Will the president shuffle himself?

During a difficult period in his life, King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9,  “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” History does repeat itself. Again and again. Especially with this administration.

This week, President Jacob Zuma surprised us when he reshuffled his Cabinet for the third time in three years. That’s almost one shuffle for every year he has been president.

And it wasn’t just the nation that Zuma took by surprise this time around. The ministers themselves appeared to have been taken completely by surprise. According to the Mail & Guardian, Lindiwe Sisulu only found out that she had been moved from the powerful position of defence minister to public service and administration a few hours before the announcement. She has been replaced by Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula.

Now, one shuffle in a term is certainly no cause for concern – it’s almost to be expected, really, especially from a president who is still settling in and is focused on performance.

But the president reminds me of a coach who, despite having good players, keeps losing. He blames the players by changing the squard for every game. He never sees himself as a problem, the problem is everyone else. 

Former American president Harry Truman famously had a sign on his desk which read, “The buck stops here.” He was the man in charge, therefore the man responsible. 

Perhaps it’s time our own president took a long, hard and honest look at himself, and asked whether he is the right man for the job. 

But while there is no doubt that he does sees himself as the right man for the job, on what grounds would we say he isn’t the right man for the job? Is it even fair to even ask that question?

When the president shuffled his Cabinet this week, for the third time, every other tweet on the social networks asked, “Why doesn’t he shuffle himself?”

The ANC is in terrible shape. I doubt that anyone in the ANC would deny that. The state that the ANC finds itself in was shaped before Polokwane: The fight between Jacob Zuma and former ANC president Thabo Mbeki is directly responsible for how things are in the party now. But it’s been almost five years since then, and the party is in decline in all provinces except KwaZulu-Natal. The ANC needs some serious introspection.

When he stepped down as president of the ANC, Nelson Mandela said: “One temptation of a leader … is that he may use that powerful position to settle scores with his detractors, marginalise them and, in certain cases, get rid of them and surround himself with yes-men and -women.” 

The general view is that Sisulu was moved out of defence because she is not a yes-woman. Sisulu is potentially ANC presidential material – if the ANC ever has the balls to elect a woman to the position. She is rightfully independent in spirit.

What surprised me is the fact that he could shuffle Sisulu away from defence, but kept Tokyo Sexwale in his portfolio as the minister of human settlements. Perhaps it would have been way too obvious that he was getting rid of a rival. If Zuma survives Mangaung, the chances of Tokyo serving a second term in Cabinet will be greatly diminished. And I doubt he wants to serve a second term under Zuma anyway.

We have been hearing – “amahemhem” as they say in Xhosa,  – that Tokyo is attempting to position himself for the presidency of the ANC (and, by default, of the country). 

In an unprecedented move at the beginning of this month, he spoke out against Richard Mdluli while he was in the Eastern Cape: “There is concern about the evidence of political interference and partiality [to benefit] Mdluli.”

If it is true that Sexwale is in the process of running against Zuma, then he spoke to some people’s fears, ironically, by speaking about the climate of fear that seems to have descended upon our politics.

“There is something that we should lose … fear of those in authority. We put people in authority and we get terrified of them. You fear an MEC, a mayor, a minister. You fear premiers, you fear the president … we put people in power then we become afraid of them,” he said.

“Fear must not grip this land. South Africa cannot be reduced to a country of fear where we fear to speak … We have a democracy, a constitution, organs of power. Let’s not be afraid to speak out,” Sexwale said. 

Some will no doubt say that he is self-serving and opportunistic for venturing out this way, because all he really wants is Zuma’s position.

What the so-called “Anyone But Zuma” camp fails to realise is that this is how we ended up in our current situation. The ANC needs to get behind a candidate it believes in, not behind one because they don’t like the other.

People remain silent because they know that if they speak out they will be hungry. The stomach now trumps principle in the ANC. The new motto seems to be, “Principles won’t feed me.” That’s the party’s YOLO, (that’s “You Only Live Once” to you).

Mandela was honest with himself: He knew that there were people who could do a better job than him as president, which is why he stayed for a single term. He didn’t rate himself as president. He didn’t need to be told. 

President Zuma is said to have promised he would only serve a single term, an assertion he now denies. Well, perhaps he should take a page out of Mandela’s book and walk away after one term. 

Unfortunately the allure of power is too strong for us weaker men.

Follow Khaya on Twitter: @KhayaDlanga

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