Zuma may again fire critics in cabinet - analysts

Sep 11 2017 19:19
Amogelang Mbatha, Bloomberg

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma may again reshuffle his cabinet to remove some of his most strident critics and give a post to his ex-wife and former African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, analysts said.

Dlamini-Zuma, who’s seen as the president’s favoured candidate to replace him as leader of the ANC in December, will be eligible to join the cabinet once the party completes its plan, announced Sept. 8, to install her as a member of parliament.

“She’s deployed to parliament, which means that she may go to cabinet,” Aubrey Matshiqi, an independent political analyst, said by phone on Monday. “In order to re-balance his power, Zuma will probably go after those who have been vocal in their condemnation of him.”

Zuma, 75, packed his administration with loyalists and fired Pravin Gordhan as finance minister in a cabinet reshuffle on March 31 that prompted two credit-ratings agencies to downgrade South Africa's foreign-currency debt to junk. Business leaders have said they’re expecting further ratings downgrades.

The president won’t comment on speculation about cabinet changes, Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, said by text message.

Dlamini-Zuma, 68, has received backing to become the next ANC leader from the ANC women’s league, part of its youth league and the premiers of some predominantly rural provinces. Her main rival is Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, 64. 

Politics vs experience 

A medical doctor by profession, Dlamini-Zuma has been active in the ANC for more than 40 years and was appointed Minister of Health in the country's first democratically elected government. She’s also held positions as minister of Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs.

In 2012, she became the first South African to be elected chair of the African Union Commission. She stepped down in early 2017.  

Even so, a decision to appoint her to the Cabinet may be more influenced by politics than experience, said Susan Booysen, a political science professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance in Johannesburg.

“We do not know to what extent these moves have been pre-calculated to enable an easier transition from Zuma” to one of his supporters who is already in cabinet, she said by phone. Zuma may want “to ensure that Ramaphosa is rivaled and stops being such an obvious successor,” Booysen said.

Since the last change to his administration, Zuma has survived a second attempt to oust him as leader from within his own party, as well as a motion of no confidence in parliament that was backed by at least 24 members of the ANC in a secret ballot.

If another attempt to remove Zuma succeeds, Dlamini-Zuma’s appointment as a lawmaker may smooth the transition, according to Dirk Kotze, a political science professor at the University of South Africa in the capital, Pretoria.

“If there’s any risk of Zuma vacating his position before December or even before 2019 in the national elections, then she is a possible candidate to fill that gap,” he said.

The ANC’s biggest allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, have increasingly criticized Zuma, calling for him to step down. Their leaders will probably be his first targets in any cabinet change, according to Matshiqi.

“If there is a cabinet reshuffle, it will be about strengthening his position because the way the motion of no confidence went, portraying that his position is weakening and he needs to reverse that,” he said.

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