Cabinet reshuffle to remove 'untouchables' like NDZ and Cele could backfire
Johannesburg - A possible Cabinet reshuffle motivated more by ANC politics than governance issues could backfire on President Cyril Ramaphosa, warned political experts.
That would be the case especially if he “overplays his hand” and removes heavyweights like Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Police Minister Bheki Cele without justification and support from Luthuli House.
This is according to Professor Tinyiko Maluleke and Dr Metji Makgoba who spoke to the Sunday Independent yesterday after several ANC and government sources claimed a cabinet reshuffle was on the cards.
Several ANC insiders this week said a looming reshuffle of the national executive was targeting Ramaphosa’s critics and party national executive committee (NEC) members who fell out with the president over the enforcement of Covid-19 lockdown regulations.
They said that Cele, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, and Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma fell out with the president after leading the charge against the uplifting of the ban on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, both at the national coronavirus command council (NCCC) and in Cabinet.
Dlamini Zuma has been the subject of various court challenges by the DA, tobacco companies and lobbyists over her enforcement of the Disaster Management Act.
Sisulu, who last year called on the ANC to probe claims that the 2017 Nasrec national conference that elected Ramaphosa had been bought, is seen as a potential ANC presidential challenger in 2022.
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)
“I have heard of rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle since the middle, if not even earlier, of June 2020. So, rumours have been flying around about the possible Cabinet reshuffle. And if they are resurfacing now, one has to believe that there could be some truth that this will happen, so that’s one thing,” said Maluleke.
“Secondly, what will it do for the president? Well, it could either strengthen his hand within ANC politics or weaken him further given that they are going to have the national general council. So, if he overplays his hand in this Cabinet reshuffle, it could backfire for him. But it could also strengthen him.
“Let me tell you, the word out there is that President Cyril Ramaphosa has not put his stamp not just on the Cabinet, but the ANC as a party since he took over. Maybe this is his way of trying to do something, but my sense is that if he doesn’t do it well, and doesn’t get enough backing, it could backfire on him.”
Makgoba, a political expert from the University of Limpopo, concurred.
He added that any cabinet reshuffle would “just be window-dressing to change the narrative about the government and Covid-19 and how the government has been handling it”.
“This Cabinet reshuffle, and the way it’s put together, has no impact on the levels of governance and the bringing of new skills to develop these portfolios. These are just old people who are only going to continue with the status quo.
“It won’t make sense that the president can reshuffle his Cabinet considering that, now, we are not operating with the old form of government where there has been a bucket full of lists and we are following a script.
“We are actually with a contingency plan, and at this stage, it’s not gonna be necessarily important to be changing and moving people around,” Makgoba added.
Police Minister Bheki Cele Picture: African News Agency (ANA)
Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko and ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe yesterday acknowledged receipt of requests for comment but failed to do so.
Diko did not respond to questions sent while Mabe promised to comment “after a zoom meeting”, but failed to do so.
The emergence on Friday of a list of affected ministers, titled “Leaked Reshuffle Memo and Changes in Executive Cabinet”, also compounded talks of a cabinet reshuffle which started doing the rounds in May.
According to the list, Cele, Sisulu, Mkhize, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Agriculture and Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu would be shifted around.
Mkhize and Motsoaledi would swop portfolios, Sisulu moves to agriculture while Didiza is redeployed to social development. Mchunu takes over the water and sanitation department, Zulu to public service while Free State education MEC Tate Makgoe replaces Motshekga, who moves to the Presidency.
Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille, another potential target, has been accused of dishing out lucrative state contracts to her friends and loyalists.
Sources said De Lille was also seen as politically unaccountable since she came from the opposition ranks.
She was recently accused of irregularly awarding a R37 million contract to fence off the Beitbridge Border Post between SA and Zimbabwe.
De Lille maintained her innocence and asked auditor-general Kimi Makwetu to probe the matter.
“That he (Ramaphosa) is reshuffling is true. I also heard about it during the week. The issue of whether he is moving who, and where, is (the) one that was not finalised,” said an ANC source.
“The targets are the portfolios of NDZ, Cele, Tito and Sisulu. I don't know whether Didiza would be removed. NDZ is being replaced with someone there who would be lenient towards the president. The plan here is to tear apart the KZN cabal. But it won't be easy.
If you remove NDZ, Cele and Zweli, what would be the reason, because in most cases, you remove people due to incapacity in governance. They say De Lille is giving tenders to her cousins and friends. She's not accountable when her party has long collapsed,” said the source.
Another ANC insider added: “It's war. Full blown war”.
A third ANC source said the delays in announcing the reshuffle was caused by disagreements over initial plans to get rid of Cele, who fell out with Ramaphosa over his public opposition to alcohol and cigarette sales.
Maluleke said the possible reshuffle could backfire or strengthen Ramaphosa's political hand depending on whether he has the justification and support for touching the “untouchables”.
If he were to touch the “untouchables”, like Cele and Sisulu without enough political backing in the ANC, it could spell trouble for him because such party heavyweights would criticise him and “begin to form new factions around these Cabinet reshuffles”.
“But if he touches the so-called untouchables, and there are a few untouchables, your Sisulus, your Celes, your all these so-called big guns, if he can touch them and be resolute in terms of why he has done so, and he can justify it from a governance point of view, and not merely from ANC politics heavyweight point of view, that could strengthen him and he could win, in inverted commas.
"So, the same things could make him win and the same things could make him lose,” he added.
Maluleke and Makgoba also cast doubt on the necessity and wisdom of a Cabinet reshuffle during a pandemic.
As of Friday, Covid-19 had claimed 2952 lives and infected 177142 people.
Cases increased by 9063 with 86298 recoveries.
“I don't know how important a Cabinet reshuffle is for the country at this point, in the middle of Covid-19. So I look at this and say to myself, ‘is this going to help us in the fight against Covid-19 or it won't help that fight.' Is it going to help us address the problem of unemployment and the economy that is dead?” Maluleke asked.