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Judith February: Zuma's 'team of rivals'

Doris Kearns Goodwin is an American historian who has written in prolific fashion about American Presidents. Her tome, Team of Rivals: the political genius of Abraham Lincoln, deals with the disagreement and feuds which marked the Republic party in the 1860s. They were somewhat of a 'hotchpotch' of a coalition, with parts of the party pulling in different directions. Kearns Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's 'genius' in herding the political cats and driving the party to victory in the end. The book is Kearns Goodwin's analysis of precisely how Lincoln did that and is, in essence, a study in leadership. Lincoln was not only attuned to public opinion, but also able to bring together arguing politicians for a greater purpose despite their personal and often petty rivalries, which in the end created the political environment for the abolition of slavery.

Those were the 1860s in America and while very different conditions prevailed, the lessons of Lincoln's ability to stay the course and see the bigger picture remain rare ingredients in modern-day politics. President Barack Obama himself has been deeply attracted to the Lincoln style of leadership, yet with very different results. Modern politics probably requires a very different type of pragmatism in many instances.

Since Jacob Zuma took office, his has been a 'coalition government' of sorts with him seeking to accommodate the tripartite alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) on economic policy, as well as accommodating a deeply divided and fractious party. So, in the first Zuma term the unions got 'their man' Ebrahim Patel into the newly-created position of Minister of Economic Development while SACP leaders Blade Nzimande and Rob Davies secured Higher Education and Trade and Industry. Pravin Gordhan, another SACP member, got the plum Finance Minister position. And so, the many constituencies which had ensured Zuma's rise to power against all the odds were rewarded.

Zuma by no means possesses the integrity or the ability to place the country's interests ahead of his own, as Lincoln did. But, he has put together his own 'team of rivals', even while he himself lacked the leadership skills to harness the potential the team might have. So the Lincoln comparison is limited.

Zuma's first term was a 'mixed bag', filled with scandal. In addition, the global financial crisis and its lingering effects did nothing to create better economic performance for South Africa. There seemed to have been too many turf wars between economic ministries which Zuma, the ever-absent leader, was unable or unwilling to resolve. The National Development Plan was shepherded through, albeit with little 'buy in' from trade unions and little direction on how the choices it presented us with would be implemented in the future.

And so, the 2014 election sees another five-year term for President Zuma and more changes to his Cabinet. Firstly, it is bigger with a myriad deputy ministers who fulfill a variety of roles and some which are purely patronage-driven appointments. Zuma, after all, still has many political debts to pay.

The announcement of Zuma's cabinet happened nearly four hours after it was initially scheduled. This was probably already a reliable sign of the intense horse-trading going on behind the scenes. The new cabinet sees eight structural changes, some of which make sense and others which are somewhat befuddling.

One of the most significant changes comes at the heart of the Presidency itself, with former Justice Minister Jeff Radebe taking the reins as Minister in the Presidency responsible for the National Planning Commission as well as monitoring and evaluation given the affable Collins Chabane's move to the mMinistry of Public Service and Administration. Predictably, Cyril Rampahosa is deputy president, however, he has no new responsibilities assigned to him. It begs the question as to whether he will play a prime ministerial role or whether, like Kgalema Motlanthe, he will be relegated to the ceremonial? Yet, can one imagine a situation in which Ramaphosa voluntarily comes out of political hibernation simply to cut ribbons?

The 'radical socio-economic change' which Zuma talks about must happen within the economic cluster first and foremost. Lindiwe Zulu's appointment as Minister of Small Business is welcome given the myriad complaints about small business and 'red tape'. Zulu will have to deal with Rob Davies at Trade and Industry and Ebrahim Patel at Economic Development, both inherently sceptical of capital. Zulu brings with her a boldness and pragmatism which might be helpful, but it will be an uphill battle starting a new ministry with resources as yet unknown.

In the meantime the decent, hard-working communist, Yunus Carrim, has been removed from Communications. It's quite difficult to understand when a minister as divisive as Tina Joemat-Pettersson seems to have the proverbial 'nine lives' despite her rather shambolic reign at Agriculture and Fisheries and several Public Protector findings against her. Carrim brought to the position an energy, intelligence and integrity which gained him the respect of stakeholders in this portfolio, so the splitting of the Communications portfolio is rather curious.

Placing Telecommunications and Postal Services in the hands of the former Security Minister, Siyabonga Cwele, may be a way of dealing with him after the Nkandla and Protection of State Information Bill public relations disasters, but is he able to deal effectively with our dismal broadband situation? Faith Muthamba takes on what is probably euphemistically called 'Communications', responsible for the beleaguered SABC and the powerful GCIS and 'Brand SA'; a propaganda machine or a real drive towards better information for citizens? Only time will tell.

Mike Masutha is left the unenviable task of commandeering the new 'super' Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services. Should we be concerned that 'Constitutional Affairs' has dropped off the nomenclature for this ministry? Masutha is an able individual with a legal background which will stand him in good stead for the tough task ahead, which will include the administration of justice and the Judicial Services Commission, to name a few.

There was palpable relief when Nathi Mthethwa was moved out of the Police Ministry to make way for the Nathi Nhleko, former ANC chief whip and Director-General in the Department of Labour. A reasonable individual, known for his open-door policy towards civil society when he was in Parliament, he will hopefully bring with him a new tone to this embattled ministry.

But when Zuma announced the changes he continued the theme of his inauguration speech and that was one of 'radical' social change and transformation. As president he finds himself in a tricky position; not yet the lame-duck president, but getting there fast. His lame-duck status may well be accelerated given the ANC's 2016 local government elections. Pravin Gordhan has been moved to the Co-operative Governance portfolio, no doubt to bring his considerable heft and technical capability to the vexed area of poor service delivery, Yet, the issues in local government are complex and Gordhan will have to be prepared to take on the vested interests and patronage networks which often drive local politics. Ironically, it was then deputy minister Yunus Carrim who worked very hard at exposing the weaknesses in local government.

For Zuma though the local government elections will be important given the threat which the DA and EFF pose to the ANC specifically in Gauteng. But, Zuma also has to navigate the 2017 ANC elective conference and the rest of his term until 2019. Whether he survives a full term after the ANC conference remains to be seen.

The next few years will be interesting and possibly turbulent.

Judith February is a senior associate at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

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