They say in every war there are casualties, and it would seem President Jacob Zuma has gone to war far too many times, leaving a trail of body bags in his wake.

This week the man from Nkandla caught many, including those in the ruling party, by surprise when he announced a cabinet reshuffle at a special press conference – the third such reshuffle since he came to power.

Lindiwe Sisulu was moved from the defence and military veterans ministry to the troubled public service and administration ministry; she was replaced by Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the former correctional services minister.

Ben Martins was appointed to the transport ministry. Sbu Ndebele, who previously headed the transport ministry, is now heading correctional services.

Ndebele’s deputy is Sindisiwe Chikunga who headed the police portfolio committee. Other deputies include the SACP’s Jeremy Cronin and ANC Youth League NEC member Mduduzi Manana.

Since he came to power, President Zuma has changed his cabinet once every year since 2010.

One would swear he is trying to match the rate at which he fills his harem in Nkandla with wives with the rate at which he changes ministers.

It’s not the changes that gets to me. It’s the kind of people he actually puts in. In October 2010, for example, President Zuma announced what was regarded as a major shake-up in his government, replacing ministers and creating new deputies for those that didn’t have any, including the new ones.

Among the changes was Siphiwe Nyanda replaced by Roy Padayachie in communications; Edna Molewa replaced by Bathabile Dlamini as social development minister; sports minister Makhenkhesi Stofile replaced by Fikile Mbalula who had been moved from the police ministry as deputy to Nathi Mthethwa after the two fell out;  and at the troubled public works department, Geoff Doidge was controversially replaced by Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde – who as we know by now proved to be the worst.

“We had to change the way government works in order to improve service delivery. Our mission was guided by improving the quality of the lives of South Africans,” Zuma said that time.

But quality of life it wasn’t. Ministries such as that of Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s were marred by corruption allegations and became dysfunctional. She was sacked.

The service delivery that Zuma was trying to address never reached people who needed it, and more disgruntled citizens continue to go on a rampage as we speak.

Then a year later Zuma was forced to make more changes after firing Mahlangu-Nkabinde, one of the people he entrusted with ensuring good governance and service delivery. He also had to replace Sicelo Shiceka who was found guilty of corruption for stealing taxpayers’ money and splashing it on gifts and overseas visits.

Maybe this is third time lucky.

But if we look at the trends, President Zuma’s appointments have always meant to appease those close to him. Or, as Hellen Zille puts it, those who he thinks will be willing to “serve as his vocal cheerleaders”. Others are appointed as a way of repaying them for support and loyalty.

And more often as we know, they’ve disappointed.

The problem with constant changes is that while it brings fresh blood and thinking into ministries, it affects continuity. It’s disruptive to governance and delivery of services.

However, with this reshuffling, it would seem Zuma is setting his sights on Mangaung where he is seeking second term. Many think he’s building a wall with people who will ensure his re-election; neutralising those that he thinks could pose a threat to him, rewarding his enemies’ opponents, and protecting those close to him by moving them out of troubled ministries. It would seem it had nothing to do with performance.

For example, by bringing in Ben Martins, Zuma is seen as trying to consolidate the support he has already in the SACP, or one could call it rewarding the Reds for being the loudest during The Spear saga.

Lindiwe Sisulu, who reportedly cried upon hearing the news, has been touted as one of those who want Zuma replaced in Mangaung with some suggesting she, just like Tokyo Sexwale, may be the surprise pack to stand against him. She angered Zuma by making it difficult for him to have the control of the defence ministry. With this “demotion” to public administration, Zuma has ensured Sisulu is neutralised.

Mduduzi Manana is known to be a member of the ANCYL NEC who has been vocal against Julius Malema, and one who supports Malema’s firing. The 28-year-old son of Mpumalanga safety security and liaison MEC Sibongile Manana is part of the group within the youth league that supports Zuma’s second term. He hasn’t set foot in his new office as deputy minister of higher education and training, but already Sasco is calling for his head.

“The appointment of Mr Manana demonstrates that the ANC led government does not take education seriously. How on earth can our ANC-led government appoint such a person with no track record on issues related to education, let alone higher education…” Sasco said.

What also raised eyebrows is the moving of those responsible for the mess that is e-tolling to new homes. Transport minister Sbu Ndebele and his deputy Jeremy Cronin, the identical faces of the highway robbery imposed on taxpayers, have both been shifted. The question is who is now going to answer and clean up for the mess they created.

I personally think when you make changes it should be about replacing what’s not working with something that is.

As things currently stand, the two major crises in South Africa that one can pinpoint with eyes closed are in policing and education. If Zuma’s recent reshuffle was meant to strengthen governance and replace underperforming ministers, he could have started with Blade Nzimande, the higher education minster and his basic education counterpart Angie Motshekga. Then his loyalist Nathi Mthethwa, who heads up our police ministry which has been making headlines recently, should have been fired. Mthethwa is also under investigation over the issue of slush funds. Another minister is the one for women, children and people with disabilities. Zuma should have disbanded the ministry and incorporated it into social development. The current minister, Lulu Xingwana, is useless to say the least.

President Zuma should know the people who put him there deserve better. And they will have a chance to do their own reshuffle of leadership at the ballot box.


  • Isaac Mangena is a Chapter Nine Communicator slash activist. He has spent much of the past ten years of his life in a newsroom. He is a former TV and Newspaper journalist who focuses on African and international news. He previously worked for Media24 and Agence France-Presse. Isaac holds a BA Psychology degree from the University of the North (now Limpopo). He reads, writes and critique – a lot.


Isaac Mangena

Isaac Mangena is a Chapter Nine Communicator slash activist. He has spent much of the past ten years of his life in a newsroom. He is a former TV and Newspaper journalist who focuses on African and international...

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