Tipped for the top

The appointment of the Cabinet and provincial premiers is the prerogative of President Thabo Mbeki—and one which he has so far determinedly exercised on his own.

In part, Mbeki most probably does it to avoid the manoeuvring and the creation of cabals that would almost be sure to follow if African National Congress officials felt they could campaign their way into Cabinet.

But, the president also has definite ideas about the personal and professional qualities that are needed to be an effective minister in his Cabinet. Loyalty will still be a factor as Mbeki chooses his second Cabinet, but it will also be a highly technocratic team, with ministers skilled at management, monitoring and evaluation. The team will be younger and reflect an even greater number of women, say Presidency officials.

“It is a Cabinet that will be characterised by continuity and dominated by experience and women,” says a government official.
Ministers most likely to be returned include Mosiuoa Lekota (defence), Alec Erwin (trade and industry), Trevor Manuel (finance), Lindiwe Sisulu (intelligence), and Charles Nqakula (safety and security).

Mbeki came to office as a manager and his Presidency is much larger than Nelson Mandela’s and is a management hub.

The policy coordination and advisory services unit run by Joel Netshitenzhe oversees a system of clusters into which logical Cabinet posts are grouped. The cluster system means individual ministries are less important than they used to be, but that does not mean Mbeki’s choice of a Cabinet is any less important to the country and the individuals concerned.

He has at least three Cabinet positions to fill — justice, environmental affairs and tourism and transport — and three outgoing premiers to replace. Two premiers, Limpopo’s Ngoako Ramatlhodi and the Northern Cape’s Manne Dipico are destined for the Cabinet, but the future of North West Premier Popo Molefe is uncertain. He has indicated that if he does not have a future in politics he may enter the business world.

It is still not clear whether the Inkatha Freedom Party will emerge from this election as a part of a coalition government or an opposition party. However, both the ANC and the IFP have hinted that they are willing to work together nationally and in KwaZulu-Natal. The decimation of the New National Party in this election may see its claims on the ANC’s attention greatly reduced, although the organisation is not likely to throw its coalition partner in the Western Cape into the wilderness.

Should IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi opt for an opposition role, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, will easily step into his shoes. In the past three years she has moved from chairperson of the intelligence committee to Buthelezi’s deputy, to chief whip and to president of the ANC Women’s League.

The Ministry of Justice, where Penuell Maduna is packing his bags, is the most vital vacancy. The front-runners to replace him are Ramatlhodi and the Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya, who is a Cabinet star for his stewardship of welfare and caring.

Ramatlhodi, formerly Oliver Tambo’s speechwriter, is a qualified lawyer, as is Skweyiya — who was head of the ANC’s legal and constitutional department in exile.

There is a growing lobby for a single super-ministry to oversee the port-

folios of justice, safety and security, correctional services, intelligence and home affairs. A senior safety and security official said the component departments needed a single political head with whom the buck would stop in the fight against crime.

“These departments need a leader, someone who will take charge. The greatest challenge in the criminal-justice system is that the right hand does not know what the left is doing.”

The person who replaces Valli Moosa as minister of environmental affairs and tourism will have to accept that the portfolio is treated by many politicians as a minor one, despite the fact that it deals with issues of major importance.

An ANC national executive committee member reflected this attitude when he told the M&G late last year the environment ministry was not sufficiently dynamic for the likes of rising stars such as Dipico, and that it was likely a woman would be moved into the environment portfolio.

Since Moosa announced his retirement from government last November, it has been speculated that he may be replaced by one of two women eminently suited to the job.

The first, Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Rejoice Mabudafhasi, has been dealing with the portfolio’s complex, wide range of issues for the past five years. She has focused particularly on “brown” issues such as air pollution and occupational health — areas where much work still needs to be done.

The second possible candidate favoured by many environmentalists is Gwen Mahlangu, head of the portfolio committee on environmental affairs and tourism for most of the past two terms of government. Mahlangu has an intimate knowledge of the portfolio and is widely regarded as a strong and competent leader.

Both women would be good for the ministry because of their experience, but would they have the political clout to counter greed and ignorance for the sake of the environment?

Moosa worked hard to place sustainable development on the national agenda, but it could easily slip away again. Part of the reason for Moosa’s success over the past five years was his love of the outdoors, which pre-dated his appointment as minister.

Other names being mentioned for the job are Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, presently Minister of Communications, and the New National Party’s leader, “Kortbroek” Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Van Schalkwyk’s appointment would be a marketing disaster — environment and tourism already suffer from the image that they are the preserve of mainly white, relatively conservative interests.

Van Schalkwyk’s appointment could come about as part of a deal arising out of the ANC-NNP alliance in the Western Cape, which would see the ANC’s Ebrahim Rasool take over premiership of the province from the NNP leader. The swop would be to give Van Schalkwyk a vacant Cabinet post.

The transition to a new ministry will be eased by the continued occupation of the director general’s post by “Chippy” Olver, whose contract expires in August. Olver’s department has pushed through a wodge of environmental legislation in recent months, and members of many environmental circles say it is important the department should stay relatively intact to see this legislation completed and implemented.

