President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet is an interesting collection of South Africans.
The cabinet room, where members of the national executive meet regularly to decide on matters of national importance, must be an interesting place.
This cabinet, put together to implement a national agenda as decided by the ruling ANC, is made up of people with conflicting political agendas, some of whom have been accused of dubious political conspiracies as the date for the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung draws nearer.
While the expectation and the tradition would be that the executive would stand united behind the president, there are clear indications that not only is the cabinet divided but some of them have publicly contradicted their leader, President Zuma.
Take the politically schizophrenic days in the life of Dr Blade Nzimande, for instance. He is a cabinet minister – read capitalist – by day and communist by night or vice versa, depending on what day of the week it is.
This week, Nzimande’s life would have gone something like this. Earlier in the week, he would have hopped into an official BMW 7 series, chauffeur-driven, with a bodyguard and a blue police light. Armed with these “reprehensible” capitalist trappings, he would have made his way to a cabinet meeting, where many issues would have been discussed and important decisions taken.
Among the issues discussed would have been the Gauteng toll roads and the opposition by ordinary people, most of whom would be ANC members or supporters.
Cabinet adopted a hardline stance and decided that the R26-billion tolls would be implemented, whether or not the entire nation was against them.
Once the meeting was over, Nzimande, armed with his cabinet mandate, would have hopped on to the national carrier, South African Airways, and headed for his birth province, KwaZulu-Natal. In Durban he would have worn his SACP hat and led a march against the tolls – a project that the cabinet stubbornly wants to implement.
What would have been on Zuma’s mind as he watched Nzimande and his many hats and political colours?
He might be a tad irritated but I don’t think Zuma would worry much about the public perception of the contradiction in Nzimande’s public roles. He would not, because Nzimande has got his political back covered. Word in the ANC is that Nzimande remains ready to perform a special act to ring-fence Zuma’s position ahead of Mangaung. Should Zuma’s current deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, decide to stand for the ANC presidency, Nzimande would be propped up to challenge for the ANC deputy presidency. And, as things stand, Zuma – aided and abetted by Julius Malema – looks stronger and on course for a second term.
So Zuma cannot afford to upset Nzimande in any way.
Zuma would have been worried, though, by the public political stance adopted by Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale who came out publicly in support of Malema.
Sexwale’s bold stance would have angered Zuma, who has had no nice words to share about a political youngster who once declared that he would “kill for Zuma”.
While we know what Zuma’s feelings are about Malema, he has remained silent on the support of a member of his Cabinet for Malema, who has subsequently been expelled from the ANC.
Next you have Fikile Mbalula, the man between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, Mbalula has to display political loyalty to his president, the man who yanked him from the claws of the young lions in the ANC Youth League, made him a deputy minister and quickly promoted him to a full cabinet minister
On the other hand, Mbalula is a bosom friend of Malema, the man who Zuma politically loves to hate. However, Mbalula has also, in violation of standing policy, said ANC succession must be debated publicly. Zuma would have found it extremely difficult to act against him.
So, if our president seems distracted from implementing our grand national plans, spare a thought for him. For he has a huge task in managing his cabinet of contradictions. He’s also negotiating a political survival course en-route to Mangaung.