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President Jacob Zuma has been at it again, firing ministers from his cabinet and replacing them with allies whose loyalty and obedience he can count on.
Mr. Zuma's latest reshuffle took place last week, barely seven months since his March reshuffle when he replaced Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
The changes to his cabinet are so rapid that there is hardly time for one to understand what he could be responding to. Just as one is about to understand the logic of his previous reshuffle, Zuma undertakes another one.
Senior ANC leaders, including the party's secretary general, were also stunned by his latest reshuffle, even as they were still reeling from the previous reshuffle which they openly criticised.
The significance of Zuma's latest reshuffle is that he finally dismissed his former ally Dr. Blade Nzimande from the higher education portfolio.
Credited for playing a prominent role in orchestrating Zuma's ascent to lead the ANC in 2007, Nzimande joins a growing group of former Zuma allies who are ready to fight against him.
Sadly, a number of Zuma's former allies who used their organisations to support him are now left with organisations that have been weakened and divided. The South African Communist Party (SACP) and trade union federation Cosatu have both been used by their leaders to support Zuma; creating intense divisions within these organisations.
At this point, both are half dead and no longer potent as a result of the divisions that came about specifically due to the decision by leaders such as Nzimande to mortgage their future on Zuma.
This shows the shrewdness of Zuma's politics: he harvested the political support of leaders from Cosatu and the SACP in a way that left these organisations incapable of ever resisting his decisions in the future again.
Zuma can now comfortably discard former allies who now have to return to organisations whose credibility and coherence have been dented by the very decision of their leaders to cosy up to his political agenda.
Expressing his feeling of betrayal, EFF leader Julius Malema once said that Zuma uses people and "dump them like a used condom".
(Malema has since founded a movement that has been effective in pushing back against Zuma. Unlike Cosatu and the SACP that are in paralysis, the EFF is potent and committed when it comes to fighting against Zuma.)
It has been reported that Zuma is not done clearing out debris from his cabinet. Speculations have been rife that he is on course to fire to his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa is also a frontrunner in the highly contested ANC leadership race. Developments within the ANC under Zuma are so rapid that it is difficult for people to bring along historical memories as they try to make sense of his decisions.
It has become a distant memory that Ramaphosa was once conveniently brought to deputise Zuma as a way to reject Kgalema Motlanthe’s attempt to challenge Zuma for the party's top position in 2012. Therefore, if Zuma fires Ramaphosa he would have cleared all former allies of convenience from his cabinet.
Firing Ramaphosa is not strategic for Zuma. Ramaphosa's subdued campaign to lead the ANC is held back by his commitment to government work as the deputy president. This has resulted in a situation where Ramaphosa has to balance his criticism of Zuma's administration with the fact that he is actually part of the administration.
It's problematic for him to come out as an alternative to Zuma's deplorable leadership style, while at the same time serving in the same administration. It does not make sense to be an alternative to what you are part of.
I believe that Ramaphosa wants to be fired so that he no longer has to take responsibility for the mess that is underway in Zuma's government.
If fired, Ramaphosa could then take a clear position regarding Zuma's administration, something he has fallen short of since his campaign started. This will boost Ramaphosa to go for broke in his campaign against Zuma's preferred presidential candidate.
The best thing that could happen to Ramaphosa at this point is to get fired. I doubt if Zuma can do this. It is clear that Ramaphosa has been well managed within government and he might go on a rampage if he is let go.
- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes. Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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