If – up until this point – it has not been abundantly clear that Jacob Zuma’s interests are not aligned with South Africa’s, it could not be more evident at this point.
Last night observers and journalists were fixed to their screens, waiting for an announcement from the Presidency amid rumours of a cabinet reshuffle. High level meetings took place under the cover of darkness, and as is often case with the president, speculation quickly became fact. It has been no secret that Zuma was gunning for his finance minister, but who could have guessed the assault on the executive would be of such a scale.
The President made a total of 20 changes to his Cabinet. The most obvious names not included on the list are Pravin Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas. These are believed to have been Zuma’s priority targets, especially given the events that unfolded over the past week. But while you are cleaning house, you might as well do it properly, right?
The ministers of Tourism, Public Service and Administration, and Transport are included in the list of those who were shown the door. But Jacob Zuma is a kind host. He does not only get rid of those who spoil the party, he also rewards those who have been loyal.
Nathi Nhleko, who has been subjected to public embarrassment by the courts on more than one occasion, will now quietly run the Public Works Department. Another Zuma cheerleader, Faith Muthambi, dodged a legislative bullet following the SABC catastrophe. She is retiring to Public Service and Administration. (In all fairness the Ad Hoc Committee into the SABC board cannot complain, as Zuma genuinely considered Muthambi’s position as per the committee’s recommendation.)
Other friends, such as the Gupta aligned Mosebenzi Zwane, Top-spook David Mahlobo, and Bathabile Dlamini – who almost single-handedly drove the welfare state into the ground – have been kept in their posts.
This is where the president’s agenda becomes very clear. Most of those who find themselves without a job have a few things in common: They’re considered hard-working, competent and opposed to Zuma’s underhanded tactics. Most of them also attended the late Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral, where anti-Zuma sentiment dwarfed the mourning of a struggle veteran. The others, however, are considered incompetent in large part and all seem to have uncomfortably close ties to Number One. They have also faced severe criticism from different quarters.
As for the survivors, Malusi Gigaba is currently vomiting financial jargon in a Pretoria toilet, while Fikile Mbalula is standing in line at Q-Photo waiting to frame his picture with Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters – the last selfie he will ever take with a Miss South Africa.
Can the ANC grow a pair?
This move was legal. It is the president’s prerogative to appoint and dismiss ministers as per the Constitution. But how the ruling party reacts to what is clearly a malicious decision will determine its future. The sacked ministers are likely to retaliate, as observers have been warning, but the duty certainly lies with the ANC.
Unfortunately indications are that the ANC will ultimately find itself defending the public service purge. (Zuma’s timing also allows for a cool down period before Parliament could consider a motion of no confidence.) Will the absurd once again be rationalised? Inaction justified? Or will Cyril Ramaphosa offer his leadership? Will other members of the top six follow suit and will the party’s parliamentary caucus take a stand? My guess, the beaten dog will stay down, but I hope and pray I am wrong.