Opinion: Factors that will guide Zuma’s choice of Cabinet

Share the news!!!


As one of his first second-term tasks as president, Mr Jacob Zuma this past weekend started deliberations with senior ANC colleagues about the composition of his new cabinet. His choices will provide the earliest indication of the general tone and direction of the new administration. A variety of factors will influence this process.

First, the election win with a reduced majority of 62% – worse than what the ANC had hoped for, but better than many had expected – may have bought Mr Zuma some breathing space. But he is still not assured of completing his full second term, something that no doubt will be on his mind as he composes his new cabinet.

Unlike 2009, he now does not ‘owe’ the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) for bringing him to power. He heads an ANC largely dominated and controlled by himself with the help of a trusted circle of confidants from KwaZulu-Natal.

Nonetheless, he has also made powerful enemies along the way. And his selection will be made in the knowledge that he has to persuade party heavyweights he and his cabinet can ‘do the job’. That, while his relatively poor public image, the Nkandla scandal, the Marikana inquiry and arms deal inquiries and the possibility of a judicial review of the decision to drop arms deal corruption charges against him all still loom large.

Some ANC leaders are said to be anxious to repair the damage done to the party and government by various Zuma-associated scandals and controversies, his administration’s failure to deliver the critical goods, and his image as a traditionalist, or even a tribalist, whose various shortcomings make him unsuitable as head of a modern government in a sophisticated democracy with a globally competitive economy. This calls for an empowered, business-like deputy president, it is argued.

He may also have to consider as factor that the race to succeed him, either before or after he has completed his second term, will now get underway. It will cause shifts in loyalties, alliances and priorities among pretenders to the throne.

There has also been much speculation that he may want to streamline the cabinet, reduce its size, consolidate and merge functions and portfolios, and create new portfolios for small business and information.

Indication of policy direction

The cabinet’s composition will provide a window on the direction economic policy might take. The Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) election performance was not strong enough to force the ANC leftward but other developments on the left – such as the new workers’ party and socialist workers front to be launched – remain a concern and may influence the longer term view.

Nonetheless, the ANC is painfully aware of where the shoe pinches most and has promised radical economic transformation. At the same time Trevor Manuel’s departure leaves a gap in the Presidency and may soon also leave a vacancy at the head of the National Planning Commission (NPC). This also calls into question the fate of the National Development Plan (NDP).

It seems Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president could be tasked to take overall charge of government’s economic and development programmes. The idea of a second deputy president in the person of Baleka Mbete to head the NPC may have been shelved, while a new finance minister is also a strong possibility.

Appointments in the economic cluster will be key to advancing government’s proclaimed war on poverty, inequality and unemployment. They will also have to implement the NDP and drive government’s all-important infrastructure programme.

If Zuma wishes to exit his final term as president looking good, his ministerial choices in this cluster are of cardinal importance.

The Zuma-led ANC emerged from the 2014 general election as a party with its primary support base now firmly located in traditional rural areas (ethnic homelands in the pre-1994 South Africa) as opposed to agricultural rural and urban areas, where the ANC lost ground.

This situation will probably also be a factor in the composition of the cabinet that will have to drive key policies with rural development and its twin component of land redistribution in mind.

In this sphere – which includes the agriculture portfolio that some suggest may be combined with land affairs – the anticipated future impact of the extra-ANC left wing and the emotional weight attached to land reform and redistribution could be among the deciding factors.

Neither of the current incumbents – Tina Joemat-Pettersson (Agriculture) and Gugile Nkwinto (Rural Development and Land Reform) – have performed well enough to be assured of reappointment. It is a focus area Zuma wants to fast-track, so new blood may well be needed, especially in the case of the scandal-plagued Joemat-Pettersson.

Rewarding some

Meanwhile Zuma may want to further consolidate and strengthen his position as ANC leader and president by simultaneously rewarding his trusted loyalists, appointing people who can help improve his own and his administration’s performance and image, as well as rivals and opponents to non-key positions where he can keep an eye on them.

Long-standing Zuma loyalists like justice minister Jeff Radebe seem assured of their jobs. However, another loyalist, police minister Nathi Mthethwa, could fall victim to the Marikana and more recent police shootings. Among the crop of rising stars Zuma loyalists like the current Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, may also again be included.

Considering all the above factors it seems the key or priority appointments will be in respect of finance, infrastructure and economic development, rural development, land reform. Equally important would be strengthening oversight within the presidency over the performance of ministries in matters related to national development, finance and the economy.

Health and education are also key ministries in respect of the ANC’s longer-term development and delivery plans and some changes could be made in these portfolios.

Among the remaining portfolios (and their incumbents) that may come in for a review or a change of guard are those where serious problems have recently been experienced or still continue. It includes mineral resources, energy, public service and administration (with a focus on delivery), labour and possibly police.

The usual kind of factors Mr Zuma and his predecessors have in the past considered in the composition of cabinets, will most probably feature again. These include the gender balance; ethnic and racial mixes; provincial balances; appointing expertise and efficiency; seniority in party ranks and structures; keeping alliance partners Cosatu and the SA Communist Party happy; and retaining continuity where required. He may also decide to give some lesser jobs to members of smaller parties whose cooperation the ANC may need in future in the National Assembly.

It is no easy task that awaits Zuma – although by now he will have done much of his homework – but it certainly is one that takes the country on a new journey.

by Stef Terblanche

Leave a Reply