The new power rangers

Who is really calling the shots in the new administration?

Collins Chabane, monitoring and evaluation minister
Chabane is one of President Jacob Zuma’s most trusted lieutenants and has played an influential role in key decisions taken by the new administration. A modest politician, Chabane spearheaded the ANC’s transitional management process, which saw the expansion in the number of ministries from 28 to 34 after this year’s election. One senior government official called him “the key driver in Zuma’s new administration”.
Chabane worked with Zuma for many years in the ANC and his new role of performance monitoring brings him even closer to the president.
He is a member of the ANC’s national executive committee and the national working committee and is credited with driving Limpopo’s economic growth to 6,5% when he was the provincial economic affairs minister in 2005.

Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary general
Mantashe has used his platform as the boss of Luthuli House to ensure that the party remains at the centre of power. According to senior government officials, Zuma is more comfortable discussing major government issues with Mantashe than with some of his closest advisers. With power shifting back to Luthuli House after Polokwane, Mantashe is seen as both the gatekeeper and the executor of that power. He played a crucial role in key state appointments, including those of ministers and premiers.

“Zuma might have a lot of advisers, but he does not spend much time with them,” said one senior official. “He takes key policy decisions in consultation with the ANC, particularly Mantashe. Remember, Zuma himself emphasised that the ANC should be in charge.”

Lindiwe Zulu, international relations adviser
Zulu is said to be one of the few senior government officials who truly has the presidents ear. Ambassador to Brazil until December last year, she worked as ANC spokesperson until May, when she was appointed to her current position. One of her key responsibilities is to improve Zuma’s image abroad. Zulu told the Mail & Guardian this week that a key issue is whether South Africa’s quiet diplomacy in relation to Zimbabwe is still appropriate. Strengthening ties with Angola is another focus for her.

Ebrahim Patel, economic development minister
Patel’s appointment was one of Zuma’s compromise decisions to appease the ANC’s left-leaning partners. Until the day before Zuma announced his new Cabinet, Patel was tipped to take over as enterprise development minister, but Cosatu persuaded Zuma otherwise.

Patel was a Cosatu executive committee member and head of the federation’s clothing and textile union. Although Patel’s role has yet to be clarified, he regards it as being able to develop economic policies. Insiders within the presidency say Zuma is more likely to listen to Patel’s advice than that of his own economic adviser, former trade and industry minister Mandisi Mpahlwa.

Lakela Kaunda, chief of staff
Kaunda, Zuma’s longtime spokesperson, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the president’s office as well as its communication unit. Government insiders say even the presidency’s deputy director general of communication, Vusi Mona, cannot make decisions without consulting with Kaunda, whose position is at the same level as Mona’s. “Every statement that is issued by the presidency has to be approved by her. No one within the communications unit does anything without checking with her,” said one senior government official.

Advocate Bonisiwe Makhene, legal adviser to the president
Makhene was appointed Zuma’s legal adviser in May. Before she joined the presidency, Makhene was deputy chief state law adviser in the justice and constitutional development department.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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