First published May 14 2009

Jacob Zuma’s cabinet was announced in mid-May. This report looks at each minister and deputy minister and gives a brief  introduction to each one.

Summary conclusions 

  • This cabinet is shaped by the competing objectives of improving performance/delivery and the political requirement to satisfy both the SACP/Cosatu constituency who backed Zuma’s rise and investors, foreign and local;
  • Prior to the announcement, the main financial market concern was that Jacob Zuma would, out of indebtedness to his left-wing backers, appoint individuals to cabinet who would influence macro-economic policy in a ‘populist’ direction;
  • These concerns gave rise to particular focus on the future of outgoing Minster of Finance Trevor Manuel.
  • This specific issue has been resolved as a secondary consequence of a major cabinet restructuring exercise designed to improve the high-level strategic direction and co-ordination of government work by the creation of 2 potentially powerful planning and monitoring/evaluation cabinet posts within the President’s Office – with Manuel heading the planning commission;
  • As has been long expected, South African Revenue Services head Pravin Gordhan becomes Minister of Finance, with the expectation that he will provide continuity and probity post-Manuel;
  • A new department, Economic Development, as well as Trade and Industry are headed by “leftists” – who are also both technically strong in their fields. The appointments of Ebrahim Patel and Rob Davies must presage significantly increased job protection, tariff protection and an increased preparedness to use the state to shape particular sectors of the economy.
  • The most powerful individuals (politically) are clustered in the security sector;
  • Areas of concern include education and labour, partly because these are crucial as well as poorly functioning areas of government. SACP secretary general, Blade Nzimande is appointed head higher education and training (now separated from ‘basic’ education). Membathisi Madladlana is a disappointing reappointment as Minster of Labour after having shown himself unconcerned about labour market rigidities and unwilling to step on the toes of organised labour.
  • There are clearly identifiable ‘payback appointments’, rewarding loyalty to Zuma in the struggle against Mbeki. While these are often necessary political compromises (and there are a number of people who backed Zuma who have adequate skills for the job – therefore the assessment needs to be cautious) there are occasions when it is not apparent what skills these loyalists bring to the position which they have won.
  • Interestingly, where appointments have been made to reward ‘the left’ the appointees are universally technically skilled and hard working.
  • On the whole, an upside surprise, with an abundance of technical skills and proven energy and track record as well as a degree of presidential political skill shown in negotiating/bullying a sophisticated compromises on structure and personnel.

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