Newly elected President Kgalema Motlanthe used the limited room afforded by a partial Cabinet reshuffle to promise stability, sideline the deeply unpopular Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and soothe divided provincial ANC structures.
In the Cabinet reshuffle announced by Motlanthe on Thursday, in part to fill portfolios vacated by loyalists of the deposed Thabo Mbeki, Tshabalala-Msimang loses the health ministry to former finance committee chair and political prisoner Barbara Hogan, a close confidante of Motlanthe.
Hogan has been one of the most outspoken members of the parliamentary ANC on HIV/Aids, fellow caucus members told the M&G, angrily criticising the stance taken by Tshabalala-Msimang and former president Thabo Mbeki on the disease.
Her deputy is Molefi Sefularo, part of the ANC’s purged North West executive and previously a loyal Mbeki supporter.
Sefularo was health minister in the province and will be seen as calming intense factional tensions in the province.
Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete has parlayed the support she built in that job — not least by limiting the scope of the Travelgate investigation and lending support to jailed former chief whip Tony Yengeni — into the deputy presidency.
Mbete had been heavily punted for the top job by Zuma loyalists anxious about Motlanthe’s ambitions, but was seen as unsuitable by too many senior party officials.
Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula stays in the security cluster, taking over from Mosiuoa Lekota at defence, while Port Shepstone MP and chair of Parliament’s joint standing committee on intelligence Siyabonga Cwele gets the highly sensitive intelligence portfolio.
Cwele is an unwavering Jacob Zuma supporter who is seen as a safer pair of hands than the other contender for the job — ousted NIA boss Billy Masetlha.
Alec Erwin’s vacant seat at the ministry of public enterprises goes to former justice minister Brigitte Mabandla, who was widely seen as an indecisive underperformer in that portfolio.
Mabandla is replaced by Deputy Education Minister Enver Surty, who is described by people who have worked with him as likeable but more than usually amenable to party discipline — ‘a perfect conveyor belt for whatever Luthuli House wants to do with the Scorpionsâ€.
That probably recommended him above Deputy Justice Minister Johnny de Lange, a staunch supporter of the elite unit, who stays in his job.
ANC chief whip and another key supporter of Zuma, Nathi Mthetwa, has been rewarded with the safety and security portfolio.
Sicelo Siceka, who was sworn in as an MP on Thursday, makes a return from political wilderness, where he was exiled by factional battles in Gauteng, as Minister of Provincial and Local Government.
House chair Geoff Doidge is rewarded for years of loyal service as an ANC enforcer in Parliament with the troubled public works portfolio, which has been vacated by Thoko Didiza.
The position of science and technology minister, vacated after Mbeki’s firing by Azapo leader Mosibudi Mangena, will be filled by an Azapo candidate who has not yet been chosen.
In his acceptance speech, Motlanthe said he plans no radical policy shifts and that government will continue working as it did under Mbeki.
‘Mine is not the desire to deviate from what is working. It is not for me to reinvent policy. Nor do I intend to reshape either Cabinet or the public service.â€
A member of the ANC national executive committee told the M&G that the party did not want to make it seem that it had ousted Mbeki for the sake of ‘getting our own people inâ€.
‘The NEC feels very strongly that Zuma must come in on a popular vote, rather than as a shoo-in. It is important to make sure that things run smoothly until next year and settle down,â€ he said.
Despite earlier indications that they would be ready to serve under Motlanthe, former public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and her husband, former deputy finance minister Jabu Moleketi, resigned both from their positions and as MPs.
This clears the way for two more ANC members to fill the vacancies. All Cabinet members bar two must be members of Parliament.
Both were key leaders in government, with Fraser-Moleketi in charge of a major overhaul of the public service and Moleketi government’s chief representative on the local organising committee for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
The decision about who will serve under Motlanthe was essentially made by Zuma, in consultation with the other top five officials of the ANC.
Secretary general Gwede Mantashe was in Cape Town on Thursday for this process.
Continuity and stability were the key considerations that Zuma took into account when he decided who will serve in the Cabinet after the sudden ministerial resignations, the M&G was told.
Another senior ANC MP said the choice of ministers were made to improve the quality of the work already done and to unify the ANC.
Motlanthe said in his acceptance speech that the ANC taught him how the public service should be run.
‘I am grateful to the African National Congress for the tasks and responsibilities it has given me over several decades, for providing the political and analytical grounding that is so essential for effective public service.â€
Motlanthe refrained from mentioning the acrimonious circumstances in which he was appointed and instead thanked Mbeki for his leadership.
‘I know that I speak on behalf of all the people of this country when I say that we have been privileged to have you as our president these last nine years. There is no value that we can place on the service you have rendered to your country, nor any tribute that can adequately capture your contribution to building this nation.
‘For all that you have done for South Africa, for our continent and for the advancement of the global community, we remain forever indebted.â€