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and Gaye Davis
PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma showed who was in charge yesterday when he reshuffled his cabinet for the third time and axed suspended top cop Bheki Cele, appointing businesswoman Riah Phiyega to replace him.
“I’ve decided to release General (Bheki) Cele from his duties,” Zuma said.
However, he added that Cele “still has a lot to offer”, suggesting future deployment for Cele, who is popular in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, where the president would not want divisions as he heads towards ANC elections for a possible second term at Mangaung in December.
Zuma’s late afternoon announcement was a double whammy that took the wind out of the sails of an opposition walkout in the National Assembly over the ejection of Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota.
Lekota was ordered from the House after he refused to withdraw his accusation – ruled unparliamentary – that Zuma had violated his oath of office to uphold and defend the constitution during the storm over the painting that depicted him with exposed genitals.
With his reshuffle, Zuma promoted the independent-minded ANC MP who had been asking difficult questions about the chaos within police ranks, Sindi Chikunga, making her a deputy minister.
In charge of the SA Police Service with immediate effect is Mangwashi Victoria “Riah” Phiyega, a Polokwane-born businesswoman who was a group executive at Absa and Transnet and on the team that restructured Portnet. She headed an inquiry into maladministration and corruption in the Road Accident Fund and served on the 2010 World Cup bid committee.
She was Zuma’s choice to chair his presidential review committee on state-owned enterprises and she also served as deputy chairwoman of the independent commission for remuneration of public office bearers.
Her policing experience is limited and her appointment comes on the back of calls by crime and policing experts that a career police officer, rather than a politician, be appointed.
A cabinet reshuffle has been on the cards since the death in Ethiopia of Roy Padayachie, who held the key public service and administration portfolio. Zuma also had two other vacancies caused by the resignation of Deputy Economic Development Minister Enoch Godongwana, who is being investigated in connection with missing pension fund money, and the sideways shunt by Zuma in October of former Deputy Minister of Public Works Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu to the ministry for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities.
Padayachie’s post will be taken over by Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, possibly one of Zuma’s most effective ministers.
Defence goes to Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who will be giving up political charge of prisons to Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele, a Zuma ally from KwaZulu-Natal who may be paying for his part in the e-tolling debacle.
Ndebele’s deputy, SACP deputy general secretary, Jeremy Cronin, a former parliamentary transport oversight committee chairman also goes, to become deputy public works
minister. This leaves little institutional memory in the transport executive.
The SACP has come under attack for not strongly opposing e-tolling and being compromised by its leaders’ positions in government.
This may not abate, as SACP central committee member Ben Martins has been promoted to become transport minister in Ndebele’s stead.
Another promotion takes ANC MP Mdu Manana – who is also an ANC Youth League national executive committee member – to become deputy higher education minister under Blade Nzimande.
Deputy Correctional Services Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize will now be Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel’s deputy, while ANC deputy chief whip Bulelani Magwanishe has also been promoted – to become deputy to Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba.
The ANC welcomed the reshuffle, saying it would enhance service delivery, but DA leader Helen Zille said it revealed “a president desperate to shore up support ahead of the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference” in December.
It affects key delivery portfolios in the government’s multibillion-rand infrastructure programme that is intended to create jobs.
It also comes as public sector wage talks pick up speed – which could prove to be Sisulu’s first test in her new post.
Cele thanked South Africans “across both the racial and class divides for the support and assistance they lent to his efforts to turn the SA Police Service into an effective and respected crime-fighting machine”, his spokesman Vuyo Mkhize said.
“He also wishes to thank the men and women of the SAPS for their dedicated and brave response to his rallying call for them to make sure that South Africans are not only safe but also feel safe in the land of their fathers.”
Mkhize said Cele would “provide a full response to the president’s decision” at a press conference to be hosted by the National Press Club at the CSIR Convention Centre in Pretoria at 10am today.
“Until then, he will not be commenting on any aspect of the president’s decision,” Mkhize said.
Cele had earlier said he would challenge his firing, but wanted to clear his name.
Zuma stressed Cele’s contribution to the fight against crime and expressed “personal gratitude” to him for “unquestioning commitment to his work”.
“Leading from the front, he brought much-needed passion, energy and focus (to the police),” Zuma said.
While during his tenure incidents of serious violent crime had dropped, Cele did not shine as the SAPS accounting officer.
Zuma said that discussions with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa preceded his appointment of Phiyega and that what had emerged was a need to address management and financial systems and information security breaches.
Zuma slammed the past weeks’ headlines featuring the SAPS as “a disappointing spectacle of police officers jeopardising state security by placing state information in the public domain”.
“This is unacceptable and not tolerable if the fight against crime is to continue to be effective,” Zuma said.
Mthethwa’s spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, said Phiyega brought a wealth of experience in strategic leadership and sound management from the public and private sectors.
“We believe such vast experience will stand her in good stead as she steers the SAPS towards better compliance, systems integration, effective and greater accountability,” he added.
Analyst Professor Susan Booysen of the Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management said the cabinet reshuffle was more far-reaching than expected, and that in an ANC election year, there would usually be no reshuffles.
Zuma was playing it safe, she believed.
“Lots of changes, probably no enemies created… He can probably make additional friends,” Booysen said.
The big question was not about the appointments or even ability to deliver, she added, but whether the new ministers would gel with their deputies and director-generals. How are these people going to match with their deputies and their director-generals?
“That’s where things fall apart.
“It is not in the appointments themselves.”
DA defence spokesman David Maynier, who has repeatedly clashed with Sisulu over defence matters, said he was “delighted” she’d be moving as she had taken the defence force “beyond effective oversight” by Parliament.
He pledged to work with the new minister “to deal with the challenges of the defence force”.