creator The Creator 22 January 2013

    Oh, MLH, have you already forgotten how Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was hounded out of her job by the press? Or are you just too young to remember anything that happened between 1995 and 1999?

  18. Reducto Reducto 22 January 2013


    “Nowhere in the world has any secretly funded organization like Section 27 be allowed to take a Minister of Education to court over the late delivery of textbooks!!!”

    Still not able to name anywhere else in the world textbooks have been delivered 6-10 months late. Or where someone like Angie would still be in the job.

    We have a justiciable Bill of Rights, which includes the right to education. It is perfectly legitimate to litigate the matter.

    Why do you think the matter has not been appealed? The Department would lose, that is why.

    Deal with it.

  19. DeeGee DeeGee 23 January 2013

    @ Harris. In addition to what Reducto has said, your comment seems to imply that a Minister should not be taken to court for dereliction of duty (which I think is the generally accepted view on this whole saga). How can a Minister allow the non-delivery of textbooks to occur under her watch? And give herself 8 out of 10, mind! I think the answer is obvious. But more importantly, your comment implies, by extension, that Ministers are above the law. Sadly, most think they are, but isn’t that a very dangerous conclusion. These people are not gods. They are public officials. There to represent the best interest of the people of South Africa. I’ll avoid the use of the word accountability, as it should be implied, but sadly never applied……

    Lastly, it would seem that your blame for the text book saga has an additional villain. Not only is it the fault of the DA (somehow), but also bantu education. The non-delivery of textbooks in 2012 is the fault of bantu education. Right. Let me see if I understand this – so, are you saying the kids in 2012 did not get textbooks because the department is full of people educated under an inferior education system? Or are you saying that kids in 2012 continue to obtain an inferior education, so the late delivery of textbooks is a non-issue anyway?

  20. Barbra Barbra 23 January 2013

    Brilliant article, Sarah. I hope everyone who reads it will circulate it to everyone they know. This woman must be stopped; she seems hell-bent on doing more harm than Verwoerd’s Bantu education policies did…

  21. Dave Harris Dave Harris 26 January 2013

    Actually, peaceful PROTEST works in a democracy because Ministers want to do the right thing. So why aren’t the students and parents affected by these “textbook crisis” not taking to the streets en-mass to protest? Its because this crisis is largely fabricated by the usual suspects. Using a secretly funded organizations like Section 27, to “speak on behalf of the people” undermines the very concept of democracy!!!

    Granted the late delivery of textbooks reveals glitches in our system but to demean a Minister and to abuse our justice system to play politics is downright abhorrent!

  22. Georgina Pilkington Georgina Pilkington 28 January 2013

    I don’t understand how anybody thinks Angie is lazy. That is an uninformed view and is based on perceptions. First speak to people working in her team before you make these views in a public space.

  23. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 17 February 2013

    @Unzola, Angie has reduced the passing score in the schools to thirty and none of the political parties are making political capital out this. Oprah was in SA last year and she complained about the low passing score. Professor Jensen has written about how the education was being downgraded and has written about it. However, the Angie thing to fame is when she took all of the children out of school to protest the Zuma’s rape trial.

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