Is South Africa in crisis?

By Kirstin Buick
31 March 2017

Last's night's cabinet reshuffle has sent shockwaves through the country. But what does it actually mean for SA? Experts weigh in.

President Jacob Zuma’s long-feared cabinet reshuffle has sent shockwaves through South Africa and its already fragile economy.

Experts say that Zuma’s actions are not just random and that this move is the start of a full-scale power struggle within the ANC – one which will put a massive strain on the country’s economy.

1. What are Zuma’s biggest reasons for the cabinet reshuffle?

Zuma’s main motivation is that he wants to keep the Gupta’s happy and give them easy access to the treasury says Professor Susan Booysen, a political analyst at the University of Witwatersrand.

She also added that Zuma’s claim that he’s planning radical economic transformation is a smokescreen. “His cabinet reshuffle has nothing to do with plans for economic transformation.”

Read more: A brutal display of power: Zuma’s night of the long knives

Reports on Thursday afternoon which alleged that Zuma had met with ANC bigwigs and informed them that he would step down as president in exchange for Gordhan’s dismissal, was possibly a false story, says Theo Venter, a political analyst linked to North West University.

“I think that story came from the pro-Gordhan camp. The rand strengthened after that story was released and I think they wanted to demonstrate just how sensitive the rand is at the moment.”

2. Does Zuma now have control of the countries treasury?

By removing Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, Zuma removed the last gatekeepers protecting the treasury from him, says Venter. The rand was trading at R13,47 against the dollar on Friday morning.

“He now controls the security services, the treasury and more.”

Reshuffling within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the Reserve Bank can be expected to follow, predicts Venter.

Venter doubts that ANC members who many believed would turn against Zuma if he fired Godhan, will be moved to action. “They talk a lot, but don’t act quickly. Cyril Ramaphosa for example hasn’t taken a stand and has been a huge disappointment in the last two months.”

3. What can we read into his decision to keep certain ministers, move others and fire some altogether

“Zuma is a strategist who makes moves to confuse his inner circle,” says Venter.

For example he didn’t move or fire Blade Nzimande, who serves as minister of higher education, or Aaron Motsoaledi, the minister of health – moves which many people expected to happen.

“It will make other ANC members wonder if Nzimande or Motsoaledi aren’t perhaps in Zuma’s camp or have a hold on him or vice versa. It creates division within the ANC which Zuma uses to his advantage.”

It’s also strange that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who many believe has an eye on the presidency, wasn’t moved, says Venter.

“If he wanted her to succeed him as president now would have been a good time to move her to a more strategic position.”

Perhaps he wants to keep her out of controversy and bad publicity because he wants her to take his place, adds Booysen. “He’s thinking ten years ahead. If there were too much attention on her it may damage her credibility.”

Booysen is also concerned about the former minister of communications, Faith Muthambi, who now serves as minister of services and administration.

“He needs to get people who are more qualified for the job. The fact that Bathabile Dlamini, minister of social development, also wasn’t fired is a massive slap in the face of the public, especially in light of the recent state allowances debacle.”

4. Are Malusi Gigaba and his deputy qualified to take over from Gordhan and Jonas?

After everyone expected former Eskom boss Brian Molefe to take over from Gordhan, it is strange that the job was given to Malusi Gigaba.

“Zuma will leave Molefe in parliament for another six months before he slots him into a position. He has plans for him,” says Venter. Booysen agrees. “It may just be a temporary appeasement for ANC members who levelled against Molefe’s appointment.”

“Gigaba is well prepared for the role,” says Venter.

“The appointment of Sifiso Buthelezi, who previously held the position of chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is concerning. His hands were not clean in his days at PRASA. He is a Zuma man.”

5. What is next for Pravin Gordhan?

Gordhan is now a fully-fledged member of the anti-Zuma campo, says Booysen, and that may give the group more clout.

Still he’s not an activist but rather a quiet worker, says Venter. He’s likely to leave politics altogether and get a top job in the finance sector, adds Booysen.

“He’s already 67 years old and can quietly retire. He’s now in the sights of all the top corporate companies,” adds Venter.

6. Is South Africa in crisis?

It’s the beginning of the ANC’s downfall, says Venter. “He ignored ANC leaders, didn’t acknowledge them and did exactly what he wanted. This is something I haven’t seen since the days of PW Botha in 1989.”

He predicts that uprising against Zuma will start at the public memorial service for ANC veteran Ahmed Kathrada in Soweto on Saturday.

“Zuma has overplayed his hand and it will probably lead to his earlier dismissal and greatly disadvantage the ANC.”

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