31/03/2017 18:41 SAST | Updated 01/04/2017 08:53 SAST

Zuma's Late Night Reshuffle Leads To Joyless Swearing In Of New Ministers

The event kicked off an hour late, in stark contrast to the last swearing in.


The swearing in of new ministers after the 2014 national elections was a joyous affair. New ministers arrived in their best clothes, their excitement palpable. It was clearly a celebration, and those of us in the room couldn't help but celebrate with the new members of cabinet, whatever our then concerns with President Jacob Zuma.

The joyousness bubbled over into little moments: laughter as a minister got a word wrong, or exhibited some or other quirk in taking their oath. Despite the length of the proceeding -- given how bloated Zuma's executive have grown to be -- it was an exciting occasion.

Fastforward three years later and the swearing in of new ministers after a bloodbath of a reshuffle in the early hours of the morning was the complete opposite. A muted and joyless event, the president was terse and stumbled over the names of some of his new ministers. The event culminated in a tense moment as eNCA anchor Iman Rappetti tried to get the president to answer a question about his firing of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan. Zuma turned his back and walked away, ignoring her loud question, and Rappetti was chastised by his aides.

The swearing in of new ministers on Friday got off to a disorganised start, at the Sefako Makgatho presidential guesthouse in Pretoria.

Zuma wielded an axe to his cabinet just after midnight on Thursday, appointing ten new ministers and ten new deputy ministers. Five ministers and three deputies lost their jobs while others received new portfolios.

The most controversial but expected of these, was the replacement of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan with Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba: a Zuma loyalist who is also perceived to be close with the controversial Gupta family, who are at the heart of accusations around state capture.

A few short hours after news of the abrupt reshuffle, an announcement was made that the new members of the executive would be sworn in at the presidential guesthouse at 6pm on Friday.

After a relentless news day where several organisations -- and Gordhan himself -- held tense and impassioned briefings about the reshuffle, journalists made their way to Pretoria.

An hour after the stated start time however, proceedings were yet to start.

At 6.30pm staff were still setting up the venue, testing sound and covering chairs. One said they were informed of the event after 4pm.

This stood in stark contrast to the dignified swearing in that took place after the 2014 national elections at the same venue. New ministers arrived in their best and the venue was ready.

This may have something to do with the nature of the the midnight announcement: Gordhan and axed Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said they were not informed of the decision and found out via the media.

Sources told Huffington Post South Africa of the last minute deals that others tried to strike to get Zuma to back down -- unsuccessfully in the end. A source close to one of the ministers being sworn in on Friday said the minister only found out about their appointment after 10pm on Thursday.

This all spoke to the rushed and disorganised nature of Friday's event. At about 7.10pm the ministers who were going to be sworn in finally walked into the room.

Curious charges hung over Gordhan's head for months, until they were finally dropped in October last year, leading to rumours that the charges were trumped up to be used by Zuma as a premise for sacking the finance minister.

But the speculation reached fever pitch on Monday when Zuma instructed Gordhan and Jonas to return home from an international investor roadshow. He gave no reasons for the instruction, in a terse statement, but it was widely reported as down to an intelligence report, the so-called "Operation Checkmate" document. The report claimed that Gordhan and Jonas planned to meet foreign businesses to discredit Zuma and that was the reason for their recall from the overseas trip, according to reports.

Following the reshuffle there has been widespread condemnation for the move, including from within the ruling party itself. Senior ANC leaders like deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and chief whip Jackson Mthembu particularly took issue with the decision to remove Gordhan over the intelligence report.