President Jacob Zuma’s latest Cabinet reshuffle has left more questions than answers, writes CAIPHUS KGOSANA
Fresh from having a street named after him and a statue unveiled in his honour in Nigeria, President Jacob Zuma came back to the country armed with his reshuffle sledgehammer. Out went SACP leader and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who has been replaced by Home Affairs Minister Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize.
He then shuffled the pack a bit, moving Ayanda Dlodlo from Communications to Home Affairs, Mmamoloko Kubayi from Energy to Communications. State Security Minister David Mahlobo takes over from Kubayi at Home Affairs, while the relatively unknown Adv. Bongani Thomas Bongo takes over from Mahlobo at State Security. Buti Manamela is moved from deputising in the Presidency to filling the Higher Education and Training Deputy Ministry left vacant by Mdu Manana.
South Africans have once again been left bewildered by the latest reshuffle, even though it was to be expected. Zuma has developed the habit of reshuffling his pack shortly after returning from overseas visits. It was inevitable that he would seek to strengthen his hand, given what is at stake. Nzimande was unlikely to survive given his open criticism of the President, including repeated calls that Zuma should step down. Just as Pravin Gordhan and Derek Hanekom were shown the door for openly revolting against Zuma’s leadership, it was a matter of time before the same fate befell Nzimande.
What is unclear, however, is the President’s reasoning behind the shuffling of Ministers that he appointed six months ago. Dlodlo has done a stellar job at Communications, despite recent unhappiness at her blocking the appointment of the SABC’s top three executives as recommended by the previous interim board. It was on Dlodlo’s watch that Hlaudi Motsoeneng was shown the door, that the extent of the financial rot at the public broadcaster was revealed. She has also sought to stabilise other entities that fall under her, including the Media Development and Diversity Agency where the board had been at loggerheads with the acting CEO Donald Liphoko. Why move her when she is not even halfway towards completing this mission?
Mkhize has been in the news for suspending long-serving Director-General Mkuseli Apleni without providing cogent reasons for the move. Apleni has detailed in court papers challenging his suspension how he believes that Mkhize moved against him to force the Department to release payments to service providers whose invoices had been questioned, including a company owned by Mkhize’s son. Now Dlodlo inherits this mess. The creator of the mess is instead moved to another portfolio, one that is not easy to manage.
South Africa’s higher education landscape is being shaped by different dynamics, most prominently calls by university students for free higher education under the #FeesMustFall movement. Zuma is sitting on a report compiled by Judge Jonathan Heher who headed the commission that investigated the feasibility of free higher education. It will be interesting to see how Mkhize handles this hot potato, especially if the commission recommends a scrapping of fees for needy students, but National Treasury stalls on the basis of budget constraints.
It is also interesting to note if the temperamental Mkhize will work well with the Director-General Gwebs Qonde, a close friend and ally of her predecessor both in government and in SACP structures. But given how she dealt with Apleni, the signs do not look encouraging. What counts in her favour is that Mkhize is a trained academic, a skill she will hopefully use to navigate the sensitive space between higher education institutions and government.
The redeployment of Kubayi from Energy to Communications has also raised eyebrows. Early observations from political commentators and analysts is that the move has to do with the contentious nuclear deal. Zuma is said to have been unhappy with the pace at which Kubayi was moving to make this grand nuclear build programme, estimated at around R1 trillion, a reality. Zuma’s friends the Guptas are said to be eyeing the nuclear programme and had even bought a uranium mine specifically in anticipation of major nuclear-related contracts coming their way. Mahlobo, Zuma’s enforcer, is most likely being deployed to Energy to make this deal happen. A lot of eyes will be on him, especially given that the Cape High Court has set aside a nuclear deal signed with Russia’s state-owned Rosatom agency.
Not much is known about Bongo, except for the fact that he sits on the Justice Portfolio Committee where Parliamentary Correspondents describe him as a vocal defender of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. The Justice Portfolio committee had to do an embarrassing climbdown on a decision taken to hold an inquiry into Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office. Chairman Mathole Motshekga had to hastily backtrack after the ANC called him to order. It is unclear how much influence Bongo would have had in reversing this decision, but Presidents do not just pluck backbenchers from obscurity into Cabinet – especially to such a key portfolio for a securocrat like Zuma.
All these appointments, however, might be shortlived if the President’s preferred candidate – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – does not emerge victorious at the ANC elective conference in December. For now, though, Zuma is hedging all his bets on what he believes to be a sure ticket. Time will be the judge.