'Surprise' at cabinet reshuffle

2006-05-23 08:45

Johannesburg - There was surprise on Monday after a cabinet reshuffle that sees respected Land Affairs and Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza move to public works, and Lulu Xingwana, the firebrand deputy minister of minerals and energy, take over from Didiza.

The moves come in the wake of the death of Stella Sigcau, who previously headed Public Works.

Buyelwa Sonjica (water affairs and forestry) and Lindiwe Hendricks (minerals and energy) swop portfolios.

The reasoning behind President Thabo Mbeki's moves, especially at a critical period for land reform, were questioned by some.

Government spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe, said that, as is policy worldwide, the president wouldn't explain his decisions with regard to his cabinet.

"Broadly, one can say he looks at each minister and their abilities and their possible contributions at a particular time."

Complicated portfolio

Didiza takes over public works at a critical time. According to Professor Adam Habib of the HSRC, this portfolio is very important to the government's Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative (Asgisa) plan.

Asgisa emphasises giant infrastructure developments and an expanded public works programme to provide mass employment. Infrastruture development is also critical to the country's hosting of the 2010 World Cup.

Democratic Alliance agriculture spokesperson Kraai van Niekerk reacted with surprise to Didiza's move, saying she has served agriculture with "distinction" and in a "very able" manner since 1994 (as deputy minister and minister - she was promoted in 1996).

"This is a very complicated portfolio which she understood well, and she spoke with great confidence on the topic. She was fully aware of every aspect of agriculture.

"But she was rather less successful when it came to the land affairs part of her ministry. Instead of looking in the mirror she chose to blame the slow pace of land reform on farmers and land owners," Van Niekerk said.

"We wish the new Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Lulu Xingwana, all the best.

De Beers a 'rich white cartel'

"She will have to be careful though of not repeating her past controversial statements where she attacked big corporates such as Sasol and made xenophobic statements in the National Assembly. Her new ministry cannot afford to have someone at the helm who speaks before she thinks."

Xingwana once described De Beers as "a rich white cartel" that was "looting" South Africa's diamonds and was furious that the diamond giant replaced one white managing director, Gary Ralfe, with another white male, Gareth Penny. She also said De Beers had a "lily-white and male-dominated" board.

Then she slammed Anglo American for appointing a chief executive for whites in Tony Trahar and then a chief executive for blacks in Lazarus Zim.

She blasted Sasol for not moving black economic empowerment fast enough.

Freedom Front minerals and energy spokesperson Willie Spies voiced concern that South Africa, "despite the current sporadic energy crisis the country is experiencing" is now into its third minister for Minerals and Energy within 11 months.

He pointed out that the ministry of minerals and energy has been in the public eye due to a variety of crises over the past year.

"The controversy started last year with the Mail & Guardian's revelations surrounding the so-called Oilgate scandal. The state's petrochemical company, PetroSA, falls within the ambit of the authority of the minerals ministry.

Country holding its breath on electricity

"In December of last year the country suffered from the most serious fuel shortages to date, when the uncoordinated transition from leaded to unleaded fuel resulted in a nationwide fuel shortage.

"The country is still holding its breath as to whether there would be sufficient amounts of electricity during this winter, which is expected to be one of the coldest in years, to provide in the escalating demand for electricity. In this regard, the minerals and energy department is being blamed for the crisis due to a lack of planning and timeous action.

"The fact that the department now has its third minister in 11 months, as well as the fact that a new deputy minister has to date not been appointed to the portfolio, which is most probably one of the most comprehensive ministries in the cabinet, is cause for concern,'' Spies said.

The FF+ also voiced disapporoval of Didiza's replacement by Xingwana as Land Affairs minister.

FF+ land spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said that while the party doesn't doubt the abilities of Xingwana, her appointment will further delay the land reform programme.

"Land reform in South Africa is an extremely sensitive issue which has given rise to a number of problems. The land reform process requires sensitivity and administrative effectiveness to prevent a Zimbabwe situation from developing.

Delays in land reform process

"It will therefore take up quite a lot of time for the new minister to become acquainted with the land reform process and with the problems being experienced. Ms. Xingwana's appointment will definitely bring about a further delay in the process, which cannot be tolerated by land owners and people who had instituted land claims," said Groenewald.

"At present the ANC parliamentary members are blaming land owners for the delays in the land reform process. It is not the land owners, but the Land Claims Commissioners, who are appointed by the ANC government who, due to poor administration and their own incompetence, which cause delays with the land reform process. The new appointment will indeed be contributing to a further delay in the process and the ANC will have to accept the responsibility for this delay."

Elize Tempelhoff reports that Sonjica was apparently caught by surprise to hear of her new job.

Her spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, said she herself doesn't know why she is to swop portfolios with Hendriks.

"She was amazed, shocked and surprised to hear it. She could not give reasons," he said.