Johannesburg - ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte has dismissed claims that President Jacob Zuma purged his new cabinet of dissenters, replacing them with loyalists.
She denied too that the excluded ministers were being punished for poor performance or scandals associated with their tenure.
“The president chose people seen by all of us as people who can do the job. And they have never said if they are loyal, disloyal or in between,” Duarte said on Monday, in a wide-ranging interview.
After Zuma’s cabinet announcement on Sunday evening, South Africans took to social media to voice their opinions on the reshuffle, redesign and expansion of the cabinet, which now includes three new ministries.
Among the notable newcomers are former Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane, appointed as Minister of Water and Sanitation, and former ANC Youth League task team convener Mzwandile Masina, elevated to Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry.
Notable by his absence was ANC Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile, the only party provincial chair to be neither in the cabinet nor a premier. He was widely seen to have paid the price for the ANC in Gauteng’s rebellion against Zuma’s abortive insistence on Mokonyane as premier.
“Those are perceptions that unfortunately are there,” said Duarte. “No president can put together a cabinet based on the perceptions that are created by other people… He can only put together a strong cabinet that is made up of men and women who can take the country forward.”
Duarte defended Mokonyane’s appointment, saying the president had identified her as the suitable person to implement the government’s priority of improving the provision of water and sanitation, noted in the National Development Plan (NDP).
“If you look at the NDP, it specifically outlines the need and provision of water and sanitation to the people, and so no ministry was created with a particular individual in mind. And she has a great deal of energy and experience, having been in government in the last 20 years.”
On Masina’s appointment, she referred to former ANCYL leaders “Fikile Mbalula and Malusi Gigaba, when they came into government, had no experience either. So I don’t think that is correct.”
She denied that Nathi Mthethwa’s redeployment from the Police Ministry to the lesser Ministry of Arts and Culture was a demotion, linked to the scandals that occurred while he ran that portfolio, notably the Andries Tatane service delivery murder, the Marikana massacre and the Nkandla scandal.
“No minister must feel that they have been moved because of what happened during the period when they were the ministers. The president has decided to fit function to people who can do the job,” she said, revealing that people like Mashatile would be redeployed to Parliament.
“No one is in the wilderness, no one is lost. We also have to strengthen Parliament, and some of the best cadres are being asked to go back to Parliament to strengthen that sphere of government.”
Duarte said the party was optimistic that newly appointed Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is capable of emulating his much-accomplished predecessors Pravin Gordhan and Trevor Manuel – or even surpassing their achievements.
“Minister Nene isnot only academically qualified, he is highly qualified, both in financial administration and economics and developmental economics,” Duarte said.
She said that Nene’s “knowledge and understanding of the business of financial management is impeccable” because he had served in the same portfolio in previous terms.
“We also believe that he is young, he brings in a wealth of energy and experience.
“We are very proud that, for the first time in the history of our country, we have an African finance minister. We are particularly very proud of him and believe he is going to do an excellent job.”
She defended Zuma’s decision to introduce three new ministries in a cabinet already seen as bloated. She denied that the cabinet had bulged, as Zuma had merely amalgamated some ministries.
“We had 35 ministries and departments in the last administration. We have exactly 35 ministries in this administration.
“What has happened is the president has amalgamated some ministries and created effectively two new ministries, Water and Sanitation and a ministry that will deal with telecommunications and post offices…”
Zuma also announced two departments with two deputy ministers each.