The ANC’s alliance partners have warned President Jacob Zuma of the dire consequences of removing left-wing leaders, including the higher education minister, Blade Nzimande, from his Cabinet.
Rumours circulated this week that Nzimande was among those Cabinet ministers who could be replaced.
Even before the shock firing of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, a number of Cabinet ministers in the South African Communist Party (SACP) expressed fears that they would be targeted because of the growing tensions between nationalists and communists in the ANC.
A number of communist leaders serve in Zuma’s executive.
The SACP and trade union federation Cosatu have vowed to defend Nzimande, the leader of the communist party, with Cosatu taking a resolution at its congress last month for workers to defend Nzimande.
Cosatu and SACP leaders told the Mail & Guardian this week that they expected Zuma to consult with the ANC’s alliance partners on key decisions, including the reshuffling of Cabinet and the deployment of cadres in senior positions. Legally, ministers serve at the pleasure of the president, who has very few limits on who he can appoint to Cabinet, and almost none on when or why to fire them.
South African Democratic Teachers’ Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said the union would push for an effective political secretariat or council, where key decisions were taken by all partners of the tripartite alliance.
“Those who are deployed should know they are accountable to the alliance,” he said. “The alliance secretariat must deal with all strategic issues. Loyalty is important but it can’t be the only thing.”
Maluleke said Zuma needed to take guidance from the alliance secretariat before he reshuffled or appointed ministers.
Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said the federation would continue to demand that the alliance and not the ANC should be the “strategic centre” and expected Zuma to consult the ANC’s alliance partners before he reshuffled Cabinet posts. Yet he did not view the president’s decision to reshuffle ministers as dismissals, but as redeployments.
A communist leader, who asked to remain anonymous, said if Zuma removed Nzimande and other communist leaders from his Cabinet he would leave the party with no choice but to opt out of the alliance.
“Our friends [in the ANC] are no longer our friends. We are talking past each other. The party [SACP] must take a decisive position that the reconfigured alliance must drive the agenda. If all of these are not agreed, we go our way.
“We are in an alliance, but everything still remains ANC. We are calling for equality in determining deployment and key decisions. If this is not agreed, we go for elections. Even the SACP leadership is running out of excuses,” he said.
The SACP leader added: “The ANC president can’t just decide to reshuffle without consulting the alliance. Restructuring of the alliance is not working effectively. There is a groundswell of support on the issue of the reconfigured alliance. This time we are not going to lose it. Everyone agrees now.”
The capable cadres who could have filled Nene’s shoes
President Jacob Zuma not only fired a respected, experienced and knowledgeable finance minister this week, but also overlooked a number of highly-qualified candidates who would have caused far less of a furore than his actual choice of an obscure backbencher.
The appointment of David “Des” van Rooyen as finance minister has now triggered speculation about an exit of invaluable and experienced technocrats from the treasury.
That threat could have been avoided had the new minister been a known quantity such as the deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, or the chairperson of parliament’s finance committee, Yunus Carrim.
The post could even have been filled by Paul Mashatile, the chair of Parliament’s standing committee on appropriations and leader of the ANC in Gauteng.
Jonas served under Nene since his appointment after the general election last year. The former MEC for economic development, environmental affairs and tourism in the Eastern Cape was little known on the national stage when he took on the role. Like Nene, however, he has vocally backed the treasury’s line on the need to exercise prudent financial restraint and defended the expenditure ceiling and reductions to the budget deficit and spiralling government debt.
Given the argument that Zuma axed Nene because he questioned the affordability of the president’s nuclear ambitions and tried to exercise control over rogue parastatals such as embattled SAA, Jonas may have similarly been too prudent for the president’s taste.
Carrim has experience as a former minister of communications as well as extensive knowledge of government’s budgetary processes.
But Carrim was, if anything, too good in his erstwhile ministerial post. During his brief tenure heading up communications, he had moved quickly to improve policy in the ICT arena and his demotion to Parliament was decried by players across the sector.
Even Mashatile, would arguably make a better choice than Van Rooyen, given his past experience as MEC of finance for Gauteng. Although he courted a good deal of controversy and scandal in this role, it is not this reason that would have made him an unpalatable candidate. Mashatile and the Gauteng ANC actively campaigned to have Zuma replaced as leader of the ANC by then deputy resident Kgalema Motlanthe at the Mangaung elective conference in 2012.
Despite the time Van Rooyen has spent serving on Parliament’s standing committee on finance, his appointment has failed to inspire confidence.
Peter Attard Montalto, emerging markets analyst at investment bank Nomura, said Van Rooyen’s appointment would erode the standing of the treasury because he had no central or provincial government experience.
Equally disturbing, he said, was the growing belief that Nene’s axing would trigger the exit of long-standing and well-respected officials from the treasury.
“We are now even more firm in our belief that the national treasury director general Lungisa Fuzile’s contract will not be renewed in May 2016, ” said Attard Montalto. – Lynley Donnelly