Renewed rumours of a mass cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa are unlikely to translate into changes in his executive any time in the near future, but they do reflect the political realignment taking place within the ANC ahead of its next leadership conference.
Last week, an unsourced list of names of cabinet ministers set to be moved by Ramaphosa appeared on social media, with the “big three” — Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Police Minister Bheki Cele and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — among those named for removal from office.
Mkhize was identified on the list for a swap with Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who held the health portfolio from 2009 to 2019, and Public Service and Administration minister Senzo Mchunu was named as water and sanitation minister.
According to a subsequent report in The Sunday Independent, Cele, Mkhize and Dlamini-Zuma were to be reshuffled after falling out with the president over the enforcement of regulations banning alcohol and tobacco products.
The changes were allegedly aimed at isolating Ramaphosa’s critics in the ANC leadership, according to the report.
Another target, according to the report, was Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, whose name was also raised in rumours of a cabinet reshuffle last year.
At the time, ANC insiders said Sisulu’s removal was aimed at stifling her presidential ambitions. Sisulu, who bid for the ANC presidency in 2017, but pulled out and backed Ramaphosa, has since aligned herself with former supporters of Dlamini-Zuma’s failed bid for the party presidency at Nasrec, ahead of a run for the ANC number one spot in 2022.
An ANC national executive committee member told the Mail & Guardian this week that it was “very unlikely” that the president would make changes to his cabinet at this point in time.
“I do not believe there would be changes made now, at the height of the fight against Covid-19. That would not make sense, certainly not in key portfolios that are at the centre of what the government is doing right now.”
The NEC member said, although it had not held any discussion about a reshuffle, it was not general practice for the president to consult before making changes to the executive. “This is not something that is discussed at that level, but making major changes right now would not be the appropriate thing to do,” they said.
A second senior ANC member said that although the list was likely to be fake and generated by a faction in the party, the talk of a movement for Sisulu persisted. “Something will happen, but not now and not with all the names on that list.”
“You will remember that there was an intention to make a change late last year and earlier this year in water and sanitation, which was advanced. Luthuli House intervened and asked that the minister be given time, which the president did. That discussion hasn’t gone away,” the source said.
Neither presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko nor ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe had responded to queries from the M&G at the time of publication.