Zuma announces shake-up of South African cabinet

President makes ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa his second-in-command

South African president Jacob Zuma arrives at his inauguration in Pretoria. Photograph: EPA/Mujahid Safodien

South African president Jacob Zuma arrives at his inauguration in Pretoria. Photograph: EPA/Mujahid Safodien


South African president Jacob Zuma yesterday unveiled an expanded cabinet with some key personnel changes in a bid to transform the nation’s struggling economy over the next five years.

The African National Congress leader, whose party won the May 7th general election, injected fresh blood in a number of key positions, and created three new ministries to focus on telecommunications and postal services, communications and small business development.

As was expected, Mr Zuma made ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa his second-in-command, and he will be tasked with running the economy and restoring investor confidence in the country.

The former union leader returned to the political fold last year after 16 years in the private sector, where he amassed a significant fortune.

He also appointed the country’s first black African head of the treasury by promoting deputy finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, who replaces outgoing finance minister Pravin Gordhan. The latter was reassigned to oversee corporate governance.

During his inauguration speech in Pretoria on Saturday, Mr Zuma told guests that transforming the economy to create jobs and prosperity would be one of the main focuses of his new government.

“We have made some progress in changing the ownership of the economy [from white to black] but much work must still be done,” Mr Zuma said, before adding that eradicating inequality in South Africa would require “radical change”.

While Mr Zuma had to guarantee the various constituencies of the ANC and its alliance partners were all represented in his cabinet, he also needed to ensure those appointed to the national executive were able to carry out their duties.

Unemployment in South Africa stands officially at about 25 per cent, and there is a perception that incompetence and corruption are at the heart of the government’s inability to deliver services properly over the previous five years.

Mr Zuma’s critics say he has failed to deliver for the poor in part because he tends to appoint loyalists to top government positions rather than individuals fit for purpose.

As a result, they were doubtful whether Mr Zuma would make the radical changes necessary to improve his government’s performance.

Tough decisions
Speaking to The Irish Times before the cabinet was named, political analyst and vice-chancellor of Wits University in Johannesburg Adam Habib said setting South Africa on the right economic path should not be too difficult if Mr Zuma has the political will to make tough decisions.

“There are hard choices to make in terms of who will be in his cabinet. He needs to fire the incompetents and make appointments driven by logic, rather than by accountability to the party,” said Mr Habib.

Last night’s announcement suggests the South African president has not shirked making those decisions.

Mr Zuma was said not to be satisfied with his security officials, and both police minister Nathi Mthethwa and state security minister Siyabonga Cwele were removed in favour of Nkosinathi Thlepo and David Mahlokwa respectively.

In the economic department, trade and industry minister Rob Davies and economic development minister Ebrahim Patel kept their portfolios, but mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu was replaced by Ngoako Ramahlodi.

Health and education
Mr Habib maintained the new government needed to declare a state of emergency around health and education, and bring both departments under the control of central government, rather than leaving them under the stewardship of the provinces, whose premiers are deployed by the ruling party.

“The ANC’s policy of cadre deployment is a problem in terms of achieving increased service delivery because those with the necessary skills are not getting the jobs; it’s people connected to the ANC who are,” he added.