It’s been a difficult week, and I started the following post on Monday soon after hearing the general tone of the press and analysts response to the cabinet reshuffle.
I wanted to publish while the accolades for Jacob Zuma were still glowing and, unfortunately for both the President and me, the corrective doubts and scepticism are starting to be discernible in the analysis that up until now has been characterised by the “a change is as good as a holiday” school of political commentary.
Anyway, this is what I wanted to say:
- outwits some enemies at the ANC NGC,
- announces (again) a process towards a (not very) New Growth Path,
- (his Minister of Finance releases) the Medium Term Expenditure Framework which emphasises continuity, and
- he shuffles his cabinet
and suddenly he’s a visionary, man of action, seizing the nettle of corruption and there’s a new spirit of optimism skipping through the land.
It’s obviously exhausting to have to read the same old strands in our news media day in and day out: incompetence, lack of vision, cronyism and inability to overcome endemic conflict in the ruling alliance.
So I understand the need to seize on a sign, any sign, as the first swallow of summer, but I think a little restraint is called for.
What leads the official opposition to conclude that the cabinet reshuffle is first and foremost “a positive indication of renewed focus on accountability’, when the far more obvious explanation is Jacob Zuma is using the reshuffle as part of his own agenda to stay in office beyond 2014?
Jacob Zuma is no fool and those who forget that he has played inner-ring ANC politics as head of Mbokodo, the ANC internal intelligence organisation, will constantly be led to make mistakes of analysis. He did, after all, defeat the acknowledged master of palace politics, Thabo Mbeki – and if this was a swords and sorcery story we would understand that he now has the previous master’s powers at his disposal.
A whole range of benefits and protections accrue to Jacob Zuma and his backers from him remaining president of the country. But to remain president, he needs to use a cabinet reshuffle to do four things:
- He must ensure that his cabinet is seen to be busy with the job of optimising delivery to the poorest South Africans (the constituencies he is talking to here are made up of the voting poor themselves and the various elites who feel threatened by those poor South Africans and who pay their taxes and various formal and informal levies towards the upliftment of the poor – and who cannot countenance that protection money being stolen or squandered by the political middle-man);
- Linked but separate is the need to be seen to be fighting against government corruption and cronyism. This is slightly difficult when one of the features of his presidency is the degree to which his own family is making oodles of money out of his good name, but a major cabinet reshuffle gives him an excellent opportunity to sacrifice the biggest and fattest offenders and offer them up to the uncritical daily media as grist to the mill of their learned analysis.
- Forming the cabinet allows him to woo individuals who belong to camps which oppose him. This is either in preparation for alligning with those camps around particular issues in future or it is part of an attempt to weaken the coeherency of the opposition.
- Finally cabinet posts and and especially the more amorphous post of deputy minister are excellent ways of building a corps of supporters to back him during future transitions.
Thus some of the major aspects of the reshuffle could be undertood as follows (and I quote myself from a recent research report);
The firing of General Nyanda
Zuma and the ANC has been under the cosh of public opinion – and negative opinion of Alliance leaders, particularly Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi – for the tender abuse and rampant corruption of senior politicians. No-one represents this better (along with a very in-your-face approach to the ministerial car fleet) than the good General. Nyanda is powerful and wily, but his usefulness as an ally has gradually been outweighed by his usefulness as a sacrifice to prove that the President is serious about corruption. The fact that telecommunications policy has been a consistent political failure for the ANC (right back to the days of the awful but sweet Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri) makes it easier to throw Nyanda to the wolves.
Barbara Hogan has been a growing problem for the ANC. Liked and respected by business and the media and largely regarded as competent, her incipient ideological rebellion has been deeply threatening to the ANC and since her criticisms of the refusal to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama the party has been looking for strategy to getting her out of the way before she does something really embarrassing. Also, the position of Minister of Public Enterprises is a real plumb. Hogan represents no power constituency in the ANC and therefore the ‘patronage resource’ of the position is wasted on her. Public Enterprises is a massive area of political oversight. Hogan was a gifted and thorough minister, but moving her out of this portfolio is not going to make much difference to government performance in this arena. Finally, she has conflicted with Nyanda (and Zuma) and removing Hogan and Nyanda at the same time allows Zuma to sell the act as ‘even-handed’. She will be missed.
Malusi Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula and Paul Mashitile
This is slightly more Byzantine, but the promotion of Malusi Gigaba to public enterprises and Fikile Mbalula to sports and recreation and Paul Mashitile to arts and culture (and to a lesser extent Ngoako Ramathlodi to deputy in correctional services) is both an attempt to keep in with a key and potentially competing faction and also to place those competitors in positions that will be demanding and time consuming, but will not be a base from which to launch attacks. The leading figure in this faction is probably Tokyo Sexwale. Now all the key members are up to their necks in Cabinet jobs that will keep them out of trouble. At the same time Zuma may benefit by drawing them all into the heart of government, bound by its discipline and codes and directly under his authority. It is now only Julius Malema who is still outside the tent, with an independent base, able to make a noise and engage and challenge Zuma publically.
One of the ways to ensure power and influence is to woo particular and defined constituencies. ANC Women’s League stalwart Bathabile Dlamini to social development is an obvious example of wooing the voting block of the League. Also, the South African Democratic Teachers Union has already expressed its delight at the appointment of its previous General Secretary Thulas Nxesi as deputy in rural developement.
The slew of deputy ministers
In general the pushing up of cabinet numbers works to the benefit of Zuma. The more largesse he can dispense the more power he will have when it comes to the lead-up to the ANC’s centenary conference. Each deputy appointment provides the opportunity to reward some, make promises of future greatness to others and bring potential enemies closer.
I am sure it would be possible to run a similar analysis on every appointment or shift and the guiding analysitical principles would prove fruitful.
An interesting point to note is that President Zuma has left untouched the key economic departments which are part of a broader alliance process and the security departments, which were the first areas he put firmly under his own control.
In conclusion let me reiterate: Zuma is great on tactics and strategy – it is the arena of principles that he leaves something to be desired. His presidency has not been a great advance on Thabo Mbeki’s, but, in general, his priorities have led him to appoint people better equipped for the tasks set for them.
The cabinet reshuffle has not significantly changed the overall capacity of this government , but it does leave the Nkandla team stronger than at any time since Polokwane and a second term for Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is looking more likely than ever.