After hedging his bets for what seemed an eternity, President Jacob Zuma finally brought himself to fire his friend and comrade, Bheki Cele. He named a business executive as the first woman to head the embattled SA Police Service and threw in a musical-chair dance, otherwise known as mini Cabinet reshuffle, for good measure. These were all tactical moves. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY
Perhaps the greatest irony of President Jacob Zuma’s dramatic announcement on Tuesday of a Cabinet reshuffle and the axing of Bheki Cele was that he used the phrase “release from his duties” in the statement.
When Zuma was fired as deputy president by former president Thabo Mbeki in 2005, the term enraged him – probably because it is so innocuous but packs such a lethal force.
“What am I again?” he would ask then, “Relieved or released from my responsibilities?”
But Cele’s sacking could go down in history as the nicest way ever to get fired. The subtext to the 540-word build-up to the phrase “I have decided to release General Cele from his duties” was that Zuma really didn’t want to fire Cele, but that his hands were tied by the report of the board of inquiry investigating the former police commissioner’s fitness for office.
“General Cele was appointed as national commissioner in August 2009. He was given a clear brief to take the war to the criminals and to make South Africans safer.
“The crime statistics indicate that the approach has worked. The crime levels have dropped over the years. Between 2009 and 2011, overall serious crime decreased by 5%,” Zuma said.
After citing more statistics of decreases in individual categories of crime and congratulating all the political and police personnel involved in bringing down levels in crime, Zuma said: “I would, in particular, like to extend my personal gratitude to General Cele for the unquestionable commitment to his work as National Commissioner. Leading from the front, he brought much needed passion, energy, expertise and focus that boosted the morale of the police, leading to improved productivity and a visible reduction in crime levels.”
After diplomatically explaining that the board of inquiry found Cele unfit to hold office, the president said: “General Cele still has a lot to contribute to the country given his experience and commitment to making South Africa a better place for all each day.”
It must have taken a lot of effort not to add: “Please someone give him a job so I can stop feeling so lousy”.
The president’s approach to Cele’s firing obviously had a lot to do with the pressure brought to bear on him by the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. A series of meetings, including with a delegation from the provincial executive committee led by the premier Zweli Mkhize, made Zuma understand that KwaZulu-Natal was extremely unhappy with the way the Cele matter turned out and that efforts should be made to do some damage control.
This left Zuma with the quandary of who to choose as the new police commissioner, one who wouldn’t be chewed up and spat out like the previous incumbents. Both Jackie Selebi and Cele were political heavyweights in their own right, but were unable to handle the enormous power and responsibility that came with the position.
Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega, known as Riah, is a leading business executive with an impressive career in the private and public sector. Her most recent positions were chairwoman of the Presidential Review Committee on State Owned Enterprises and deputy chairwoman of the Independent Commission on the Remuneration of Office Bearers.
Zuma probably reasoned that there would have been a huge public uproar and continuing rebellion from police senior management had he appointed another ANC loyalist into the post. He is wholly insecure about the loyalties of the SAPS generals following the fracas over the former crime intelligence head, Richard Mdluli, and therefore would be wary about who he can trust with the position.
There are also a limited number of people who would be willing to work with his police minister, Nathi Mthethwa. The only place left to go, therefore, was to opt for someone with strong management credentials and with no baggage.
Zuma is obviously banking on Phiyega bringing more professionalism and better administration to the management of the police, and to reduce levels of infighting and corruption.
But in trying to satisfy all these areas of concern to him, Zuma seems to have overlooked the most important attribute of a national police commissioner: the ability to fight crime. Phiyega has no experience whatsoever in security and crime prevention and will have to rely on her warring subordinates to take the lead in this area.
As a businesswoman, she would hardly instil fear in the minds of violent criminals in the way Cele did with his “shoot to kill” approach. Her only hope in this regard would be to create a police service that functions optimally and competently and hope that the close to 200,000 police personnel respond positively.
But Phiyega is already being setting up on a collision course with her new charges. The first task handed to her by her political masters is to plug the leaks from the police – a bizarre place to start considering the mountain of problems besetting the service.
“I have had a detailed discussion with minister Mthethwa about what needs to be corrected immediately within the SAPS so that we can continue the excellent record of fighting crime.
“These include management and financial systems as well as the breaches of information security within the establishment, which has unfortunately become common. We have in the past few weeks witnessed a disappointing spectacle of police officers jeopardising state security by placing information in the public domain, in contravention of their oath of office,” Zuma said.
