THIS CABINET RESHUFFLE IS FUNDAMENTALLY (THOUGH NOT WHOLLY) ABOUT STRATEGIC ALLIANCE BUILDING RATHER THAN ABOUT SERVICE DELIVERY.
It is tempting to praise the president. Criticising him, after all, is all too easy and tiring (though necessary and apt). But, I am going to withhold praise about the cabinet reshuffle. Some of the cabinet reshuffle can, yes, be articulated in terms of the government's stated committment to service delivery. On the whole, however, that is not the overarching theme spanning the changing cabinet landscape.
First, if the reshuffle was genuinely about service delivery, then there would have been more of a focus on ministries that speak most directly to service delivery, such as the ministry responsible for cooperative governance and traditional affairs. Yet, despite the so-called service delivery protests, and local governments' systemic underperformance, Sicelo Shiceka is safe. What does that say about Zuma's commitment to service delivery, especially with less than a year to go before local government elections are upon us?
One might argue, desperately, that the lack of capacity at local government is larger than one individual, and so firing the minister might not help. But that defence, of course, generalises across many ministries - problems within state-owned enterprises, too, are larger than minister Barbara Hogan, so how would one justify firing her but not, say, Sicelo Shiceka? The answer is simple: the reshuffle speaks to internal ANC- and alliance-politics rather than service delivery commitment as such. One Barbara Hogan is a nuisance than need not be tolerated; Sicelo Shiceka has greater support within the party.
Second, again, if this reshuffle is fundamentally about service delivery, why was minister of public service and administration, Richard Baloyi, not axed either? South Africa is a country with a strong trade union presence in the body politic. This requires a minister in this portfolio who has demonstrated capacity to lead complex debate between labour, business and government. Yet, during the crippling recent public service strike, minister Baloyi proved useless. With the president abroad, it was particularly important for the minister to demonstrate an ability to work effectively at that most sensitive of intersections between labour, business and government. He simply was not up to the job.
Again, a desperate defence is possible: one might say that minister Baloyi could not act 'unilaterally'. He was simply the one to execute a collective cabinet response to the public servants' strike, and so untill a Zuma-led cabinet decision was made, he could do little or nothing in his singular capacity as 'minister'.
This defence - like the one one might provide in support of Shiceka - is unconvincing. For one thing, 'collective responsibility' could then, logically, become a reason for ALL ministers to never be fired. Why, for example, do we not then excuse the incompetence of the minister for women, children and people with disabilities by placing her action within the context of 'collective cabinet decision-making'?
The truth is that individual ministers have to demonstrate an ability to exercise their legally endowed powers effectively. Minister Richard Baloyi has failed to do so. And this in a ministry that is crucial to service delivery. What is the moral of the story? Again, this is evidence that the cabinet reshuffle is, fundamentally, about strategic alliance building rather than service delivery as such.
The new deputy ministries, for example, do not obviously capacitate struggling ministries. Ayanda Dlodlo, for example, will now be deputy to minister Richard Baloyi. But this seems more a reward for her struggle credentials (she is a leading member of the MK Military Veterans' Association), her reported efforts to persuade the NPA to drop corruption charges against Zuma and her role as parliamentary advisor (not exactly performed with brilliance either) rather than an attempt to ensure that the next time a round of strikes break out, the ministry will be better equipped to negotiate labour disputes. This too, then, is evidence of power play rather than service delivery motivating choices.
If excellence is the opposite of underperformance, then where is the justification for axing minister Barbara Hogan? She was fired for being independent and competent. Hogan's whiteness is no longer deemed politically important, and so in the absence of nonracialism's influence, her independence can now be brazenly put down by Zuma.
A range of actions by Hogan - from opposing the denial of a visa to the Dalai Lama to threatening underperfomring state-owned enterprises with privatisation & steadfastly insisting on procedural fairness in the Eskom leadership debacle, etc. - alieanated her from her political principals. In short, Hogan placed constitutional duty above political deference. That cost her her job, reminding us of a similar narrative in the axing a few years back of former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.
Finally, the prima facie 'promotions' of Malusi Gigaba (to public enterprises) and Fikile Mbalula (to sports and recreation) should calm down the ANC Youth League's repeated calls for a generational mix in leadership and should help with restoring some of the lost trust in Zuma on the part of many within the Youth League. Or, rather, that would be the outcome that Zuma is hoping for with these appointments.
(Of course, the youth may well see through this trick. After all, whilst being a 'full' minister is a serious appointment, and means that these two politicians with relatively recent youth structure backgrounds are now closer to Zuma, nevertheless, at least in the case of Mbalula, he has been shifted to a less important portfolio. Before the World Cup, for example, this appointment might have been a genuine opportunity to shine. For now, it is a fairly innocuous appointment, though Zuma will still be hoping for maximum returns on the investment.)
In the end, therefore, the dramatic axing of two incompetent ministers in Siphiwe Nyanda (communications) and Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya (women, children and people with disabilities) should not fool us. These were justified on grounds of lack of performance. But the vast majority of the cabinet changes are simply about stragetic plotting ahead of the 2012 elective conference.
Whether or not Zuma's cabinet reshuffle will help to return him to the office of ANC president, let alone president of South Africa for a second time, remains to be seen.
One complicated cabinet reshuffle can only take one so far. The destination, that of a 2012 leadership victory, is still a looong way off.
- Eusebius McKaiser is a political analyst. He blogs at www.safferpolitics.co.za and hosts a politics talk show on Talk Radio 702.
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter