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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

SAM Parliament[Source: by Ranjeni Munusamy.]

The one thing President Jacob Zuma needed to do through the appointment of his new Cabinet was create the impression that he was starting his second term with a clean slate. There is certainly enough big news in the announcement to produce that impression – South Africa’s first black African Finance Minister, a new ministry for Small Business Development, two separate ministries for communications and new occupants in most portfolios. Zuma is also sharing his office space in the West Wing of the Union Buildings with four new people – Cyril Ramaphosa, Jeff Radebe, Susan Shabangu and Buti Manamela. But is Zuma’s second term going to be different from his dreadful first administration? What must have gone through President Jacob Zuma’s mind during his inauguration as he stood gazing through the bulletproof glass enclosure at the Union Buildings at the sweeping panorama of Pretoria? It would have been a big moment for anyone, having just taken the Presidential Oath of Office in front of a host of other heads of state, two of his predecessors, the political and business elite and his family.

He would have seen the South African flag fluttering in the breeze and smoke billow out from the canons as they fired the 21-gun salute. Then he would have watched the South African Air Force proudly display their assets and skills, all in his honour. On the lawns below, thousands of people stood cheering for him.

How does a single human being deal with being placed in such a position of power and privilege – twice? Only one other person in South Africa would know. Thabo Mbeki sat in the front row, watching the extravaganza in Zuma’s honour. He too took the oath, twice. He too was venerated as the very same place, in much the same way. Mbeki knows the weight of the moment and the meaning of ultimate political power.

And then it all ended in humiliation.

Mbeki led the ANC to its biggest election victory in 2004 with 69.69% of the vote. He was the most powerful leader on the continent and was advancing in his mission to make South Africa an influential player on the world stage. But it all came down to his image at home, the decisions he made, the team around him and the strength of his enemies. His removal from office was a result of all of these colliding.

Zuma is patently aware of all of this. He already knows that many people hold him responsible for the ANC’s weaker performance in the elections. Despite his public denials of responsibility for all that has gone wrong in his first term, in the privacy of his own thoughts, he would concede that that was not how he intended his presidency to turn out. Zuma would also know that while his inauguration as president for the second time was the pinnacle of his life, it is downhill from here on.

Zuma must now work on his legacy, stitch up past failings and lingering threats, and ensure that he makes it to the end of his second term without any disasters or dangers to his comfort post the presidency. The way to do that is to remove those in his inner circle who failed to protect him and prevent the rise of political threats against him. These would have been some of the considerations when he appointed a 71-member team of ministers and deputy ministers to lead the state.

Only five ministers who were appointed in the 2009 Cabinet return to their posts – Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to International Relations, Angie Motshekga and Blade Nzimande to the education portfolios, Ebrahim Patel to Economic Development and Naledi Pandor returns to Science and Technology – showing that Zuma wanted a massive shake-up. This is despite Zuma saying at the release of government’s 20 Year Review that he thought all was still on track from 2009 and “[t]here isn’t anything we could have done better”.

Clearly the election campaign and the results told a different story.

Nathi Mthethwa should have been moved out of the police portfolio years ago due to his failure to inspire public confidence in the service and stop the thuggery and brutality which now defines it. Instead, after the Marikana massacre, his power and influence increased and he traded on his close proximity to the president. The only reason he is now in the wasteland of Cabinet portfolios, Arts and Culture, is because of his role in allowing the Nkandla upgrades to become a massive embarrassment for Zuma.

Similarly with Siyabonga Cwele, the former State Security Minister, who was out of his depth in the combined intelligence portfolio from the get-go. Zuma sacrificed some of the ANC’s most experienced and trusted intelligence officials in favour of Cwele, as he blundered through the portfolio. It is now clear to Zuma that Cwele is incapable of protecting him or the state and needed to be shifted away without appearing to be punishing him. Cwele is now the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services.

The big thorn in Zuma’s side has been the Gauteng province, led by Paul Mashatile. It led the move to replace him as ANC president at the party’s Mangaung conference in 2012 and clearly saw him as a liability during the 2014 election campaign. If there is going to be any campaign to remove Zuma as president before the end of his term, it will emanate in Gauteng.

The ANC’s hand was forced to appoint the provincial secretary David Makhura as Premier of Gauteng, but Zuma is clearly no longer able to tolerate Paul Mashatile earning a ministerial salary while having little faith in his presidency. Mashatile is now relegated to the backbenches in Parliament and it will not be as easy to traverse between his home base in Gauteng and Cape Town, where he now has to spend most of his time.

There are no other obvious threats to Zuma in terms of a camp within the ANC with an agenda and candidate strong enough to take him on. The only contender for his position is one of the new occupants at the Union Buildings. Cyril Ramaphosa has now made his debut in government, as Deputy President no less. The deal he made with Zuma’s inner circle to join their ticket ahead of the Mangaung conference made him a shoo-in for the number two position in the state. However, Zuma needs to keep a lid on Ramaphosa’s ambitions and there is no guarantee as yet that the president will endorse him as his successor.

Enter into the presidency Jeff Radebe – now the longest-serving Cabinet minister. Radebe has proved to be useful to Zuma in the security cluster, particularly on the Waterkloof Air Force Base fiasco. Radebe now has enormous responsibility, being charged with the National Planning Commission, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation and Youth Development. Nzimande’s underling in the SA Communist Party Buti Manamela, who proved to be a useful henchman in Parliament during the last term, will now assist Radebe with some of these responsibilities as the new Deputy Minister in the Presidency.

What Ramaphosa’s job will entail remains to be seen. With Radebe hogging most of the real responsibility, Ramaphosa could be relegated to the same ceremonial non-job that Kgalema Motlanthe was lumbered with. It would have made sense to at least let Ramaphosa oversee the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP), considering that he was the deputy chairman of the National Planning Commission and knows the plan intimately.

But Zuma has rested his second term and his legacy on the vision of the NDP, which seems to be a one-size-fits-all policy framework. He wants Radebe to do the heavy lifting but the acclaim to be attributed to his presidency. In his inauguration speech, Zuma announced the commencement of a radical phase of socio-economic transformation and in the very next sentence described the NDP as “our road map which outlines the type of society we envisage by the year 2030”.

However, the NDP is not a blueprint for the radical economic transformation the ANC’s alliance partners have in mind. It is certainly not the mechanism for drastic economic policy change being punted outside the ANC – from metalworkers’ union Numsa and the Economic Freedom Fighters. So what the “radical phase of socio-economic transformation” will entail is anyone’s guess right now. What this means is that the uncertainty over the ANC government’s economic policy direction remains for the foreseeable future.

The question is whether this 72-person team, including Ramaphosa, will see out the full five-year term. In his last term, Zuma changed his executive four times – sometimes forced by circumstance and death. Even with all these changes, Zuma could not find the right formula. His first administration was scandal-prone and his image as a leader was extremely poor.

Now he has appointed a Communications Ministry to jack up the image of government and do a hard sell on its successes. He has a new team in finance and in the security portfolios. He has retained his education and health ministers, as these are key to keeping up the “good story to tell” narrative. Pravin Gordhan’s proficiency as a Mr Fix It is being deployed to get local government working ahead of the municipal elections in 2016, while Nhlanhla Nene is likely to keep a tight rein on the Treasury, resisting any moves which could be perceived as “radical”.

The retention of people like Tina Joemat-Peterssen and Mildred Oliphant in the Cabinet shows that Zuma is still tolerant of scandal and bad performance. Joemat-Peterssen in the key Energy portfolio is perhaps the biggest disaster waiting to happen as her track record in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries was a disgrace.

But Zuma’s worst enemy is himself. If he has not yet learned that being president of South Africa is more than saluting the armed forces as the Commander in Chief and enjoying the security benefits, his second term is bound to be as bad as the first.

The 72 people around him may be able to get government working better than it did in the last term. It would in fact take real effort to be as bad as the last administration, which saw an unprecedented number of service delivery protests, a rise in violence against women and children, a continuing crisis of unemployment, and the horror of police brutality against civilians.

Even if the mandate of this government is: try not to be as horrible as the last; South Africa will be better off. But the country is still in dire need of strong leadership, and a person worthy of the position of being Number One.

South Africa at a Glance
58 780 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in June 2019 (CPI) & +5.8 y/y in June 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
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