Shiceka, Mahlangu-Nkabinde axed, Cele suspended
President Jacob Zuma has cut his losses and sent out a strong message on accountability by axing two controversial cabinet ministers and suspending the national police commissioner.
After months of suspense and questions regarding Zuma's tardy response to two damning public protector reports, Zuma, in a special briefing at the Union Buildings yesterday, announced major changes to his cabinet that are likely to appease some of those questioning his leadership.
Almost a year to the day since his previous cabinet reshuffle, a visibly tense Zuma fired Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, who was implicated in the dodgy R1.78-billion police headquarters leasing deals, described as unlawful by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
Also axed was Minister of Cooperative Governance Sicelo Shiceka, who was savaged by Madonsela for wasting hundreds of thousands of rands of taxpayers' money on overseas travel and hotel accommodation - and for lying about it when called to account.
Speculation about the future of South Africa's top cop, General Bheki Cele, has also been temporarily put to rest with Zuma announcing his suspension and the establishment of a board of inquiry, headed by a senior retired judge, to look into Cele's alleged misconduct in the police headquarters leasing deals.
Mahlangu-Nkabinde was appointed on October 31 last year. Shiceka, who has been on leave since February, has made headlines for abusing taxpayers' money, including on visiting a girlfriend in a Swiss jail.
Neither Zuma nor his spokesman, Mac Maharaj, would give clear reasons for the president's decisions. Maharaj said only that Madonsela's investigations into the alleged misconduct of the two ministers was "part of the consideration". Maharaj would not go into detail about further action that might be taken against Mahlangu-Nkabinde or Shiceka.
In his previous reshuffle, last year, Zuma said he took action to strengthen his ministries by appointing individuals who "fully understand the needs of our people and what we are trying to achieve". This time, Zuma merely read out the appointments and left the briefing.
The latest reshuffle might strengthen Zuma's hand as the ANC prepares for a fiercely contested elective conference in Mangaung next year. It will appease the ANC's alliance partner, Cosatu, which has been calling on Zuma to take tough action on corruption.
Yesterday, opposition parties and civil society groups said his action - which included the naming of three judges to the commission of inquiry into the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal - would help strengthen public trust in anti-corruption bodies and show that corruption was being dealt with regardless of the seniority of the officials involved.
The commission's terms of reference will be announced today.
In the major reshuffle announced yesterday:
- Mahlangu-Nkabinde was replaced by Deputy Minister for Rural Development and Land Reform Thembelani "Thulas" Nxesi.
The appointment of Nxesi, a former general secretary of Sadtu, is expected to shore up support for Zuma in the ANC leadership race from the teachers' union, which is a significant player within Cosatu;
- Shiceka was replaced by Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi;
- Dina Pule, the Deputy Minister for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, has been appointed Minister of Communications;
- Communications Minister Roy Padayachie takes over Public Service and Administration;
- Deputy Communications Minister Obed Bapela was appointed deputy minister in the Presidency; and
- Deputy Minister of Public Works Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu has been appointed deputy minister for women, children and people with disabilities.
Two newcomers to Zuma's cabinet include Lechesa Tsenoli, chairman of parliament's cooperative governance portfolio committee, who becomes deputy minister for rural development, and ANC MP Stella Ndabeni, who has been promoted to the job of deputy communications minister.
Ndabeni yesterday said she was "ecstatic". She was made an MP after the 2009 elections and was a member of the ANC Youth League's national executive committee until she was axed about 15 months ago.
Ndabeni submitted a sworn affidavit against the league in favour of Julius Malema's rival, the league's former Limpopo chairman, Lehlogonolo Masoga.
DA leader Helen Zille said Zuma's government has been beset by controversy for months, and welcomed the axing of the two ministers, and Cele's suspension.
"Accountability is critical to making democracy work. If ministers abuse their power, they must be fired," said Zille.
The Freedom Front Plus's Pieter Groenewald, who complained to the public protector about the lease deals, welcomed the investigation into Cele.
In July, after an investigation into the lease deals, Madonsela heaped criticism on Mahlangu-Nkabinde, calling on Zuma to take harsh action against her.
Madonsela found that she had acted "improperly" and "unlawfully", and that the deals were illegal and invalid.