In DepthFrontlineZuma's targets: jobs and services

Wed,22Nov2017

Posted on Monday, 25 May 2009 15:08

Zuma's targets: jobs and services

By Tom Lodge and Patrick Smith

After his overwhelming victory in the April elections, Jacob Zuma has chosen a cabinet that balances pragmatists and technocrats with radicals and loyalists but it will need to act quickly on the main issues to meet voter expectations


Appointing a cabinet of pro-market technocrats, communists, trade unionists, black millionaires and right-wing Afrikaners in the middle of a global economic catastrophe requires optimism and confidence in one’s leadership abilities. New President Jacob Zuma, who has come back from the political and legal brink to give the African National Congress (ANC) its fourth overwhelming electoral victory, has established himself as a far shrewder political operator than his many critics had suspected.

The daunting challenge facing the new cabinet is the full force of the global recession which has already pushed South Africa’s economy downwards after its best growth performance for over four decades. Despite this, voters expect the ANC to create jobs, cut widespread violent crime and expand the social provisions that have made South Africa one of the more generous states in the developing world. Zuma will be under less political pressure than before the election. The time for the left to extract firm commitments in exchange for electoral help is over. The ANC’s good showing suggests that it remains a broadly-based organisation. Maintaining the ANC’s occupation of the political centre makes good sense to the new man in charge.

The man and his allies

Profiles of Zuma's new
team incluidng Tokyo Sexwale,
Siphiwe Nyanda and
Zwelinzima Vavi.
Read more.

Despite his social agility – bantering with the shack dwellers of KwaZulu-Natal or company bosses in Sandton – Zuma’s real persona remains as enigmatic as that of his predecessor. Getting his political education from some of the sharpest activists in the movement, Zuma knows how to balance people and politics. Too much has been made of his antipathy to the regime of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, which pleased British Premier Gordon Brown so much. Zuma’s promise of a big political tent and tolerance of dissent won media plaudits but will be tested when the government faces its first crisis.

Room under the big tent

Zuma’s cabinet choices signal policy continuity rather than a big shift leftwards. To accommodate the range of views and interests, Zuma has increased the size of the government to 34 ministers and 28 deputy ministers. The ANC’s take of just over 65% of the votes with 77% voter turnout suggests people are more satisfied with the government’s performance than many commentators had thought.

Like his predecessors, Zuma has a plan to overhaul government: “I’m confident the new structures of government will enable the state machinery to speed up service delivery”, he said just after his inauguration on 9 May. “We reiterate that we will not tolerate laziness and incompetence and that we will emphasise excellence and achievement from the cabinet and public service.”

The engine room of the Zuma cabinet is the new Planning Commission, which is headed by former finance minister Trevor Manuel and based in the presidency. Manuel is in the strange position of being both very popular in the party – he came third in the ANC’s internal elections – and respected as a technocrat by the markets. Knowing that he is seen by the left as a ‘capitalist-roader’, Manuel has played his relationship with Zuma carefully.

Both seemed satisfied with the outcome. Zuma has got the presidential powers over policy and the ministers that he wanted. Manuel has won an important new post – he is effectively prime minister – and a leading role in shaping the country’s economic development after more than a decade as finance minister.


Manuel’s record in finance and the impressive team he built there means that the Planning Commission is unlikely to be hamstrung by bureaucracy or patronage. Moving into Manuel’s old job is Pravin Gordhan, whose tenure at the national tax authority sharply increased revenues and corporate accountability.


Powers of persuasion


The third element of this trio is the new vice-president Kgalema Motlanthe, who had been interim President since Thabo Mbeki’s ousting last September. Although Motlanthe had wanted to leave government for a party or research post, Zuma prevailed upon him to stay. Unlike in many countries, the vice-presidency can be an important job in South Africa, as Mbeki proved during Nelson Mandela’s time at the helm.


What the election means

How the parties will settle.
Read more.

Zuma’s allies in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the trade unions had to be rewarded. The SACP wanted its secretary-general, Blade Nzimande, to be foreign minister. But Nzimande is better qualified for the education portfolio – he was an excellent chair of the parliamentary education portfolio committee – and Zuma has made him minister of higher education and training, in charge of the colleges and universities which have thrived in the post-apartheid era, unlike primary and secondary schools. ANC ultra-loyalist Angie Motshekga, minister of basic education, will have to handle a very troubled portfolio.


The appointment of Rob Davies, an effective and conscientious MP, to the trade and industry portfolio has been applauded. As a liberal SACP member, Davies is not a natural free-trader, but his scepticism is shared by many in South African business. The other SACP appointee, Jeremy Cronin, also a hard-working MP, gets the deputy transport portfolio, also without causing jitters. 


The trade unions drew up a shopping list of positions they wanted and have pronounced themselves satisfied with the result. Both Gordhan and the new minister for economic development, Ebrahim Patel, are former trade unionists, although neither are firebrand radicals. Trade unionists have good track records as ministers in ANC governments; some are already joking that if Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, gets too critical of the Zuma government, he will be offered a powerful post within it.


Still balancing, Zuma managed to keep his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, by appointing her to his cabinet (after she switched loyalties away from former President Mbeki) and posting her to home affairs, possibly the toughest portfolio, with its history of corruption and inefficiency.


The other main cabinet appointments – Zuma’s business backer Tokyo Sexwale to the ministry of human settlements (the renamed housing ministry), old intelligence comrade Lindiwe Sisulu to defence, ministerial survivor Jeff Radebe to justice – are equally even-handed.


The idea of appointing a right-wing Afrikaner – Pieter Mulder, leader of the Freedom Front Plus – to deputy minister of agriculture looks either inspired or crazy. Mulder will have to tackle two of the toughest issues: the painfully slow process of land redistribution from whites to the black majority and the growing number of killings of white farmers.


Even with a strong and diverse cabinet team, many risks will confront the Zuma era, the most important of which is that the slowdown in econmic performance will heighten social divisions. This raises questions about whether Gordhan, with Zuma’s blessing, might cave into trade union pressure and begin to encroach upon the Reserve Bank’s independence. 


Old wine, Zuma’s bottles


The most probable outcome is that there will be more Mbeki-style centrism, incremental reform, patchily administered, with pockets of real progress balanced by areas of retrogression. 


The government will dress up existing programmes in new language and expand temporary public-works-type employment, but overall, public expenditure will absorb roughly the same share of GDP as before. There will be a more affable and not so racially-edgy leadership, but it will be even less predisposed than its predecessors to check venal behaviour within the party and within the public service. It will be even less attentive to human rights than Mbeki’s administration, certainly with respect to the rights of suspected criminals and prisoners. Zuma’s tough line on crime is one vein in his discourse on which he enjoys approval across the spectrum. 


President Zuma and his centrist allies interpret the outcome of the election as public satisfaction. If the choice is between disappointing the left but maintaining policy continuity, or alienating businesses and the middle classes through significant and sudden policy shifts, Jacob Zuma will opt for the former course.



Show More Articles from This Author

THE QUESTION

Subscriptions Digital EditionSubscriptions PrintEdition

FRONTLINE

NEWS

POLITICS

HEALTH

SPORTS

BUSINESS

SOCIETY

TECHNOLOGY

COLUMNISTS

Music & Film

SOAPBOX

Newsletters

Keep up to date with the latest from our network :

subscribe2

Connect with us