31/03/2017 02:42 SAST | Updated 31/03/2017 14:53 SAST

Ferial Haffajee: What On Earth Did JZ Just Do?

But there are some silver linings: Here are the ministers who may actually do a good job.

President Jacob Zuma has moved one of his strongest loyalists Mmamoloko 'Nkhensani' Kubayi into the energy portfolio signaling a push on the nuclear deal.

Kubayi fought hard for Zuma in parliament during the crisis on the spending at his Nkandla home.

Former Minister of Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson is gone, with confidantes saying she fell out of favour for taking too long to ink the nuclear deal and for pushing for new renewable energy contracts to be signed. The Zuma administration has lost its taste for solar and wind energy, favouring a radical push for nuclear, valued at over R1-trillion.

He has installed as finance minister a second loyalist, former Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba. Gigaba was close to former president Thabo Mbeki but quickly won the favour of Zuma with his cocky confidence and appeal among the youth. Zuma stepped back from appointing former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe as finance minister and he now remains marooned on the backbenches of parliament. He has been overlooked even for the deputy minister's job which goes to Sfiso Buthelezi, a long-standing Zuma confidante.

With both the Energy and Treasury portfolios now sealed, President Zuma is able to thrust ahead on many key deals his detractors say he needs to secure his retirement. By December, when the ANC chooses its new leadership, the president will be a lame duck, unable to direct the fiscus any longer.

There is a new Tourism minister, Tokozile Xasa, who replaces Derek Hanekom. In November last year, Hanekom called for a vote of no confidence in Zuma's leadership at an ANC national executive committee meeting. Xasa was previously Hanekom's deputy. Both Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Science and Technology minister Naledi Pandor survived the hangman's noose although they supported Hanekom's motion of no confidence.

For the rest of the portfolios, the president's direction seems arbitrary and less clear than with the two key portfolios.

The South African Communist Party (SACP), which holds a substantial number of Cabinet positions as well as deputy minister positions, is untouched. In fact, the SACP's Ben Martin who was axed from his position as Energy minister a few years ago is back as the deputy minister of public enterprises.

This leaves the party in a conundrum as it staged a last-minute protest to ensure Gordhan was not axed. Will its delegation walk out or not?

On the other hand, his arc loyalist Faith Muthambi was moved from communications to public service and administration and may be earmarked as Limpopo premier. Just this week, she was named chair, with Zuma, of Cabinet's powerful communication's sub-committee. This suggests she was axed as part of a deal with the ANC, which has long been annoyed with a minister who will not take party direction.

While the nation was shocked by the just-after-midnight Cabinet and executive reshuffle, there are two glimmers of hope. Ayanda Dlodlo is now Communications Minister and she is a long-time supporter of open government and has a reputation for pushing for good governance. A clean-up of the SABC is now a real possibility. And the highly regarded Hlengiwe Mkhize is now the minister of Home Affairs, which is a vital portfolio for South Africans from birth to death.

President Zuma cut deep from his Cabinet, changing 10 out of the 36 portfolios. Among his deputy ministers, he changed 10 out of 38 portfolios. Zuma has reshuffled at least thrice in the almost eight years he has served as President.

But the jury is out on whether he reshuffles in the interest of the public or in self-interest. Many commentators believe this latest reshuffle has been co-designed by his allies, the powerful Gupta family who staged a militant campaign against former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his former deputy Mcebisi Jonas.

A previous version of this article stated that Minister of Public Service and Administration Faith Muthambi had been axed. She was in fact moved from her communications post. We apologise for this error.

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