Mpumalanga cabinet reshuffled

2008-05-14 17:13

Nelspruit - Mpumalanga Premier Thabang Makwetla surprised both his administration and opposition parties on Wednesday by reshuffling his cabinet ahead of the African National Congress' (ANC) provincial congress in July.

The reshuffle sees charismatic Health MEC William Lubisi axed, and replaced with outspoken ANC provincial chief whip, Jackson Mthembu.

Six other MECs were also redeployed from their portfolios to new departments, barely one year after Makwetla first reshuffled his cabinet in February last year.

Lubisi was consistently unavailable for comment on Wednesday, but reportedly had no prior warning and was surprised when informed about his sacking at a routine cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning.

Mpumalanga director general Khaya Ngema confirmed the reshuffle in a terse statement.

"(The reshuffle) is part of an on-going effort to enhance government work and to accelerate service delivery in the spirit of 'all hands on the deck' ahead of the elections next year," Ngema's statement reads.

Caught off-balance

Government officials across the seven affected departments were caught off-balance when their political bosses were changed, with a number of high-level policy and budgetary planning meetings either delayed or cancelled.

The most significant changes see former finance MEC Busi Coleman promoted to the troubled but powerful R9bn per year Education portfolio, while former safety and security MEC Fish Mahlalela gets control of the R5bn per year Health Department.

Respected Sports and Culture MEC Jabu Mahlangu appears to have been rewarded with a slightly more influential portfolio in the Finance Department, while dynamic Agriculture MEC Dinah Pule has been moved sideways to the Sports and Culture job.

Former education MEC Siphosezwe Masango meanwhile has been demoted to the toothless Safety and Security Department in the wake of matric leaks, financial mismanagement, and botched rural schooling initiatives.

Premiership contender demoted One of the most significant moves, however, is the demotion of premiership contender David Mabuza from the lucrative Roads and Transport Department to the smaller Agriculture portfolio.

Mabuza was not available for comment on Wednesday, but is considered a front-runner in the provincial ANC chairmanship race in July and eventual premiership elections next year.

His major competitor is Mbombela mayor and former finance MEC Lassy Chiwayo, who is considered close to a number of MECs who received more powerful portfolios on Wednesday.

The only new face to the cabinet, Mthembu, is no stranger to the provincial executive.

He served in Mathews Phosa's government between 1997 and 1999 to popular acclaim - but eventually left under a cloud when he drove and crashed a government car without a licence while on ANC business.

He has since rebuilt his credibility as ANC chief whip in the provincial legislature.

"I knew that I would be getting a cabinet seat ahead of the announcement, because Makwetla consulted me first. I'm excited and look forward to getting stuck in to the job," said Mthembu on Wednesday.

DA outraged

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was outraged at the reshuffle, warning that it would plunge the provincial administration into turmoil just as it was beginning to find its feet after the last reshuffle.

"With the general elections barely a year away, Mpumalanga cannot afford another cabinet reshuffle now.

"But those in power clearly think the ANC's July provincial conference and leadership struggle is more important," said DA provincial leader, Anthony Benadie.