ministers at war?

THE reported bitter rivalry between Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and his deputy Fikile Mbalula needs drastic, immediate action by President Jacob Zuma.

THE reported bitter rivalry between Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and his deputy Fikile Mbalula needs drastic, immediate action by President Jacob Zuma.

Media reports have suggested that at issue is Mthethwa's fear that Mbalula is hijacking his powers by claiming high-profile public appearances and relegating him to the background.

Signs of unease between Mthethwa and Mbalula go back to soon after the two were appointed to the ministry six months ago. A police parade in the Eastern Cape was cancelled because Mthethwa was apparently not told about it.

When reports of the tension initially emerged, Zuma, Mthethwa and Mbalula issued a joint statement blaming "evil forces" within the police for spreading the allegations.

A few months ago Mbalula allegedly did not arrive for a media briefing at a press club.

He had allegedly been invited along with Mthethwa and new police commissioner Bheki Cele. This was allegedly soon after Cele's appointment.

A Sunday newspaper has reported that Mthethwa and Mbalula were again at each other's throats last week when Mthethwa allegedly stopped Mbalula from addressing the National Press Club in Pretoria.

Mbalula was due to address the media on security for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, visible policing and the ANC's realignment since the party's Polokwane conference.

Mthethwa apparently phoned the National Press Club chairperson Yusuf Abramjee on a Tuesday afternoon and demanded that the media briefing be cancelled.

It is disturbing that some senior administrators are alleged to have left the ministry as a result of the tension.

Even more importantly, the country cannot afford to have the political heads of a ministry whose responsibility is to ensure the safety of South Africans and that the country hosts a safe and successful World Cup, at each others throats.

It is Zuma's responsibility to intervene because this unfortunate situation was of his own doing.

It was unwise and un-strategic of Zuma to appoint Mthethwa - a novice in government administration - to head such a sensitive ministry.

The country is now saddled with the untenable situation where an inexperienced Mthethwa is supposed to "mentor" Mbalula - who is his political senior in terms of the ANC's leadership hierarchy.

Mthethwa and Mbalula are contemporaries in the sense that they are part of the "young lions" from the ANC Youth League that Zuma has brought into his government.

But even during their tenure as ANCYL leaders, Mbalula was actually Mthethwa's senior because he was the league's president while the latter was the national organiser. The current setup is clearly a recipe for disaster that the country cannot afford.

In fact what the reports about the tension between the two are telling us is that instead of giving strategic leadership to the ministry, Mthethwa is constantly looking over his shoulder to see if Mbalula is "gaining on him".

The irony of all this is that Cele - who is the two ministers' subordinate - is actually the more experienced when it comes to government administration.

What Zuma should have done was to follow former president Thabo Mbeki's example and have the two "young lions" shadowing one of the more experienced and senior ministers such as Jeff Radebe or Lindiwe Sisulu.

This is what Mbeki did with deputy minister Malusi Gigaba.

He appointed Gigaba a deputy to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, one of Mbeki's most senior ministers.

The move allowed Gigaba to gain experience as a deputy minister. This could see him become one of the country's key ministers in future.

This is the route that Zuma should have taken - allowing both Mthethwa and Mbalula to shadow a senior minister to gain experience.

The tension between the "young lions" does not augur well for the government as it has a huge fight against crime on its hands.