Last Sunday’s Cabinet reshuffle is the most explicit articulation of the character of the Jacob Zuma presidency – and of the Zuma view of the country’s future – before or since the ruling party’s Polokwane watershed.Zuma has shownus parts of his vision and his way of working since Polokwane. This past Sunday, he gave us the whole enchilada.
Possibly the most important message the president gave the country was that he – unlike his predecessor – had no problem admitting his mistakes, or recognising that the construction of a government was a process, not an event – a work in progress requiring constant refinement.
We saw this with his dismissal of ministers historically close to him, notably former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda.
But we also saw him confidently taking on board recent opponents of his ambitions to lead the ANC and the country for a second term.
This underscores both his confidence and his relish for the traditional tactic of princes in troubled times: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.The reshuffle was a tacit acknowledgment on Zuma’s part that his initial attempt at putting together his top team was less than ideal.
This is a first for the ruling party.
It also points to Zuma’s recognition that his ANC administration needs to think beyond individual leaders and commit instead to a strategic plan to ensure long-term progress if it hopes to make good on its electoral promises.
All this explains Zuma’s decision to initiate the most extensive overhaul of the government since 1994, just 17 months into his term.
Some analysts have suggested that political expediency was the key driver behind Zuma’s reshuffle.
But hard-nosed political calculation alone does not explain what Zuma gingerly called the “reorganisation of the executive”.
There are four factors to consider when explaining Zuma’s move.
1 Trial and error
The first – and most important – is acknowledging his mistakes, and the willingness to correct them.
2 Powerplays and promises
The second relates to the internal balance of forces in the ANC and its impact on the party’s ability to drive delivery.
This driver gives him an opportunity to consolidate his position in the face of strident criticism of his leadership and of the direction of government from a minority in the ANC.
Zuma understands the need, in a way his predecessors did not always manage to do, to take the ANC with him on major changes.
Party insiders confirm that Zuma consulted extensively with his senior officials and allies about his plans for the Cabinet, driving for consensus.
But the reshuffle also allowed Zuma to target key structures and individuals in the ANC, which had become important centres of power and potential challenges to his governing project.
These include the influential national working committee (NWC) and certain provincial leaders.As part of his work-in-progress Cabinet, he has moved to empower those who support his approach to government delivery, and to divide groupings who oppose it.
By promoting NWC members such as new sports minister Fikile Mbalula, Bathabile Dlamini (social development) and Dinah Pule (deputy monitoring and evaluation), Zuma successfully pre-empted any effort to consolidate an anti-Zuma platform in the NWC.
This divide-and-rule approach has successfully undermined his most strident critics, such as ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and Tony Yengeni.
In doing so he has also denied his intra-ANC opponents who, prior to the reshuffle, attempted to use the NWC to act as a counterweight to the top six and the ANC national executive committee.
This now fractured grouping was behind the campaign against Zuma’s first Cabinet appointments, and drove hard to break the alliance – as evidenced by their push to press charges against Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
The reshuffle is the first step in consolidating the power gains made by Zuma at the party’s recent national general council (NGC).
Another factor Zuma has recognised and had the confidence to incorporate is the growing influence of powerful provincial leaders.
The promotion of Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile underlines Zuma’s recognition of the latter’s rising political star among provincial power brokers.
Mashatile emerged as a king-maker at the NGC, leading the provincial chairs in their defence of Zuma’s efforts to ring-fence the agenda of the NGC to exclude the issue of succession and attempts to expunge Malema’s suspended sentence ahead of the gathering.
Through his adroit handling of the youth league assault on Zuma, Mashatile managed to renegotiate his relationship with the president on more favourable terms. Zuma had snubbed Mashatile and appointed Nomvula Mokonyane as premier of the nation’s economic powerhouse province in 2009.
The Zuma-Mashatile power play also indicates the fluidity of things in the ANC ahead of its all-important elective conference in 2012.
Zuma’s pre-emptive move ahead of Mashatile’s shake-up of the executive in the province suggests that both men are ready to engage each other.
3 Church of the haves and have-nots
Factor three is Zuma’s push to restore the multiclass character of the ANC.
Zuma has brought the Left back into the fold, understanding the importance of preventing a single identity driven by one set of class interests to be imposed on the party, as was the case under Mbeki.
Also, unlike Mbeki, Zuma is unenthusiastic about an aggressive opponent on his left.Three SACP central committee members to deputy minister posts binds the SACP to the ANC’s economic policy trajectory in the short term.
By moving Enoch Godongwana, a key conservative player in the economic transformation subcommittee of the party, to deputy economic development minister, Zuma acknowledged the need to balance the various class interests in the ANC.
Ayanda Dlodlo’s appointment as deputy minister for public administration suggests that Zuma also wants to bind labour to the idea of a social compact that could impose a wage freeze on the state’s salary bill in an effort to prevent job losses in the public sector.
The appointment of Thembelani Nxesi as deputy minister for rural development, his counterpart Ben Martins in public enterprises and Godfrey Olifant in mineral resources suggests the ANC under Zuma is comfortable with SACP members who will implement ANC economic policy positions.
He is joined in this by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who is also the chairperson of the SACP.
Both insist that if the ANC is to fulfil its historical obligations as the leader of the alliance, it needs to remain a broad church.
Zuma’s delicate egg dance is not primarily about having to balance different interests; it is about harnessing these contradictions to move the country forward in the long-term national interests around employment creation and less inequality.
This broad-church approach to nation building is an important step towards constructing a compact between haves and have-nots, especially in a country as unequal as South Africa.
By straddling competing class interests within the ANC, the Zuma-Mantashe axis intends to avert a fracturing of the liberation movement along much the same lines as in other post-colonial countries.
Equally important is Zuma’s commitment to increasing state capacity to drive economic growth, particularly post-2008.
Zuma’s thinking is in step with global trends. The global financial crisis rammed home the failure of market fundamentalism.
In most developed economies, there is a strong appetite for enhanced state capacity in areas such as job creation, education, healthcare and stimulating economic growth in much of Europe and even the US.
Fast-growing developing economies (India, China and Brazil) are examples of a strong state in active partnership on economic matters.
This recognition of state-fuelled social-compact growth strategies is encapsulated in the government’s New Growth Path – possibly best termed Zumanomics – published just four days ahead of the reshuffle.
Zuma’s reshuffle is primarily directed at creating an engine to drive Zumanomics.
But it also addresses an issue tattooed on his heart: rebuilding the ANC as a broad church.
» Brown is a freelance analyst.