South Africa

Zuma makes a move. The absolute minimum of a move.

By Stephen Grootes 10 July 2013

The wonderful thing about reshuffles is that reshuffles are wonderful things. They involve choices, decisions and actions. They reveal, just for a moment, the deck, which way it is stacked, and who is hot and who is not. And thus, they reveal, if only for a political instant, the motives of the person in charge. Who he is scared of, and who he is not. Who has a big political future, and who should better get ready for a long career starting with an ambassadorship in the Mongolian capital. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Up until this point, President Jacob Zuma’s modus operandi could be summed up by whatever the Latin translation is of “Don’t move, unless you absolutely have to”. And, as a strategy, it’s worked very well for him. He would know, having been “relieved of his duties” himself, that when you fire someone, you create an enemy for life; there is nothing he can do about that. Still, he can limit the damage.

So when he decided to fire Tokyo Sexwale as Human Settlements Minister, it was because he felt he had to. Sexwale is the big casualty here. It’s obvious why. He crossed Zuma in the run-up to Mangaung, and, in the process, he’s shown he’s the apprentice to Zuma’s Wizard, and always will be. You can’t take on Number One in that way and expect to survive.

Zuma also had another problem. If he didn’t act against any of the people who challenged him in December, he ran the risk of looking weak. And no President, or King, can look weak in front of their Cabinet barons. Someone from the Mangaung’s losing lot simply had to be fired.

The reason it wasn’t Kgalema Motlanthe was two-fold. It would simply have been too obvious. It would have looked like revenge. And it would have allowed Motlanthe to re-group, and force a reaction within the ANC.

The second reason is that Motlanthe hasn’t really done anything anti-Zuma since Mangaung. He’s kept pretty quiet, and seems content to live out his monkish existence, only to emerge when serious problem crops up and needs an intervention by a grown-up in the Zuma government.

And then we have Dina Pule. She’s been a sacked-man walking for months. They must be celebrating over at Times Media. The Sunday Times investigative team found the dirt, exposed it, found more, exposed that, and then had to endure the most bizarre of attacks from Pule. It’s not often a minister calls a press conference and then lays into three reporters from one paper. And if a minister does make claims, and then refuses to substantiate them, well, let’s just say, the writing is on the wall.

In case of former telecoms minister, Zuma acted for the usual reason. The consequences of acting were less bad than the consequences of not acting. The stench was piling up, and the highest of heels wasn’t going to be enough to get her through it. Stemming from the paper’s exposés, an investigation into her conduct is now a parliamentary process unfolding behind closed doors. One can presume we’ll start to see some of that dirt pretty soon.

The other big loser is Richard Baloyi. He is no longer the minister of Cooperative Governance and Administration. While there seems to be no clear reason for this sacking, apart from perhaps the fact he just didn’t seem to have much impact at all, one the list of possible reasons could be his refusal to take responsibility for the Mvula Trust Scandal, as well as his inactivity being a spark that inflamed Zamdela riots in January this year.

Lechesa Tsenoli, who takes over, is one of those who’s got a big promotion in this re-shuffle. The former deputy-minister of Land Reform and Rural Development, he’s a good listener, and always ready to explain government policy. He’s one of those guys who, if he answers his phone, is not going to be precious about who’s phoning him and why. Think of him as a more laid-back Aaron Motsoaledi.

Yunis Carrim is the other big winner here. Well, perhaps. By becoming Communications Minister, he gets a promotion. And he’s quite happy to admit he’s not a technical expert on the limitations of our broadband access, or able to quite understand why on earth it’s taken so long to get relatively normal internet speeds in South Africa. But he is absolutely determined to make it happen. Carrim is perhaps notorious, for the legally-minded, for the role he played in chairing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee that decided to stamp out the Directorate of Special Operations. You may remember it better as the Scorpions.

As a former Justice Committee Chair, he’s also used to controversy. But he inherits what seems to be a poisoned chalice. Since 1994, the Communications Ministers have been Jay Naidoo, Ivy Matsepe-Casseburi, General Siphiwe Nyanda (retd.), Roy Padiyachie, and Pule. Apart from (Daily Maverick’s very own columnist) Naidoo, it’s not a list of people who’ve managed to make a difference. With responsibilities as wide as internet, telephony and SABC, the commentariat will be out for his blood pretty quickly.

Connie September is well aware of the “challenge” that awaits her at Human Settlements: perhaps the hardest job in Cabinet. No matter how many houses you build, you are not going to be able to keep up with the legitimate demand. We simply cannot build enough, and the person in charge will always carry the can. There’s a reason Zuma made Sexwale Human Settlements Minister in the first place, to ensure he was kept weak. September comes from the unions, and so Cosatu will claim her as its own… to an extent.

There have been several changes within the deputy ministers. Perhaps the most interesting is the move of Andries Nel away from Justice and to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Nel may be missed at Justice, with his easy and approachable manner. He’s one of those guys who is happy to be seen laughing with a journalist during an NEC photo-op. But he probably won’t miss irritants like me asking him when a new National Prosecuting Authority head will be appointed.

As always with Zuma, it’s often interesting to explore what hasn’t changed. Angie Motshekga is still Basic Education Minister. SADTU must be thrilled – not. But she is one of Zuma’s closest allies: he’s gone out of his way to support her, and he’s not going to change course now. And despite all that’s been thrown at her, it mustn’t be forgotten she didn’t actually cause the Limpopo Textbooks Scandal. With the best will and resources in the world, it was always going to be hard for a minister to deal with deliberate sabotage by provincial officials, with a political agenda in Limpopo. So she stays.

And then there’s the curious case of Thulas Nxesi at Public Works. This is important to Zuma. Not because it’s important to the nation, you understand, but because he is important to Zuma personally. Nxesi is the very minister dealing with Nkandla; Zuma needs someone he either trusts implicitly, or someone he has a hold over. Siyabonga Cwele is busy right now, so it can’t be him; Malusi Gigaba is presiding over a gigantic infrastructure budget, so not him either. As Nxesi comes from the unions, he’s bound to start feeling the pressure from Zwelinzima Vavi at some point over what looks to many like a cover-up. But clearly Zuma is happy with the way Nxesi is handling Nkandla, so far. Or fears that Nxesi knows way too much.

In the final analysis, this was more of a fine-tuning than a full-scale Cabinet change. There are over thirty Cabinet positions, five were changed, and two of the ministers simply swapped (Ben Martins from Transport to Energy, and Dipuo Peters from Energy to Transport). Having said that, one mustn’t forget that Zuma is using the opportunity for a rebalancing.

And of course there’s the really big question that still faces him.

When will he appoint a new head to the NPA?

Non moventur nisi ad. Don’t move, unless you have to. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma addresses editors at the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) in Johannesburg June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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