He and Mthethwa are obviously still smarting over Mdluli’s litany of misdemeanours being exposed and discussed in public and want Phiyega to seal off the flow of information to the media, the biggest enemy of them all.
They would both also be relieved to see the back of Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who refused to bow to political pressure and hounded Mdluli out of the police service. In just eight months, Mkhwanazi earned his stripes as a formidable taskmaster and ultimately he became too much of a maverick (no relation – Ed) for a politics-based system of SA's security.
Zuma only had one sentence about Mkhwanazi in a speech in excess of 1,100 words: “He has done a lot of work to keep the force focused on fighting crime and corruption”. In other words, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Zuma's reshuffling of his Cabinet was not entirely unexpected: he had room to manoeuvre following the death of the former public service and administration minister, Roy Padayachie. However, the changes to the crucial defence and transport portfolios seemed to come out of the blue and must leave both Lindiwe Sisulu and S’bu Ndebele with their noses out of joint.
Sisulu relished her position as head of the armed forces and it put her on the fast track to an even more senior position in the 2014 government. As a member of the Sisulu dynasty, she holds much sway in the ANC and could be in line for a position in the top six of the party if she didn’t rub so many people up the wrong way.
Sisulu has infuriated many people in Parliament by refusing to answer questions about her portfolio and snubbing portfolio committee meetings. She also adopted a tough approach with unions representing soldiers to ensure discipline in the military.
In appointing Sisulu as public service and administration minister, it could be that Zuma now wants her to direct her aggression towards the public sector unions to get them to stop holding government hostage during wage negotiations. This could be directed particularly at the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, which Zuma’s administration views as an impediment to getting the basic education system operating optimally.
Nosviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has not been a star performer in any of the Cabinet posts she served in previously. Her mandate in defence and military veterans will probably be to reduce the hostility created by Sisulu and to pacify the disgruntled military veterans. The rest of the portfolio is in the capable hands of the chief of the South African National Defence Force.
Ndebele has never been Zuma’s favourite person. The two have had an uncomfortable relationship from the time they served together in the KwaZulu-Natal cabinet. Ndebele’s attempts to distance himself from the controversy over the proposed Gauteng e-tolling system has irritated many people in the ANC because he failed to provide decisive leadership on the matter.
His move to unglamorous correctional services is a definite demotion and he will be despondent at not being able to don the luminous emergency services vests to man roadblocks over festive seasons.
Ben Martins is a veteran leader of the SACP and highly respected in the alliance. However, he is not a very communicative personality, which his new transport portfolio requires of him. He has to deal with the tempestuous taxi industry, lead an interactive road safety campaign and, of course, provide a way out of the e-tolling hot potato.
The appointment of new deputy ministers are more tactical moves. The move of Sindisiwe Chikunga out of the position of police portfolio committee chair means she is out of Nathi Mthethwa’s hair, so to speak. The police minister has enough problems without a probing and unsympathetic Chikunga adding to his problems by not protecting him from parliamentary scrutiny. Chikunga will be Martins’ deputy in transport.
Higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande did not like his deputy, Hlengiwe Mkhize: he viewed her as being in an opposition camp in the ANC. Zuma has now given him a toady in the form of the 28-year-old Mduduzi Manana, who proved his loyalties by crossing swords with Julius Malema’s camp in the ANC Youth League.
Mkhize now becomes Ebrahim Patel’s deputy in economic development, a position that has been vacant since Enoch Godongwana’s resignation in January.
Public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba’s mission to build a super ministry will be boosted by the appointment of the ANC’s deputy chief whip in Parliament, Gratitude Magwanishe, as his deputy. And public works minister Thulas Nxesi will have the earnest and straight-shooting Jeremy Cronin at his side to assist him in shaking up and fixing the dysfunctional public works department.
Zuma will hope that the moves will bring better functionality to his government and satisfy the interests of some of the prima donnas in Cabinet. It is his third Cabinet reshuffle since 2009 and is indicative that, three years later, he is yet to find the rhythm in his administration.
The real problem areas in his Cabinet, however, are in the security and economic portfolios. But tackling that problem now would only heighten turbulence ahead of the ANC’s Mangaung conference, one thing that Zuma must avoid at any cost.
One thing for certain is that this will not be Zuma’s last Cabinet reshuffle. There is still a long way to go till the end of his term – provided of course that Mangaung doesn’t “release” him from his duties. DM
Photo: A collague of photos by REUTERS.