President Jacob Zuma’s decisions and appointments have largely been influenced by a “kitchen cabinet”, according to Mail & Guardian sources with intimate knowledge of how Zuma approached his first term of office.
There is very little connection between members of this kitchen cabinet, and they are mainly located outside official ANC party structures.
Three businesspeople have emerged as having played a key role in providing counsel to Zuma, particularly regarding major appointments.
Businessman and playwright Duma Ndlovu, owner of Mvelase and Associates Vusi Mvelase, and executive chair of Zungu Investments Company Limited Sandile Zungu are said to influence Zuma’s decisions.
Ndlovu is said to have played a part in the appointment of national police commissioner Riah Phiyega as well as that of the former spokesperson in the presidency, Vincent Magwenya.
Ndlovu has apparently worked closely with Mvelase in convincing Zuma to agree to some of their recommendations. Mvelase apparently influenced the appointment of public protector Thuli Madonsela and Sbu Ndebele as transport minister in 2009.
Zungu is consulted largely on economic and business-related issues, said the sources.
Powers of intervention
Heads of parastatals are said to approach members of Zuma’s kitchen cabinet when they believe they are about to be sacked from their posts, to ask for intervention. Members of this informal cabinet are also consulted on Cabinet reshuffles.
All three businessmen deny that they advise Zuma in any way.
Ndlovu said his relationship with Zuma is based on the fact that he is producing a documentary on him.
“I am not and have never been President Jacob Zuma’s adviser, official or not,” he said. “I have never in any way been connected with policy or influencing policy from within or outside government. I am not aware of ever having been a part of the president’s kitchen cabinet, nor does he consult with me on any matters for that matter, cultural or otherwise.
“Since the documentary is not yet complete [because he is still in office] there has been some contact, although not as frequent as there was when he initially took office. How these interactions have been interpreted to being a part of a kitchen cabinet beats me.”
Mvelase said: “I am not anybody in the circles of politics. Who am I to influence the president?”
Asked about allegations that he arranged a meeting between Madonsela and former police chief Bheki Cele, Mvelase claimed that some people are playing political games with his name.
Madonsela said she had “no knowledge” of Mvelase’s role in her appointment. She was nominated by South African Women in Dialogue and received a 100% vote from all political parties in the parliamentary ad-hoc committee that interviewed and recommended her for the position, she said through her spokesperson, Kgalalelo Masibi.
Zungu said he worked with Zuma the same way he had worked with Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. “I have got no influence on the president or his decisions.”
Two sources said Zuma’s kitchen cabinets come in different forms.
“They are made up of different people, depending on what he believes that person is good at,” said one Zuma ally. “He listens to someone who has got a constituency, because when he [Zuma] speaks to that person he feels that he is talking to the group of people they represent.
“When you see people saying someone has had a falling-out with Zuma, it’s because that the person has got nothing more to offer Msholozi. If you are voted out of a position, what influence can you have?”
The source said, for political counsel, “the ANC’s top six officials are the closest to a kitchen cabinet”. The wealthy Guptas are also said to be part of Zuma’s kitchen cabinet.
Those close to Zuma say: “If he takes your advice and it backfires, he will no longer trust you.”
An insider in Zuma’s office once conceded that when “Baba feels the heat, he goes outside the state and party structures” to consult. But Zuma always feels comfortable if his decisions are ratified by the ANC’s alliance partners, the party’s officials and its senior organs.