If the department is allowed to continue as it is, the argument goes, then it will not be very significant who is appointed minister — even if it is Van Schalkwyk. “Good departments can cope with any minister,” said an official in the department this week.

Minister of Public Enterprises Jeff Radebe has been the guardian of the transport ministry while incumbent Dullah Omar battled cancer. With privatisation a diminishing imperative, Radebe could easily manage both portfolios.

With the three filled, political commentators are also watching what Mbeki will do with his Achilles heel, the health ministry. It is currently the turf of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, arguably post-apartheid South Africa’s most unpopular politician.

Sources say Zweli Mkhize, minister of health in KwaZulu-Natal, is the most likely candidate for the job. The health portfolio is a volatile position because of the HIV/Aids epidemic and a candidate with a medical background is a core criterion for a new health minister.

Mkhize is a doctor and practised at McCords hospital in KwaZulu-Natal in the Eighties. He worked in both public and private health care services in some of the poorest and least resourced hospitals in the country. This will add to his appeal because current legislation like the National Health Bill and new draft regulations on medicines pricing are meant to bridge the divides in health. A new health minister, if a new incumbent is appointed, will need to build relationships with Aids activists and ruffle feathers of private doctors who are against the implementation of a certificate of need.

In the denialist years, Mkhize proved himself an astute politician who did not publicly criticise government but who is credited with driving a change of position within the ANC. If he is appointed there will be cheers all around.

Kader Asmal will remain a Cabinet minister — but it’s 50/50 whether he’ll continue in the crucial education portfolio. And speculation about the next education minister charts, yet again, the widening gulf between politics and education.

Political insiders say Kader Asmal’s seniority within the ANC will be uppermost in the president’s mind — and will dictate Asmal’s retention in the hot seat of education. Educationists, on the other hand, have almost uniformly had enough of the flamboyant and soundbite-flashing minister, and long for change.

Two years ago Asmal’s health seemed to rule him out of consideration for another term, and the talk then was that Naledi Pandor, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, was in the running to succeed him.

Pandor is said to be preparing for an exit from her current position.

But Asmal seems to have rallied —and is widely known to relish the prospect of another term. And Pandor is now spoken of as a very long shot.

Educationists say the portfolio now needs a ministerial nose to the grindstone rather than Asmal’s flashy playing to the gallery. After the gathering confusions of his predecessor Sibusiso Bengu’s reign had left transformation wallowing in the mud — especially at school level — Asmal certainly lit a fuse in the education department and got things moving.

But in most education sectors the blueprints of transformation are now faits accomplis, and the large-scale revolution is well under way.

If political considerations win out over educational ones, expect Asmal to continue — though not for a full five-year term. The best bet educationists have of change is if the president judges that another portfolio is in need of having a fuse lit under it — health or justice, for example. And if Asmal is sent on a rescue mission elsewhere, Minister of Minerals and Energy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka could find herself migrating to Sol Plaatje House.

Mlambo-Ngcuka is a rising star and her name is also often touted as the next trade and industry minister, to replace Erwin. It is unlikely that he will move immediately, but his political skills are ample enough to make him a global player. Erwin has made a name for himself in the World Trade Organisation and he is often touted as a future secretary general.

Thoko Didiza is another potential incumbent at trade and industry, say officials close to her. Apart from her success in accelerating the land restitution claims, she has invested a lot of her energy in agricultural trade negotiations.

She was a significant player at the fifth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Cancun last year, where she led South Africa’s assault to end the unfair agricultural support and protection developed countries’ farmers have. “If you follow the clues, you can see she was being groomed to become trade and industries minister,” an official close to Didiza said.

The current Deputy Minister, Dirk du Toit, is not politically connected enough to receive Mbeki’s nod.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is expected to stay in her position for now. Widely seen as a possible deputy president — and even South Africa’s first women president — it may be more strategic for her to remain in her present position until she is ready to take a run at one of the top jobs, possibly closer to the end of Mbeki’s term in office.

Minister of Public Enterprises Jeff Radebe is also often mentioned as a possible successor to Mbeki. However, until the future of Deputy President Jacob Zuma is settled — which may in part depend on the kind of deal the IFP and ANC negotiate in KwaZulu-Natal as there has been speculation that he may become premier of the province — both Dlamini-Zuma and Radebe may have to put any ambitions they have on hold.

Dipico is expected to move into the Cabinet after completing two successful terms as premier of the Northern Cape. The popular premier is known for his charismatic personality and excellent management skills, making him a popular choice as South Africa’s new sports minister.

The current minister, Ngconde Balfour, has not had a great time in his portfolio, with rugby and soccer administrations experiencing spectacular failures and scandals. Balfour has also had run-ins with the cricket establishment and has often been compared to a bull in a china shop, with little tact to charm the fiercely independent sports bodies.

The Ministry of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology has been vacant since the IFP’s Ben Ngubane became the country’s ambassador to Japan. The arts community suspects that the present Deputy Minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, may be moved into the minister’s post and the position of deputy will fall away.

ANC Youth League president Malusi Gigaba could also be given at least a deputy minister’s position in order to express confidence in the youth.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal.
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