17/10/2017 18:16 SAST | Updated 17/10/2017 18:36 SAST

5 Things Tuesday's Cabinet Reshuffle Says About Zuma

Possible moves on the nuclear deal and a disregard for the tripartite alliance are top of the list.

President Jacob Zuma celebrates with his supporters after he survived a no-confidence motion in parliament vote in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017.
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma celebrates with his supporters after he survived a no-confidence motion in parliament vote in Cape Town, South Africa, August 8, 2017.

On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma again surprised South Africans with the second Cabinet reshuffle this year, making some curious appointments into key ministries while axing SA Communist Party (SACP) boss Blade Nzimande.

The move threw the ANC's tripartite alliance, which is already on edge, into chaos and the rand tanked as soon as the announcement was made.

Here are five things to note about Zuma's midday Cabinet reshuffle:

  1. The president is making moves to secure the R1-trillion nuclear deal:

Zuma moved Mmamoloko Kubayi from the energy portfolio to communications and replaced her with the now former state security boss, David Mahlobo. In 2014, Mahlobo accompanied Zuma on a state visit to Russia where he met with Vladimir Putin. Mahlobo is also a close confidant of Zuma. His appointment in the energy portfolio hints at a shift towards the expedition of the nuclear deal.

  1. Zuma seemingly has no regard for the state of the tripartite alliance:

The reshuffle also saw SACP boss and now former minister of higher education and training Blade Nzimande being replaced by Hlengiwe Mkhize. The SACP says Nzimande was not notified until after the decision was announced and that Zuma's actions are a "declaration of war". This threw an already fragile tripartite alliance into chaos, with the SACP now speaking of holding meetings to discuss whether their members will be withdrawn from various ANC structures.

  1. A possibility of further ratings downgrades:

After Zuma's last Cabinet reshuffle in March, where he axed then-finance minister Pravin Gordhan, the rand fell into a downward spiral and ratings agencies were quick to respond, slapping the badge of junk status on the country's economy. Although the finance portfolio was not targeted during this reshuffle, agencies earlier this year cited political instability as one of their reasons for the downgrade. But Mahlobo's placement into the nuclear portfolio may worry rating agencies, especially if he makes moves to push the nuclear deal ahead.

  1. An attempt to secure David Mabuza's vote come December:

The biggest winner in this latest reshuffle is Mpumalanga advocate Bongani Bongo. Bongo, an ordinary ANC MP with no ministerial experience, was placed in Mahlobo's place as State Security boss. But Bongo is said to have a close relationship with Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza, who has recently been deemed a kingmaker come the ANC's national conference in December. Mabuza has been playing his cards close to his chest, with rival contenders in the ANC vying for his province's vote. Placing one of his men in a ministerial position could be seen as an attempt by Zuma to woo Mabuza over to his preferred presidential candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

  1. Zuma will not be held to account for his actions:

Initially, the ANC declined to comment on Zuma's reshuffle -- the party's secretary-general Gwede Mantashe saying earlier on Tuesday morning he would not respond to the matter. Calls to the president's spokesperson also went unanswered. Journalists did try to get some sort of reaction out of Zuma while he was attending the opening of a bridge in Limpopo yesterday afternoon, but they were shooed away by his guards.