When we started varsity (I was still studying in Pretoria) Lucas got an internship in the communications department at one of the mines in our area. His mother was the HR manager, but seeing that he was indeed a communications student, no questions were raised about the ethics behind his internship. He eventually went on to prove himself worthy and secured a junior position in the communications department and decided to focus on his studies on a part-time basis as we had not graduated yet. There were still not questions about the ethics of his appointment as everyone had heard about the great work that he did for the company.
Thuthukile Zuma’s appointment as chief of staff at the department of Telecommunications and Postal Services reminded me of this and how envious I was at the time for my friend’s great opportunity. Like Lucas, Thuthukile started off as an intern and proved herself to be capable in executing her work. Unlike Lucas, Thuthukile had graduated. Another similarity they shared was that their parents had influential positions whether or not they were used to secure them the positions.
The media ran wild with the story and people were enraged asking questions about whether Thuthukile was indeed the best candidate for the job and whether or not she got the job because of her influential parents. The questions are indeed justifiable considering:
- She worked in government for less than a year on a voluntary basis,
- The post was not advertised
- The position is quite high and she did not meet the requirements known by many for such a position
- There are people who have been working in the department for years and thus have more experience than her
There were also those who came to her defence relating stories of how it is common in the corporate world for people in management to get their relatives and friends jobs and how no one seems to have a problem with that. Some also argued that Thuthukile was not the youngest person to be appointed in a similar position in other departments. Even in the US, the Bill Clinton administration was known to have had a number of young people working in the White House, further justifying the point of talent and ability being more important than experience.
What would you have done?
If I were in Thuthukile’s shoes, I would have declined the offer even if I believed that I was capable of doing the job. The one thing about having influential parents is that you constantly have to prove that you are capable of success without their influence. The media reaction to the appointment could have been anticipated kilometres away. My best bet would have been to gradually work my way up and prove that I am indeed capable. This way the media would not be able to question my eventual appointment, should it happen.
I further also believe that the reason why no one has spoken out (I’ve only seen Tito Mboweni ask questions) in her defence is because they have the same questions that the people have. This appointment also adds to questions on the president’s capabilities as a leader. With so many unanswered questions, the people are definitely justified in their outrage. However this is spun, Thuthukile now has to work extra hard to prove herself.