An uncharacteristically sombre President Jacob Zuma presided over the swearing-in of his new appointments to the executive at Tuynhuys on Wednesday, after Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle.
Despite a full cabinet meeting having wound up just before the ceremony, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane and Public Works Minister Thembelani Nxesi were the only other cabinet members present.
The new appointees – Minister of Transport Ben Martins, his deputy Sindi Chikunga, Deputy Public Enterprises Minister Bulelani Magwanishe and Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mduduzi Manana – were sworn in by Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe.
Without so much as a smile, Zuma kicked off proceedings, with Martins, Chikunga, Magwanishe and Manana sitting in the front of the dark room. They had arrived at the venue without any fanfare and were mostly not accompanied by any family members.
First to be sworn in, with a secular “affirmation”, was Martins, who got an early taste of what may well have sent his departmental predecessors, S’bu Ndebele and Jeremy Cronin, packing when the room erupted in chants of “tolls” after his swearing-in, referring to the controversial e-tolling system that is part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.
Chikunga took her place next to Judge Hlophe as she vowed to serve the country faithfully. Admired as a hard-working MP, committed to keeping the executive accountable to the portfolio committee on police, which she chaired, Chikunga was congratulated by Martins.
Next, Magwanishe was sworn in by Judge Hlophe, and appeared to be a hit with government officials who called for him to make a speech.
The sartorial star of the show was Manana, who took his oath in a shiny purple suit with a loud, purple-striped tie, in spite of appearing grave about the daunting task that awaits him.
Manana’s appointment as deputy minister of higher education and training, reportedly without tertiary qualifications, and at the tender age of 28, is possibly one of Zuma’s most controversial moves this week.
In a clear affront to the ANC Youth League, Zuma seems to have rewarded Manana for his loyalty. As a member of the league’s national executive committee, Manana spoke out against expelled ANCYL president Julius Malema being retained as in office until 2014.
In April, he issued a statement to the media saying the beleaguered youth wing should abide by the ruling of the ANC national disciplinary committee of appeals to expel Malema and suspend league spokesman Floyd Shivambu and secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa.
On Wednesday, the SA Students Congress (Sasco) decried Zuma’s appointment of Manana, saying it was “utterly dismayed, taken aback, angry, flabbergasted, disappointed and annoyed”, despite Manana being a “colleague” in the Progressive Youth Alliance as a leader of the ANCYL.
Sasco said Manana was not “up to the task of being a deputy minister of such a complex and strategic department”.
“With all due respect to the erroneously appointed deputy minister, we are not convinced that Mr Manana has the capacity to diligently deliver in this department.”
Sasco has demanded a meeting with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to ask him to set up a meeting between the student movement and Zuma.
“We will convey our conviction that Mr Manana will definitely be a liability in our efforts to transform higher education and further training,” Sasco said.