The Cabinet reshuffle that rocked the country this week was a move by President Jacob Zuma to limit the influence of his possible and perceived enemies, say those involved in the process.
According to government and ANC sources, some of whom are sympathetic to Zuma and others not, meetings were held shortly after the ANC’s national general council (NGC) in Durban to finalise the new executive.
The sources asked not to be named, pointing out that Cabinet appointments are Zuma’s prerogative and that ordinary ANC members and government officials cannot comment on them.
They said that an analysis of the NGC by Zuma’s “kitchen cabinet”, which consists of government officials and ANC leaders, found that Zuma may have improved his image and no longer appears to be under siege.
However, he had “lost” the NGC because the ANC Youth League could not be persuaded to drop its nationalisation campaign and demands for a “generational mix” in the leadership.
A list of ministers to be axed was drawn up and for the first time fingers were pointed at then-communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda as a candidate to be fired from the Cabinet, a government official briefed on the issue told the Mail & Guardian.
Nyanda’s sacking was the biggest surprise in the reshuffle, as he is an influential ANC leader and was a key member of Zuma’s lobby group in the run-up to the latter’s election as ANC president.
Sources say Nyanda has, since his appointment to the Cabinet, moved away from Zuma and towards his rivals. His responsibility for the South African Broadcasting Corporation proved the key reason for his unexpected removal.
“The general became an issue because he was in control of the SABC,” said the official, adding that there were concerns over how Zuma would be represented by the public broadcaster.
“Zuma only has chairperson Ben Ngubane on the SABC board. His support group disintegrated when some of them resigned.”
Former deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula, a staunch Zuma supporter before Polokwane and now ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s main rival, was elevated to a full ministerial position, with the new title of sport and recreation minister.
While some see the promotion as a sign of confidence in the former youth league president, those close to Mbalula see it as an attempt to deter him from lobbying successfully for the secretary general’s position, for which he has been earmarked by the youth league.
“The biggest mistake they made was to give Mbalula a free hand by appointing him deputy minister,” said one of his backers.
“The deliverables were not his direct responsibility, but those of the minister. Mbalula had enough time to do other things — and he used that opportunity well.”
Mashatile ‘saved the day’
The ANC’s Gauteng chairperson, Paul Mashatile, is credited with saving the day at the NGC when youth league delegates disrupted the plenary on the last day of the conference.
“Without Paul, that conference would have ended in chaos. The ANC would have wasted a week in Durban,” said a government official who attended the NGC.
According to a member of the ANC’s Gauteng provincial executive committee, Zuma’s decision to elevate Mashatile was motivated by his newfound desire to win over the party’s rank and file in that province.
“There is a scramble for their support and Zuma made the first move by elevating Mashatile to the position of minister. The show of faith in Mashatile means they [Zuma and his allies] managed to get something in return from him.”
Some ANC leaders in Gauteng believe the motive for giving Mashatile a full ministry was to keep him away from Gauteng politics. Others, however, say this gives Mashatile, who is close to Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, a platform on which to build a national reputation.
Mashatile is seen by some in the ANC as a “next-generation leader” who is being groomed to step into a high-level position in 2017.
A senior youth league source told the M&G that the league welcomed the appointments of its former presidents, Malusi Gigaba and Mbalula, as minister of public enterprises and minister of sport and recreation respectively. However, the league was concerned that some ministers it opposes were left unscathed.
“We wanted him to fire Mining Minister Susan Shabangu. We also wanted him to include more African faces in the economic cluster,” said the youth league official.
“We expected Trevor Manuel to be removed as planning minister — he hasn’t done anything since he was appointed to that position. I think there were political considerations in why he was kept on.
“Almost all those who’ve been removed have interfered in the work of departments instead of giving strategic direction to their respective ministries. It was easier for Zuma to fire them because they don’t have constituencies that will help re-elect him as ANC president in 2012,” the source said.
Before the reshuffle, there was speculation that Shabangu would be axed, but instead she was given a deputy minister in the form of ANC MP Godfrey Oliphant.
Said a source with insight into Shabangu’s battles with the youth league over nationalisation: “Those who said she must go were the ones who didn’t like her stance on nationalisation and saw her as an obstacle.”
Five new deputy ministers’ positions were created in the reshuffle, which will collectively cost the taxpayer an extra R5,6-million annually — an amount that excludes staff and other expenses.
A senior government official said that the deputy ministry in his portfolio costs about R8-million a year, suggesting that the new cost to the public purse could be about R40-million annually. Government spokesperson Themba Maseko dismissed this figure as inflated.
Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane said departments will have to pay for their new deputies from existing budgets.
“There may be cases, however, where arrangements may have to be made to help the smaller ministries carry the costs of the new appointments.”