Sibusiso Ndebele was moved from transport to correctional services after wandering into the president's firing line during the e-tolling meltdown.
Zuma announced his third Cabinet reshuffle in Pretoria on Tuesday, where he also sacked police commissioner Bheki Cele in a consolidation of his power in government ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung.
Cele was found to be unfit for office by a board of enquiry chaired Judge Jake Moloi, which also recommended his removal in terms of SAPS Act 68 of 1995. He has been replaced with Mangwashi “Riah” Phiyega, former group executive at Absa and chair of the presidency’s state-owned enterprises review committee.
In the Cabinet reshuffle, meanwhile, Lindiwe Sisulu was notably “demoted” from the defence ministry to the public services and administration portfolio, replaced by Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
But it was Zuma’s removal of Sibusiso Ndebele from the transport ministry to correctional services, replacing him with Ben Martins, that raised eyebrows throughout government and the ANC.
Whispers about a reshuffle started making the rounds soon after the death of former minister of public service and administration Roy Padayachie, the transfer of Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the former deputy minister of public works, to the ministry of women, children and persons with disability, and the resignation earlier this year of former deputy minister of economic development Enoch Godongwana.
Godongwana resigned from economic development in January in the face of growing outrage in government circles about his involvement in a company that allegedly defrauded clothing factory workers of R100-million of their pension fund money.
Ndebele switches lanes
Although Ndebele’s portfolio swap sent ripples through the ruling party on Tuesday, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. In recent months it had been rumoured that Ndebele was in Zuma’s firing line due to his handling of the South African National Roads Agency Limited debacle, which culminated in an interdict against the controversial e-tolling project, and the resignation (and later withdrawal of the resignation) of Sanral’s chief executive, Nazir Alli.
Ndebele was not the architect of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, but it has met with a number of delays under his watch, contributing to the downgrading of Sanral by credit ratings agencies.
A large portion of the rollout of the GFIP happened under Jeff Radebe, during his tenure in the transport ministry.
The Cabinet has also collectively claimed responsibility for the programme and committed to its roll out.
While the GFIP has been declared a collective Cabinet issue, the increased public fury over the implementation of e-tolling, led by alliance partner Cosatu, has made the implementation of the scheme politically unpalatable in the run-up to Mangaung, Free State.
Ndebele is believed to have recognised this early on.
But when it became apparent that the scheme could not be reversed, given the commitments already entered into by Sanral and national government, he is alleged to have begun “dragging his feet” in implementing the programme.
Ndebele did sanction the delay in e-tolling announced in February, which saw the initial moves towards the downgrading of Sanral by ratings agency Moody’s.
When an urgent interdict to delay e-tolling was brought to court by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) in April, Ndebele was understood to have been the ANC’s key representative in concurrent talks with Cosatu about delaying the project.
Surprises all round
While his handling of the Sanral debacle may have annoyed the presidency, Ndebele’s move out of transport – a field in which he has a great deal of experience and specialist knowledge – took ruling party members and government officials by surprise on Tuesday.
“Why move him out of a portfolio in which his skills and experience are unrivalled, at least at the level of political appointments?” said one source. “And why replace him with someone so inexperienced?”
Another surprise appointment was that of ANC Youth League NEC member and member of Parliament, Mduduzi Manana, as deputy minister of higher education.
Manana is the son of Mpumalanga safety, security and liaison MEC Sibongile Manana.
At 28, he is the youngest deputy minister since 1994.
Several youth league leaders told the M&G that he was rewarded for speaking out against suspended ANC Youth League secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa’s statement that the youth league would support Julius Malema as president until 2014.
Youth league deputy president Ronald Lamola later accused Manana of ill-discipline.
The deputy minister of communications Stella Ndabeni also received a ministerial post in Zuma’s administration after falling out with Malema.
The new ministerial appointments:
Public Service and Administration: Lindiwe Sisulu
Defence: Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula
Transport: Ben Martins
Correctional Services: Sibusiso Ndebele
The new deputy ministers:
Transport: Sindisiwe Chikunga
Public Enterprises: Gratitude Magwanishe
Public Works: Jeremy Cronin
Economic Development: Hlengiwe Mkhize
Higher Education: Mduduzi Manana