Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi has gained leverage in the control of the administrative arm of the department after catapulting his former political appointee Onke Mjo as the new acting director-general (DG).
Mjo takes over from Dr Alec Moemi, whose premature exit from the acting stint just after two months was forced by his new employer, the department of human settlements, after Nxesi and his counterpart Mamoloko Kubayi failed to agree on his extended stay in employment and labour.
After a longstanding face-off with former DG Thobile Lamati, which saw allegations of corruption and maladministration bandied about by allies from both sides of the fence, Nxesi has finally appointed a loyalist to the key post.
Lamati resigned last year in October following a fallout with Nxesi concerning the disputed R5-billion jobs creation deal between the Unemployment Insurance Fund and Mthunzi Mdwaba’s Thuja Capital.
Mjo’s rise to power took three months to accomplish. Around the time Lamati left, last October, she became Nxesi’s chief of staff after serving as a special advisor to the minister since 2022, which was a political appointment.
A month later, in November, an additional post was created, titled deputy director-general (DDG) in the DG’s office. She swiftly assumed the post, paving the way for her appointment in December as acting DG.
A person sympathetic to Nxesi said Mjo was the only option available since all other DDGs were still loyal to Lamati and would deliberately frustrate the minister’s work.
Lumko Mtimde, who has taken over as Nxesi’s special adviser, said on Friday that the appointment of an acting senior management services (SMS) member, including the DG post, was the minister’s prerogative.
Mtimde said Nxesi had previously appointed other DDGs to act in this role whenever Lamati was absent, adding that an acting role was temporary by nature. “Moemi could not be available until the end of the financial year, as expected by the ministry, as his new employer needed his services sooner. This necessitated urgent action by the minister.”
He said Moemi was appointed for 12 months and/or until the position was permanently filled, whichever came first.
“After the cabinet decision appointing Moemi to the department of human settlements, the minister had expected and negotiated with the minister of human settlements for Moemi to stay until the end of the financial year, March 2024… The unavailability of Moemi until March 2024 necessitated the decision to appoint Mjo.” He continued: “Mjo had just been appointed DDG through due process. Mjo was appointed as acting DG from a DDG position and is therefore not a political appointee. The minister has the prerogative to appoint any qualifying candidate to act in SMS positions.”
He said it was “a wild assumption” that through Mjo, Nxesi would effectively run the DG’s office, which is expected to be independent of any minister’s political interests.
“The DG position is regulated by law (including the Public Services Act, Public Finance Management, etc.), and anyone appointed to that responsibility must comply with the relevant laws.”
“The issue of the administrative-political interface is not abnormal; DGs are appointed by the president through cabinet, including the executive authority of that department. A DG reports and accounts to an executive authority; they work together daily in any case, guided by law.”
Mjo has a BA degree, a Higher Diploma and a Postgraduate (Honours) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a senior management development programme qualification from the University of Stellenbosch Business School.