There could be more to President Jacob Zuma’s latest Cabinet reshuffle than a simple “decoy” to fire South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande as higher education minister, an expert says.
While the ruling party’s alliance partner was mulling a mass exodus of its party members still in Cabinet and parliament, the latest musical chairs manoeuvre in the national executive made for some suspicious redeployments, according to political analyst Susan Booysen.
After her brief stint as home affairs minister, Hlengiwe Mkhize replaced axed Nzimande as higher education minister, coincidentally on the day her former director-general Mkuseli Apleni was fighting a decision by Mkhize to suspend him in court.
On the same day, the portfolio committee on home affairs in parliament had just issued a statement lamenting Mkhize’s refusal to give reasons why Apleni was suspended last month. T
he suspension came after allegations that the department may have flouted the law in granting the Gupta family permanent citizenship.
Meanwhile, former state security minister David Mahlobo took over the energy ministry amid growing pressure for government to scrap a proposed nuclear energy plan in which Mahlobo was reportedly involved.
“In a way, it’s a serious mistake for the SACP to construe the reshuffle as just an attack on the SACP. This is the kind of strategy Zuma is known for of trying to draw attention away from one major issue to another. So he quietly slips Mahlobo into the energy department and anyone could have anticipated the SACP to be angered by the removal of Blade and so he tried to slip in these changes.
“One of the Zuma strategies is also to keep certain members of his Cabinet in a particular portfolio for a short period so he maintains this overarching role because he is the ‘master deployer’.”
SACP general secretary Alex Mashilo said at a press conference yesterday the party believed Zuma’s reshuffle was an act of provocation and a decoy used to punish the SACP for being vocal against state capture and calling for Zuma to step down.
“Cabinet does not belong to him. And we are raising this to illustrate a bigger question that Zuma now seems to be detached from the ANC,” said Mashilo.
“We will have consultations with our structures and convene an urgent meeting with the bureau and take a final decision from there. At the moment we have decided the [remaining SACP members in Cabinet] must remain where they are and serve the interests of South Africa and not Zuma.”
Booysen said the alliance itself was now effectively defunct.
“With everything that’s been happening with Cosatu, the remaining “Zumanists” seem to have fallen out with the president and cancelled bilateral meetings and so on. It is not an alliance that is alive, it has gone dormant. [The reshuffle] has certainly been a huge slap in the face by the ANC and if we take a look at the last 10 years since that big moment of reckoning in 2007, the alliance has really gone downhill.”
Uncertainty looms, following Nzimande’s departure, on government’s work to establish the feasibility of free higher education.
The Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) yesterday called on the Presidency to urgently release the final report of the Fees Commission for consideration. It also expressed shock at Nzimande’s removal.
“We believe it is critical that the Fees Commission report be disseminated and discussed with all role-players in higher education to clarify the policy stance of the state with regards to planned fee increments for 2018 and to also avoid possible disruptions within the sector as some universities have already announced fee increases for 2018.” – firstname.lastname@example.org