Attention, this president can reshuffle at any time, anywhere
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The power of the Zuma cabinet reshuffle lies not in its implementation but in the ever-looming threat of it, writes Tinyiko Maluleke.
When the names of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Brian Molefe erupted onto the ANC electoral political scene, the rumours of a looming cabinet reshuffle went into overdrive.
Since the first half of 2016, it has been widely speculated that President Jacob Zuma would institute a typical ‘corrective’ cabinet reshuffle.
Defenders of the president and adherents of the supposedly sacrosanct doctrine of presidential prerogative have been asking rhetorically, why not? After all, cabinet reshuffling is the political overdraft allocated to each president according to his need. Each president is free to use his political overdraft to shop till he drops, they have argued.
If it is the president’s prerogative to shuffle as he pleases, I suppose it is also his prerogative to keep the nation in suspense about it. And yet, if there is one thing our current president has done more often than his predecessors, it is to reshuffle his cabinet.
There is a popular taxi bumper sticker: "Attention, this taxi can stop any time, anywhere." Similarly, they ought to put a sticker on Zuma’s forehead that says: "Attention, this president can reshuffle any time, anywhere.” We ought to reconcile ourselves to this reality and live peacefully in permanent anticipation of it.
The power of the Zuma cabinet reshuffle lies not in its implementation but in the ever-looming threat of it, so that, like the random acts of the gods, it can break into our lives anywhere, anyhow and any time.
As we anticipate the reshuffle, agonise and speculate about it, we experience the power of Zuma. Maybe that is part of what he wants. By the time Zuma reshuffles, if and when he does, we are cooked soft and tender with expectation, and at that point we are on the verge of begging him to please take us out of our misery.
There is one category of citizens who, whether they admit to it or not, will not happily anticipate a cabinet reshuffle – the members of cabinet. To expect them to entertain the prospect with joy would be tantamount to supposing that passengers aboard a sinking ship could be persuaded to look forward to drowning.
Spare a thought for the souls who serve in the Zuma cabinet. These men and women can fill one bus plus two minibuses, if we include what Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini has referred to as the smaller-nyana skeletons, which many of them are supposed to harbour.
The speculation about a possible cabinet reshuffle has been messing with their blood pressure and wreaking havoc with their blood sugar levels. Have you seen the veins bulging down their necks as they field difficult questions from journalists who are allegedly conniving with foreign regime-change agents?
We have seen bubbles of yellowish foam frothing at the corners of their mouths as they try to defend the indefensible. The fact that some of them have taken bullets for Zuma is no guarantee that they will not be reshuffled. Check the furrowed lines of stress that form up, down and across the foreheads of departmental spokespersons, as they strain to explain the inexplicable. Note the mask of arrogance with which they try to conceal mediocrity, to camouflage incompetence and to embrace failure.
The arrogance and the incompetence can be infuriating, I know. But at the end of the day, the nation should offer them mostly pity.
Admittedly, there are among our cabinet ministers those who are inspired by a sense of duty and honour. For those few, we may wish to spare some sympathy.
Rumours of a planned mass cabinet resignation in protest for either the allegedly looming introduction of Brian Molefe into the cabinet, or the similarly allegedly looming removal of Pravin Gordhan from the cabinet, are a figment of our fertile national imagination. Cabinet ministers did not resign en masse to protest the Mbeki recall in 2008. Not even after that emotional farewell event in which Mbeki excessively thanked and exorbitantly praised them.
We must not be too hard on ourselves, of course. The national hallucinations about a cabinet revolt come from a good place. They are artificially conjured up by, and on behalf of, a nation that is desperate for the tiniest signs of moral agency among members of the governing executive.
A similar, if even more desperate, hunger for ethical and moral leadership is palpable across the nation in relation to the increasingly pugnacious members of our National Assembly.
* Maluleke is a professor at the University of Pretoria and an extraordinary professor at the University of South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter handle – @ProfTinyiko.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.