Amid the long series of Gupta emails that show the family’s trail through the corridors of “state capture”, it can be easy to lose sight of the other instance of “state capture” — or even “country capture” — that is afoot.
President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle earlier this week, his 11th in the eight years he has been the president of South Africa, moved David Mahlobo from his former position as minister of state security to the energy portfolio, along with other moves.
The most commented upon has been the removal of Blade Nzimande, still chief of the South African Communist Party, as minister of higher education. Nzimande, once a fervent supporter of Zuma, had become a strident critic and this axing is a sign that the president has decided to strike against such critics.
Plus, the president probably sees he has lost the communist party as a big supporter and has decided to cut his losses there and invest, instead, in a different minister who will presumably give him the support he feels he needs, especially in the run-up to the ANC’s December elective conference.
So the reshuffle, which was obviously not done to improve governance (or several very bad ministers would have been fired), is largely about Zuma’s attempts to manipulate the succession battle now playing itself out in the ANC.
The reshuffle, however, also shows Zuma’s commitment to his nuclear agenda. He has axed an energy minister (Mmamoloko Kubayi) who showed no signs of wanting to push through the hugely expensive nuclear deal with Russia, a deal that is looking like Zuma’s pet project for the South African state, and has replaced her with someone (Mahlobo) who has demonstrated over time that he is a hardline Zuma loyalist — and is much more likely to do his master’s bidding and try once more to activate the nuclear deal.
In April this year, the Western Cape High Court declared the nuclear plan invalid because the government had not followed the mandated processes in getting it together and five decisions made by the state with regard to the deal were found to be illegal. Basically, the state can’t now go ahead with the deal without restarting the process, which would include public discussion and careful examination by Parliament.
It could be that that would delay or even stop the process once more, but Zuma shows every sign of being determined to bulldoze the deal through. His own history in the presidency provides ample evidence of his reluctance to be accountable to anyone for his decisions — not the ANC, not the people, not the courts.
South Africans will have to be very alert to what movement takes place in the nuclear arena and be willing to go to court again to end Zuma’s plan to indebt South Africa to Russia for decades to come.