South Africa

South Africa

Cabinet Reshuffle: Zuma may strike yet again before December

Cabinet Reshuffle: Zuma may strike yet again before December

President Jacob Zuma has shuffled the deckchairs for a twelfth time in a move that seems to have been aimed at dealing with political weaknesses as well as strengthening his hand in government and the ANC’s succession race. The real buzz in ANC circles, however, is on how he cunningly left the door ajar for a 13th reshuffle in the not-too-distant future. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

While the country was abuzz with the changes President Jacob Zuma made to his executive on Tuesday morning, some comrades were already commenting on the moves he didn’t make. In the process of shuffling five ministers and shunting deputy minister Buti Manamela sideways to higher education, Manamela’s old position as deputy minister in the Presidency was left open.

This implies that Zuma still has at least another card to play before the party’s elective conference in December, should he need to.

A close aide of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, veteran trade unionist James Motlatsi, has already aired rumours on eNCA that Ramaphosa would be the next to go – and that Zuma would use another “intelligence report” to justify axing him.

Zuma used what was purported to be an intelligence report to justify axing former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas, saying they were plotting against South Africa with Western powers. The “report” on Ramaphosa will allege that he’s a spy for western capitalists, Motlatsi claimed.

Axing Ramaphosa would, however, free him up to pursue his presidential campaign full-time. Aides already say his official schedule is so full that it leaves little time for getting in touch with the branches.

In ANC circles there has been talk for weeks now that revelations about Ramaphosa’s alleged affairs in September were only the start of a smear campaign. The next campaign would question what he did during the years he supposedly spent in the United States during the Struggle.

As for the reshuffle, none of the members of the governing tripartite alliance was particularly happy about it.

At least this time Zuma appears at least to have had the courtesy of calling labour federation Cosatu and members of the ANC’s top six to inform them of his plans.

Blade Nzimande, embarrassingly, seemed to have learnt about his axing from the higher education portfolio from journalists, after the fact.

It’s only apparently former State Security Minister David Mahlobo who saw this whole thing coming (although possibly not an entire year in advance, as with the Vuwani violence), as he declined an invitation to speak at a conference on state security and terrorism – his favourites – in Pretoria on Tuesday. He said he needed to be in Cape Town instead. He was moved to the energy portfolio – the most noteworthy shift in this reshuffle – because of his loyalty to Zuma and the power this gives him. He is now in a position to push through a multibillion rand nuclear deal South Africa can ill-afford.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who accepted an invitation to speak at the same conference, learnt about the reshuffle around the same time as her audience and the South African public – right after her speech.

It seems, however, that there was not much consultation. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe wasn’t much impressed with the reshuffle.

The ANC can have a strong view on the matter, but if the President invokes his prerogative given to him by the Constitution, then the ANC has little space to move,” Mantashe told a handful of pre-selected journalists shortly after the reshuffle. They had been invited to a “round table conversation” at Luthuli House – and got more than they bargained for when news of the reshuffle dropped.

It was apparently not Daily Maverick’s turn to attend, but journalists who were there remarked that Mantashe looked calm, and even joked that the Eastern Cape conference, where seats were chucked about, was a “festival of chairs”.

Mantashe also said if it were for the ANC, there wouldn’t have been a reshuffle. “The more you keep political leaders of portfolios together for a long time, it allows people to understand that portfolio and stabilise it. Once there is a quick turnover of leadership, then there is something that is impacting negatively on the stability first of that portfolio and then of government. Why I’m saying that? Government is a collective effort and the ability of members to work together.”

Any appointment that’s made should be to strengthen the team, he said, using a mixed football/rugby metaphor.

When you make changes it’s like in a football match. As a coach, you make changes to a team, (you put in) a replacement from the bench, you must always put an impact player. That’s what happens when you coach a team,” he said.

Now I’m sharing with you my experience as a rugby coach,” he guffawed. “Now if you don’t put an impact player, your changes lower the performance of a team and this is the issue that worried us a great deal.”

Mantashe then specifically referred to the moves of Hlengiwe Mkhize from Home Affairs to Higher Education, Ayanda Dlodlo from Communications to Home Affairs, and Nkhensani Kubayi from Energy to Communications. All three were appointed in their previous portfolios in the last reshuffle at the end of March.

We thought that, good as they may be individually, the impact of moving them around so quick may be having a destabilising effect,” he said. Mantashe appeared to hint that the ANC would now be considering how to mitigate this instability. It’s not clear when exactly the ANC leaders would find time now, in the craziness that’s the leadership nominations for the ANC conference.

Nzimande’s axing – at last, because rumours had been rife for months that he’d be let go – also left alliance relations at their lowest, Mantashe said. All the work done at an alliance secretariat six months ago to rebuild relations had been undone.

Dropping Nzimande implies that Zuma acted from a position of strength, at least within the ANC. The SACP and Cosatu are shadows of their 2007 selves, when they were at the forefront of agitating for Zuma to become president.

Now, an ANC insider remarked, the power has been moved into the hands of the provinces and the provincial chairmen – which was why it was important to replace Mahlobo with Bongani Bongo, who is apparently close-ish to Mpumalanga Premier and ANC chairperson DD Mabuza. And although Zuma’s support in the ANC’s national executive committee has declined, it’s still not so low that the committee would axe him now, with two months to go before the elective conference.

So Zuma could afford to axe Nzimande for the heck of it. As a dare, however, he left some SACP bigwigs like Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies, Sport and Recreation Minister Thulas Nxesi, and Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana in the Cabinet. These ministers have not yet resigned out of solidarity and the SACP has not yet broken ties with the tripartite alliance, despite numerous past threats that it would do so.

Journalist Ranjeni Munusamy also remarked in her analysis in The Times that friction between Nzimande and Manamela, a former Young Communists League leader, would have been aggravated by the shuffle.

This kind of divide and rule is bound to strengthen Zuma’s hand.

Despite rumours that he would axe Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, she stayed put. As former ANC Women’s League president she stepped out of line in August by showing love to Ramaphosa, upsetting the current Women’s League flock. Word is, however, that she still has a strong support base in Gauteng.

Presidential hopeful and newly sworn-in ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was also not shuffled in, as many rumours had it. Perhaps this was because she needs the time to campaign, and also because saddling her with any ministry and its problems now, with only two months to prove herself, is bound to be a poisoned chalice.

She did, however, score a goal by Mkhize’s removal from Home Affairs. Mkhize recently suspended the director-general Mkuseli Apleni for reasons that were not entirely clear.

Apleni is close to Dlamini Zuma, having worked with her way back when she was foreign affairs minister, and also after that in Home Affairs.

Even as Apleni’s challenge of his suspension went to the North Gauteng High Court on Tuesday, there was word within ANC circles that he has already been told he would be returned to his position.

The question on everyone’s lips is not if, but when, Zuma will strike next, and how fiercely. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma gestures during his opening address at the African National Congress 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Soweto, South Africa June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.

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