African National Congress treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize says he was surprised by President Jacob Zuma’s latest Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, which saw the general secretary of the South African Communist Party’s (SACP), Blade Nzimande, axed from his post as the minister of higher education and training.
“It came as a surprise, however, the president had informed us there was this decision he had taken,” Mkhize told EWN on Wednesday, in his first reaction to the 11th Cabinet reshuffle effected by Zuma since taking office in 2009.
Mkhize said the ANC’s top six officials – who include Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, national chairperson Baleka Mbete, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and his deputy, Jessie Duarte – gave Zuma their advice on the changes to the national executive.
“But we can’t take away the fact that the president has got the executive authority to effect changes to the executive. We respect that, and our role generally tends to be on an advisory capacity,” said Mkhize.
Mkhize, one of the seven presidential candidates in the running to succeed Zuma when he steps down in December as the governing party’s next leader, said the frequency of Cabinet reshuffles enforced by the president were out of the control of the top six leaders.
“The main issue is that the president if he takes such a decision, he is supposed to get advice from the leadership,” said Mkhize. “I think the concerns would be the frequency and the numbers of reshuffles, are not in the hands of the ANC leadership, they are in the hands of the president.”
During this year’s first Cabinet reshuffle on March 30, Mkhize was spitting fire along with his fellow top six leaders in the ANC over the removal of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from the finance ministry.
The treasurer-general, along with Mantashe and Ramaphosa, publicly expressed unhappiness with the decision, but later backtracked, saying they had acknowledged that their public dissonance on the matter was a mistake that should never happen again.
On Tuesday, Mantashe said the removal of Nzimande from his portfolio was a “pity”, and would further deepen strained relations within the ANC-led tripartite alliance with the SACP.
Mkhize said the ANC had to convene an urgent meeting with its alliance partner, as the recent Cabinet reshuffle reflected the tensions within the alliance.
“The concern would be any impression of stability, I think those issues are issues that require leadership to look at … I think it’s important for us to deal with this issue as leadership,” said Mkhize.
“I think right now we are going through a bit of a difficult situation. With divisions, the conference coming, the selection of leadership, it really pollutes the environment.”