Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma was to announce a major shake-up of the security cluster of ministries on Sunday, which could see two of the cabinet’s most controversial figures lose their jobs.
Zuma may also appoint the country’s first black African head of the Treasury by promoting Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.
But an intense process of lobbying and horse trading was still under way late on Saturday night as alliance partners, provincial power cliques, business lobby groups and other vested interests jostled to secure key portfolios for their preferred candidates. Nene’s fate and that of his boss Pravin Gordhan would depend on the outcome of this jockeying.
However, the fate of Zuma’s security cluster ministers is clearer.
Insiders say the president is not satisfied with the state of affairs in the police and state security establishments in particular.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele would likely be moved from his sensitive portfolio, leaving in his wake a trail of administrative and political chaos in the nation’s intelligence structures. Among the intelligence failures clocked up under Cwele was the conviction of his wife Cheryl for drug running.
Cwele was unaware of his wife being at the centre of a drug syndicate. She was later jailed.
South Africa was also caught unawares by a spate of attacks on Rwandan dissidents allegedly carried out by that country’s security agents on South African soil.
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has also lost his job.
While some of the crime figures are down, there is growing unease about the strongarm tactics of the police, particularly in dealing with community protests. The shooting of protester Andries Tatane in 2011 and the killing of 34 striking miners in Marikana the following year were the worst of these under his tenure.
Mthethwa narrowly survived a cabinet reshuffle last year.
According to sources, Zuma is also unhappy about the handling of the controversy over security upgrades to his private home in Nkandla, which led to a damning public protector report.
The security ministers took a backseat as the scandal played out in public, leaving Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, who was new in his portfolio, to carry the Nkandla can in public.
It was still not clear yesterday whether Cwele would move to another cabinet post, and what that would be, but sources told Independent Newspapers that Mthethwa would not be in the security cluster.
Insiders said the only senior security minister likely to keep her job was Defence’s Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who was also relatively new to her portfolio and escaped blame for the Nkandla debacle.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe moves to the Presidency to replace Collins Chabane. Radebe will head the monitoring, evaluation and performance ministry based at the Union Buildings. The Justice Department he leaves behind will now be expanded to incorporate Correctional Services, though it was unclear who would inherit the powerful new portfolio.
In contrast to the security cluster, party and government insiders said Zuma would mostly favour continuity in the economic affairs departments.
The likes of Trade and Industry minister Rob Davies, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu are set to keep their portfolios, they said.
But Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba could find himself back at Home Affairs, where he served a stint as deputy minister. He would replace Naledi Pandor, who is slated for a return to Science and Technology. However a source inside Gigaba’s current department disputed this, saying if he moved, it would likely be to Patel’s department.
Zuma is also likely to announce the creation of a new ministry for small and medium enterprises.
Sources said the new ministry would take oversight of the state’s development finance institutions, particularly the ones focused on small business development.
While this was originally earmarked for new MP and former youth leaguer Zizi Kodwa, sources said Kodwa would now take up the vacant post of ANC national spokesman to replace Jackson Mthembu.
However, the most dramatic tussle has been for the critical finance portfolio, where supporters of Nene and Gordhan have jostled for the president’s ear for most of the week.
Gordhan’s tenure at the treasury has alienated powerful interest groups, including the ANC’s left allies and provincial elites, according to insiders.
The ruling party’s allies in the SACP and Cosatu are unhappy with the continuation of a conservative fiscal stance under Gordhan, which has frustrated attempts to implement the radical changes they won at the 2007 and 2012 ANC conferences.
For their part, some provincial cliques have been spooked by the minister’s strong anti-corruption stance and tight rein on state coffers, which has seen the treasury intervene directly in their spheres.
But Gordhan is not without his defenders, and many in the ANC favour the message of stability his retention would send to financial and investment markets. Ironically even his left detractors openly favour him over Nene.
A senior source inside the Treasury said Gordhan had a good chance of returning to his portfolio, because of his “firmer” stance when dealing with business. The source said while some provincial leaders might not like national treasury’s interventions in provincial administrations, these were always effected at the request of the president or after consulting with him.
But the source acknowledged that there had been a strong lobby for a black African finance minister.
Most insiders say Zuma is keen on the symbolic importance of putting the first black African in charge of the treasury in the 104-year history of South Africa as a single unitary state. Nene has served as deputy finance minister since 2008 and served as chair of Parliament’s powerful finance portfolio committee before that.
Despite this, promoting him would be risky as market actors would read it as a vote of no confidence in Gordhan, who has kept a steady hand on South Africa’s finances at a time when the country’s economy was going through a slow and anaemic recovery from the 2009 global downturn.
ANC insiders say Zuma asked Gordhan to take Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, a key ministry facing major weaknesses ahead of the local government elections in 2016.
His capable leadership of Sars and the treasury, and his history as a community-based activist would come in handy, the insiders said.
This would make Gordhan the key figure as the ANC goes into election mode again ahead of 2016.
The ruling party is holding onto increasingly slim majorities in the Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay metros.