CityPress - - Voices -

When Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ap­pointed Tina Joe­matPet­ters­son to his Cab­i­net in 2009 as agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, she was a dar­ling of the peo­ple, one of the most popular MECs of the past decade.

Fast-for­ward five years. Joe­matPet­ters­son is reap­pointed to Cab­i­net, this time as min­is­ter of en­ergy, elic­it­ing gasps of out­rage and in­credulity. The min­is­ter was loved no more.

Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son’s rise to power has a dis­tinctly Shake­spear­ian feel to it. It is a tale of a woman who in the space of five years trans­formed from an adored, pas­sion­ate MEC to a con­tentious pres­i­den­tial loy­al­ist.

When Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son signed an agree­ment with the Rus­sians over a new nu­clear pro­gramme for South Africa, there was not much doubt that she was in­deed Pres­i­dent Zuma’s en­voy. In the past five years, Joe­matPet­ters­son has been at the cen­tre of quite a few scan­dals.

Her CV now in­cludes a huge fall­out with her own port­fo­lio com­mit­tee and a very pub­lic row with Thuli Madon­sela after two damn­ing re­ports emerged from the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor’s of­fice.

But de­spite her prob­lems, the pres­i­dent has yet to rep­ri­mand her in any way. In fact, she has been re­warded and in ef­fect placed at the head of a R1 tril­lion nu­clear deal.

Back in 2009, Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son was in­deed trea­sured, not only by Zuma. Peo­ple spoke about her pas­sion, her en­ergy and the fact that she never slept. But there were also mut­ter­ings about a tem­per. She did not suf­fer fools eas­ily, those who worked with her said. Her am­bi­tion burnt bright.

While she was ed­u­ca­tion MEC, the North­ern Cape re­ceived the best re­sults in the coun­try for three years in a row. As agri­cul­ture MEC, she joked that she would read­ily wear two-tone khaki – if it was de­sign­er­made. She was hands-on, and traipsed through dust and kraals to win the hearts of her con­stituency.

How­ever, it was not Joe­matPet­ters­son’s fa­mous work ethic that landed her in Cab­i­net after Polok­wane; it was her pol­i­tics.

Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son had bet on the right horse and ap­plied some se­ri­ous el­bow grease to con­vince ANC vot­ers in the North­ern Cape to go with Ja­cob Zuma. For her trou­bles, she earned her­self a seat on the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, as well as Zuma’s ear.

The pe­tite, stylish woman im­me­di­ately charmed her­self into the hearts of her of­fi­cials. She showed up at her first Land Bank an­nual gen­eral meet­ing and waited in a queue for her badge like other del­e­gates. “I’m the min­is­ter. I’m ready to work and serve,” she told the sur­prised clerk.

But storms were al­ready gath­er­ing. Two months into her term, Joe­matPet­ters­son forced out her di­rec­tor­gen­eral, Njab­ulo Nduli. At the time, many thought it was sim­ply Joe­matPet­ters­son get­ting rid of dead wood.

But soon trusted ad­vis­ers, spokes­peo­ple and direc­tors-gen­eral ei­ther fled or were fired from her depart­ment.

A key for­mer ally of Joe­matPet­ters­son de­scribed work­ing with her as a “bipo­lar ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“When Tina Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son was on a roll, she was the best per­son in gov­ern­ment. But as soon as the stress started, the self-doubt started, and that is when her bad side would come out.”

He spoke about her tem­per tantrums alien­at­ing of­fi­cials.

Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son, now un­der na­tional scru­tiny, also slowly started build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as some­one with a taste for the good life. The

As soon as the stress started, the self-doubt started, and that is when her bad side would come out

joke about her de­signer khaki out­fit turned on her, as ru­mours about her pref­er­ence for five-star ho­tels emerged. A splurge on a lux­ury Sand­ton guest­house for 28 peo­ple led to her first Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son, a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party, is hardly a pau­per. Her well-off Swedish hus­band, Thor­vald Pet­ters­son, left her un­lim­ited travel funds, as well as R100 000 monthly main­te­nance support for their kids, Austin and Ter­rence, after his death in 2006. De­spite this, she said her kids had to sleep on a floor of a ho­tel while the depart­ment of pub­lic works dal­lied on her house ren­o­va­tions.

Madon­sela found in her re­port, ti­tled Costly Moves, that although the min­is­ter had not vi­o­lated the ex­ec­u­tive ethics code, Joe­matPet­ters­son’s ig­no­rance of the costs was a cause for se­ri­ous con­cern be­cause she “dis­played a blankcheque at­ti­tude to­wards pub­lic funds”.

More telling was the find­ing that Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son should re­pay R151 878 spent on re­turn flights for her two chil­dren and their au pair from Swe­den in early 2010. The min­is­ter was ur­gently called back by Pres­i­dent Zuma to help with his wed­ding.

Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son’s rush to get back to the wed­ding re­veals the close re­la­tion­ship she has built with Zuma since 2009.

“This mat­ter had to do with freshfood prod­ucts for the wed­ding and I came back to sort it out,” she said.

But why was the min­is­ter of agri­cul­ture in­volved in a cri­sis around food for a wed­ding?

In another in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Madon­sela also called for dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son for her role in an R800 mil­lion marine re­sources ten­der.

Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son’s re­sponse was to chal­lenge Madon­sela in court on the find­ings against her.

While for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions min­is­ter Dina Pule was pub­licly rep­ri­manded, Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son es­caped ac­tion, cre­at­ing the im­pres­sion that she was pro­tected.

Food se­cu­rity had be­come one of the min­is­ter’s cham­pi­oning causes, but it still caught many by sur­prise when Presid­net Zuma’s nephew Deebo Mzobe and his char­ity, Ma­si­bam­bisane, be­came one of the chief ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Joe­matPet­ters­son’s new cam­paign. The pres­i­dent founded Ma­si­bam­bisane, but the lines of the non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion and that of the state be­came blurred, and it is still un­clear how much was in­vested in Ma­si­bam­bisane.

More scan­dals emerged and Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son seemed to be self­de­struc­t­ing. Yet at the ANC 53rd na­tional elec­tive con­fer­ence at Man­gaung, she again en­sured support for Zuma, but it re­mained to be seen if Zuma would choose loy­alty over con­tro­versy.

Pres­i­dent Zuma not only stuck with Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son, but en­trusted her with one of his most crit­i­cal jobs in the coun­try, that of over­see­ing a legacy project of his – South Africa’s new nu­clear build pro­gramme. Zuma had been on the hunt for a loyal, get-the-job-done, no-ques­tions-asked min­is­ter for the port­fo­lio. Ap­par­ently for­mer en­ergy min­is­ter Ben Martins and his pre­de­ces­sor, Dipuo Peters, did not fit his mould, and he in­serted Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son.

Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son’s trou­bles have en­sured that Zuma has a very use­ful tool for keep­ing his min­is­ter in check. But he has also placed her at the cen­tre of South Africa’s most ex­pen­sive pro­cure­ment process, en­sur­ing that the stress lev­els will not sub­side any time soon.

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