Elzabe Rockman's promotion to Free State finance minister was part of a Cabinet reshuffle in the province that also saw another of Magashule’s political allies, Benjamin Malakoane, made provincial health minister.
The timing of the move was questionable given calls from the Democratic Alliance (DA) for investigations into a slew of communications deals that saw state funds pour into the Letlaka Group.
The communications company, which had a hand in the costly Free State Online website, also runs a pro-government provincial newspaper the Weekly and Hlasela TV, which allegedly gets R12-million annually to broadcast video content to government buildings in the province, the opposition party said.
Rockman’s appointment was implemented with immediate effect.
The DA’s Free State leader Patricia Kopane has said the appointments were serious cause for concern, as both Rockman and Malakoane were linked to alleged unethical and possibly illegal practices in the Free State government and faced allegations of ethics violations.
Kopane said treasury was investigating communications contracts in which Rockman was involved and that in 2010 Malakoane was implicated in bankrupting the Matjhabeng local municipality.
According to the inquiry, Malakoane signed questionable tenders worth R80-million during his time as municipal manager in Mtjhabeng. He resigned shortly afterwards to join a company that benefited.
“The premier has cast doubt over the integrity of his Cabinet and his government by appointing such questionable figures to key positions,” she said, calling for the public protector to investigate whether Rockman, Malakoane or Magashule had violated any laws.
“Until there is clarity on the outcome of this pending investigation, these individuals are not appropriate candidates for high public office.”
Politics commentator André Duvenhage said he was not surprised by Magashule’s latest Cabinet reshuffle.
“If you look at the bigger picture of Ace Magashule, he is always appointing people loyal to him. At this time it is very critical to him because there is a bit of a strained relationship between him and President Jacob Zuma, and we know he’s a natural survivor in politics. I’d expect him to appoint these types of people close to him,” he said.
Duvenhage said Rockman had a very close relationship with Magashule, dating back to the late 90s, when she was in the Free State legislature.
“I cannot say what his motive is but it seems to be in line with a more comprehensive strategy of political survival.”
But Duvenhage said it was unlikely that the latest allegations of fraud and bureaucracy in the Free State would damage Magashule.
“He’s survived one ordeal after another. There was a time when there were a number of allegations of corruption [against him] and he survived all of them,” he said.
Magashule led the ANC in the Free State for over a decade. Although a staunch Zuma supporter, he lost some credibility after failing to deliver the Free State to the pro-Zuma camp at the ANC’s electoral conference in Mangaung last December.
Shortly before the conference a small group of ANC members claimed that processes for electing the provincial leadership were manipulated and took the matter to the Constitutional Court to have the province’s leadership declared invalid.
The court ruled the election of the provincial executive committee was invalid. As a result, the executive was barred from participating in the elective conference.