Some may believe President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle this week was a show of force. The truth is far more mundane: in reality, it is yet another example of Zuma’s fickleness. This, after all, is his second reshuffle in seven months; his 12th in just seven years at the Union Buildings.
It is getting to the stage that jokes are doing the rounds, saying Zuma’s ministers would have a hard time getting credit as very few can produce evidence of three consecutive payslips.
This time, Zuma shifted ministers around in key portfolios such as state security, energy, communications, home affairs and higher education. His choices suggest — once again — that he has little regard for the country and governance.
Again, the real deadbeats got a free pass. So Mosebenzi Zwane, Faith Muthambi, Lynne Brown and Bathabile Dlamini remain in office — many of them shrouded in scandal. But Zuma also, surprisingly, omitted to include Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in his new cabinet.
Though the rand shed 1.1% after the news, it was at least less of a traumatic reshuffle than in March, when he made 15 changes. Back then, he ousted Pravin Gordhan, along with four other ministers. This time there were only five changes and only one minister — SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande — lost his job.
But as Zuma shifts people around, it seems South Africans are becoming desensitised to his whimsical, havoc-wreaking decisions.
Few bothered to even ask why three of the ministers shifted on Tuesday — Ayanda Dlodlo, Mmamoloko Kubayi and Hlengiwe Mkhize — had been summarily reassigned within only six months of being appointed to their last job.
There are, of course, good reasons. Or at least, what Zuma would consider good reasons.
For example, Kubayi, as energy minister, had done nothing to advance Zuma’s nuclear plans. If anything she delayed them even further by announcing that she would not appeal against a Western Cape high court judgment which set aside all the country’s nuclear deals.
This time Zuma is taking no chances. New energy minister David Mahlobo, a staunch Zuma ally who was propelled into the position of state security minister in May 2014, is likely to be a sledgehammer driving the nuclear cause.
In a country which needs to lower the cost of data to make business more competitive, it is Zuma’s constant musical chairs in the communications department that is most worrying
His appointment may help explain why Mahlobo was reportedly in Moscow at the same time that former convicts Gayton McKenzie and Kenny Kunene travelled to Russia, where a delegation from government and the Central Energy Fund (CEF) met with Russian company Rosgeo. Shortly after, the CEF signed a R5bn gas deal.
McKenzie and Kunene were reported to be touted as the possible BEE partners for Rosgeo.
But in a country which needs to lower the cost of data to make business more competitive, it is Zuma’s constant musical chairs in the communications department that is most worrying.
Since 2009, Zuma has reshuffled this minister seven times. Is it any wonder we can’t deal with digital migration — let alone data prices?
Home affairs is another ministry worth watching. Mkhize had just placed long-serving director-general Mkuseli Apleni on precautionary suspension, allegedly on flimsy grounds. But the departure of Mkhize — a woman who fiercely defended Malusi Gigaba’s decision to grant citizenship to the Guptas — means she has a way out of having to account to parliament for Apleni’s suspension.
All this instability, of course, is of little concern to Zuma. It was never going to be, as he himself has said the country doesn’t come first. He still has two years left — and at this rate, that means he’s still got three reshuffles to go.