Cape Town 101028. Deputy Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene is his 120 Plein Street office. PHOTO SAM CLARK, CA, Gaye Davis

Max du Preez hopes new finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, will be politically strong enough to push harder for policies unpopular with Cosatu and the SACP.

So help you God indeed, I thought as I saw Jacob Zuma take the presidential oath, swearing that he would obey the constitution – not something he managed in his first term.

Zuma has exactly three years to rewrite his legacy before a new ANC leader is elected in June 2016. He is highly likely to retire as head of state then, if new scandals don’t force him out before then.

He repeated at the weekend that the National Development Plan would be his blueprint for the “Second Transition”. That is indeed his best chance to lead a government that would make a real difference. If the NDP was implemented swiftly and energetically, it would constitute the “radical economic transformation” Zuma and his colleagues have been promising for months.

But instead of tasking “Mr NDP”, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, to oversee the implementation of the plan, he gave the job to a staunch loyalist and member of the SACP’s central committee, Jeff Radebe. The SACP is not very enthusiastic about the NDP.

In fact, the top echelons of the SACP are well-represented in Zuma’s new cabinet.

The general secretary of the SACP, Blade Nzimande, kept his job as minister of higher education and the first deputy secretary, Jeremy Cronin, is again a deputy minister. The leader of the Young Communist League, Buti Manamela, was appointed a deputy minister.

The national chairperson of the SACP, Senzani Zokwana, is the new minister of agriculture. The SACP’s deputy national chairman, Thulas Nxesi, he of the Nkandla blunders, was re-appointed as minister of public works.

Two other key ministers with strong SACP ties and thus not much passion for the NDP, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, have also retained their portfolios.

How does one declare the NDP the new government’s lodestar when so many of the cabinet ministers are at best lukewarm about the plan?

The new finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, knows as well as his predecessors Pravin Gordhan and Trevor Manuel that if “radical transformation” of the economy meant “socialism lite” and too much state intervention, it could have the unintended consequence of severely limiting growth and exacerbating unemployment.

Nene, a man with an excellent reputation, also knows that government has no control over the still negative global economic outlook that will affect South Africa’s growth potential. He must know that the only way government could stimulate growth was to de-clutter and streamline economic policies, to inspire and support entrepreneurship, to make the country more investor-friendly, to curb wastage and corruption and to run the civil service – nationally, provincially and locally – more efficiently.

As Nene looks ahead, he’s probably not very enthusiastic that he will be assisted by Ngoako Ramathlodi as mineral resources minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson as energy minister, Gugile Nkwinti as rural development and land reform minister and Mildred Oliphant as labour minister. Mining, electricity and other forms of energy, accelerated agricultural reform and an overhaul of labour relations are key pressing areas of our economy.

But Nene will be reassured that Pravin Gordhan was just what the Co-operative Governance portfolio needed – someone to light a cracker behind the failing provincial and local authorities.

Collins Chabane as the new public service minister could be another good colleague, while the able and hardworking Lindiwe Zulu promises to make a real difference at the new Small Business Ministry. These three talented, committed ministers could help jack up public service efficiency and create jobs.

I hope Nene will have the same emphasis on state austerity as Gordhan had, but that he would be more successful in getting his colleagues to listen to him. I shudder when I think how many millions the new ministers and deputy ministers are going to spend on luxury sedans and renovations to their official residences.

And I hope that Nene will be politically strong enough to push harder for sensible policies that were unpopular with Cosatu and the SACP, like the youth wage subsidy.

It is a relief that Nathi Mthethwa was removed from the police ministry, even though it was probably only to pre-empt a hugely damaging report by the Farlam Commission on the Marikana massacre.

His replacement, Nkosinathi Nhleko, is the former director-general of labour with previous experience as a regional commissioner of correctional services. He will not only have to whip the police service into shape, he will have to urgently introduce a new training regime for policemen tasked with handling public protests and local uprisings. South Africa cannot afford more Andries Tatanes and Marikanas.

Pockets of excellence in the cabinet, yes. But Number One is still firmly in charge. Can a leopard change its spots?

* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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