President Jacob Zuma presents his State of the Nation address on Thursday, but this might not be the biggest political news this week. The speech is likely to focus strongly on the National Development Plan, the cornerstone of government policy for the foreseeable future so no major surprises are expected. A “housekeeping” reshuffle of Cabinet and provincial premiers is, however, in the offing, as is the entry of businesswoman and academic Dr Mamphela Ramphele into politics. The countdown to Election 2014 starts right here. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
The writing was on the wall for Communications Minister Dina Pule even before further damning allegations emerged last Sunday of her lover being paid R6 million as a consultant to last year’s ICT Indaba. She has underperformed in the crucial communications portfolio and embarrassed government in the eyes of key stakeholders in the sector. Her conduct around the organisation of the ICT Indaba to unfairly favour her boyfriend has now given the president just cause to fire her to show that he and the ANC are tough on corruption.
Pule squandered the political leverage she once enjoyed in the Zuma camp in the ANC, previously servicing on the national executive committee (NEC) and national working committee (NWC) in the party. She fell out of favour and also did not make it onto the NEC at the ANC’s December national conference in Mangaung. Her axing is unlikely to make waves in the ANC, even in her home province of Mpumalanga, as she no longer has strong backing in the party.
The presidency last night denied media reports that Pule is to be fired. “The presidency has noted the carefully orchestrated rumour published by most Sunday newspapers today that President Zuma is to relieve the Minister of Communications, Ms Dina Pule, of her duties and reshuffle his Cabinet.
“The rumour and speculation are mischievous and will not distract government from the main activity this coming week, the State of the Nation Address by the president,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
However, Daily Maverick understands that Zuma has held consultations with several Cabinet ministers and that a reshuffle has been on the cards for about two weeks. While he would not want to divert attention from his main policy statement for the year, there is speculation that Zuma might announce the changes at the weekend or when the dust has settled.
If Zuma does go ahead with a Cabinet reshuffle, which will be the fourth since he became president in 2009, it remains to be seen whether he will be bold enough to move Angie Motshekga out of the basic education portfolio. While talk is rife in ANC circles about Pule and Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana being kicked out of their portfolios, there is still doubt as to whether Motshekga will be moved. Xingwana has also been a poor performer and is said to have “suffocated” the good intentions in government to make the ministry an “activist portfolio”.
While Motshekga has courted controversy in the education portfolio there are apparently some concerns in the ANC that shifting her out would be an acknowledgment by the president that she was ultimately to blame for the non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo last year. Government has tried to blame the incident on officials in order to shield the minister.
As president of the ANC Women’s League, Motshekga was central to Zuma’s re-election campaign at Mangaung and the president could therefore not act against her. However, he could comfortably move her sideways now without rocking the boat or upsetting her constituency. The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities would be an obvious place to redeploy Motshekga as it would dovetail with her role in the women’s league.
It is believed that Zuma has already approached Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi to take up the basic education portfolio. Nxesi is a former general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and education activist.
However Nxesi has denied he has had a conversation with the president about moving portfolios, a close associate of his says. He said Nxesi is in any event reluctant to take up the education post as it will set him on a collision course with his constituency in Sadtu. He is worried that this will alienate him from his base and leave him politically exposed in the future. Nxesi himself is also said to be hesitant.
Since Nxesi’s appointment as minister of Public Works in October 2011, he has positioned himself as a corruption-buster, fighting endemic fraud and poor performance in the department. However his public image suffered severe damage due to his handling of the Nkandla scandal, which was triggered by a R206 million upgrade, footed by taxpayers, of the president’s private residence.
Nxesi is now one of Zuma’s closest allies and was elected last year as deputy chairman of the South African Communist Party and a member of the ANC NEC.
If he is moved out of the contentious public works portfolio, it is expected that his current deputy, Jeremy Cronin, could be promoted to full minister. However Cronin declined nomination for an NEC post at Mangaung, signalling his desire to step back from frontline politics. Zuma would also need someone with political support and leverage in that portfolio.
It was speculated after the ANC’s Mangaung conference that as a result of their role in the “Forces of Change” campaign, ministers such as Tokyo Sexwale, Paul Mashatile and Fikile Mbalula would be booted out of Cabinet. However Zuma has stated on several occasions that people should not be punished for exercising their democratic preferences. Despite their shock exclusion from the NEC and the awkwardness of having to continue to serve under the president they tried to oust, Sexwale, Mashatile and Mbalula are unlikely to leave Cabinet unless they are axed.
There was also media speculation at Mangaung that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe would resign from government after he lost the ANC presidency battle to Zuma and declined nomination for the NEC. It is understood that Motlanthe does not want to create “difficulties” for Zuma and will continue to serve as his deputy in the state until he is asked to step down.
However, without any political power and standing in the ANC, Motlanthe is likely to be iced out further from decision-making in the presidency and his role in government could become purely ceremonial.
Zuma could also use the opportunity of a Cabinet shake-up to reshuffle provincial premiers. It is almost a year since Northern Cape Premier Hazel Jenkins suffered a stroke during her State of the Province address in Kimberley. The province’s education MEC, Grizelda Cjiekella, has since been acting as premier. It is expected that Zuma will officially relieve Jenkins of the post and appoint a new premier.
There has also been pressure from factions in the North West and Limpopo to replace Thandi Modise and Cassel Mathale respectively. Modise lost her position as deputy general secretary as well as her seat on the ANC NEC in Mangaung and is caught in the factional war between ANC North West chairman Supra Mahumapelo and the suspended provincial secretary Kabelo Mataboge.
Modise has little political protection but Zuma’s dilemma is finding a replacement. He will be under pressure to find another woman candidate, so as not to upset the gender balance in the premier posts, and someone who will not inflame the factional battles in the province.
Mathale also lost his position on the NEC at Mangaung but continues to serve on the committee as an ex-officio member by virtue of his position as provincial chairman of Limpopo. However the daggers have been out for him for several months, with speculation mounting that he might be fired as premier.
There were also calls for the entire ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) of Limpopo to be dissolved. The NWC is currently dealing with the factional battles in the province and will recommend to the NEC whether the PEC should be dissolved. It might therefore be premature for Zuma to axe Mathale before the ANC process is included.
Businesswoman and academic Mamphela Ramphele’s entry into active politics has been the subject of speculation for some time and there is now anticipation that she will be making an announcement on Tuesday about her intentions. Although there was speculation last year that the Democratic Alliance would try to recruit her as the new face of the party, strategists in the party seem unaware of Ramphele’s intentions now.
It appears premature that Ramphele could announce the formation of a new political party when no spadework has yet been done inside the country. Reports claimed that she had been lobbying and fundraising in the US for a new opposition party in South Africa but, other than keeping up the intrigue, she has made no visible movements to recruit other big political players or mobilise support on the ground.
Ramphele could therefore be simply testing the waters this week with her announcement to see if there could be sufficient momentum and support for another voice in the ranks of the opposition. By scheduling the announcement in the week of the State of the Nation Address, Ramphele could be seeking to split the political spotlight and also have the opportunity to articulate her reaction to Zuma’s speech.
It could therefore be an extremely eventful week on South Africa’s political calendar. The State of the Nation address, the possible reshuffle of the national executive and premiers, as well the entry of a new player in politics all have one intention: to prepare for the 2014 national elections. For the ANC, this marks the unofficial launch of the campaign to clean up and convince South Africa that it is still the party to lead government. The opposition, old and new, needs to prove its mettle to take on the ruling party.
In about 15 months, South Africa will have the chance to respond. It is time to pay close attention. DM
Photo: South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener
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