President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” has faltered, with internal divisions in the ANC and the ruling alliance stopping tough decisions being made on issues such as the future of Eskom. Now, less than six months into his first administration, Ramaphosa is said to be thinking about reshuffling his Cabinet to solidify his power in the ANC.
Ramaphosa, who emerged victorious by a thin margin at the ANC’s elective congress in Nasrec in December 2017 and began his current term after the May general elections, has faced resistance from the losing faction since Nasrec. As a result, compromises had to be made in the appointments of ministers and the party’s top leadership.
A reshuffle would ensure he has more control over the ANC.
One of the main targets of this would be Lindiwe Sisulu, the minister of human settlements, water and sanitation.
It emerged last week that she still harbours ambitions of the highest office at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters. It is understood that Sisulu believes she has a deeper understanding of the ANC than the president, because she is an ANC “blue blood”— being the daughter of ANC stalwarts and struggle heroes Walter and Albertina Sisulu, as well as a former Umkhonto weSizwe commander.
A source in her camp said a key problem was that Sisulu “got punished for implementing an ANC resolution on Israel [when South Africa downgraded its embassy there to a visa office] and got no defence from the same people who gave us an instruction to act”. This, they said, could have cost her the job as the international relations and co-operation minister. And this came after Ramaphosa had “benefited from us being his running mates” at Nasrec, the source said.
Sisulu’s overtures to ANC structures, including key leaders of the losing faction, seem to have caught the attention of Ramaphosa, at a time when there is also a realignment of allegiances in the the ANC’s top six.
The Mail & Guardian reported last week that Sisulu was accused of appointing team members of her failed campaign for the ANC presidency to the boards of entities within her department.
Earlier this month, she appointed former social development minister and ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini as chair of the Social Housing Regulatory Authority. The authority has a R1-billion budget.
The league opposed Sisulu’s bid for the ANC presidency in 2017, but in May this year Dlamini publicly affirmed Sisulu’s membership of the league, a sign of a realignment between Sisulu and the league.
The M&G has talked to people in different factions across the country, who say that the rough plan is for Sisulu to be moved to the public service and administration ministry. The current minister there, Senzo Mchunu, would replace the state security minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, who would then become the minister of human settlements, water and sanitation.
That department comes with a great deal of power, thanks to its control over issues critical to voters.
Three independent and well-placed ANC sources insist the reshuffle would be disguised as the filling of vacant deputy minister positions.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said the presidency is not in a position to comment on reshuffle rumours. “When the president has decided to fill the vacant position of the deputy minister of mineral resources and energy, he will communicate his intentions and decision to the public.”
Several senior officials in the affected departments, who asked not to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media, also confirmed that they were aware of the reshuffle rumours.
“We have been hearing the same thing for a while now,” said one. “There has been nothing official from the presidency yet, but we are expecting to hear something any day.”
A second official said he had also been briefed on the three-way movement of ministers. “What we are told is that Mchunu will go to state security and Sisulu to public service and administration. Dlodlo will then take up human settlements. What we don’t know is when.”
Rumours of the changes have also been heard in KwaZulu-Natal, with key individuals in Mchunu’s camp confirming that they have heard talks of the three ministers being moved.
Ramaphosa has come under increasing pressure in the ANC from remnants of the Jacob Zuma presidency, and from within his own camp as some of his supporters and campaigners who missed out on deployment to the state are frustrated at being left out.
This has led to ongoing jostling across regional and national branches of the ANC, with the different factions trying to gain an advantage.
The M&G understands that, in the background, Zuma forces in North West— led by former premier Supra Mahumapelo — as well as in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal — have been in discussions with forces in Mpumalanga that are close to deputy president David Mabuza about reviving the so-called “premier league”.
That league — made up of the leaders of the Free State, Mpumalanga and North West — was key to the support of Zuma during his presidency. It was broken up at Nasrec, when Mabuza threw his support behind Ramaphosa.
A well-placed source in Mabuza’s camp said the deputy president has developed a very close relationship with ANC treasurer general Paul Mashatile.
“It became easy for DD [Mabuza] to listen to what they [Mashatile’s camp] had to say because they all share similar frustrations at not being allowed to exercise their powers.
“Remember DD feels like he is not given enough power to deploy even though his position is that of chair of the deployment committee and leader of government business. Paul feels that some of his ability to raise funds for the ANC is being impacted by CR’s own campaigners who raise money for his foundation instead of the ANC,” he added.
The M&G reached out to Mashatile’s office for comment, but none was forthcoming at the time of publication.
Talks are understood to include the OR Tambo region in the Eastern Cape, where contestation between Premier Oscar Mabuyane and provincial treasurer Lubabalo Madikizela has divided that province. The campaign is also said to be active in the Amathole and Nelson Mandela Bay regions.
Disgruntled former ministers, who were left out of Ramaphosa’s cabinet could also be called upon for support, said a senior Luthuli House official: “Ask yourself why the people who were removed as ministers are fine with just being at Luthuli House; what are they doing there? They are seen as State Capture people and so the aunty [Sisulu] comes as the right person who holds high morals and comes from the right family.”
“They are leading a tangent towards the NGC [National General Council] against the old man [Ramaphosa]. You can’t blame the old man for wanting to have changes in the Cabinet and consolidate his power. All those who were ministers are fighting back and want to use the SG [Ace Magashule] to back them.”
News of the impending reshuffle has left Sisulu’s team in a panic, and plans are being hatched to use the ANC national working committee to try and frustrate Ramaphosa’s plans.
A source within her camp said the strategy to be used would include pressure from the Women’s League.
The source warned that the president “will find himself alienated from structures because Lindiwe is ANC ‘blue blood’ and it has not even been a year since he appointed her and told her to use that portfolio to campaign for local government elections”.
Sisulu’s spokesperson Makhosini Mgitywa has dismissed allegations that she was using appointments as retainers or to leverage support.