Pravin Gordhan tie riles some as Cyril Ramaphosa beefs up office
'Minorities' hold too much sway, say president's critics
President Cyril Ramaphosa's decision to appoint a former in-law of Pravin Gordhan as his new chief of staff is fuelling perceptions that the former finance minister wields too much influence in the Union Buildings.
Roshene Singh, who was married to Gordhan's nephew Ketso Gordhan, will replace chief of staff Busani Ngcaweni, who is to head the new policy unit in the Presidency.
But this has raised concern in some quarters that the new appointment gives Gordhan, now public enterprises minister, too much proximity to power.
Singh ran the ANC elections machinery in 1999 and worked at South African Tourism. She currently works at Luthuli House as elections co-ordinator.
But critics in the ANC say that by making this appointment, the president is playing into the hands of those who believe he is controlled by certain elements.
There is discontent among those who campaigned for Ramaphosa to become ANC president, with some feeling overlooked. "The president is facing serious challenges within; his appointments are being scrutinised," said an ANC insider who asked not to be named.
"The national question is being used against him. It is a big issue. He needs to exorcise himself of the theory that he likes minorities and they are influential."
The "national question" refers to the imbalance of economic power between races.
EFF leader Julius Malema said Singh's appointment gave credence to his party's claims that Gordhan had become more powerful under the Ramaphosa presidency."This thing just confirms what we have been saying, that this guy is the one who is in charge. Now he has deployed in the president's office directly from his family so the president can be monitored and he can micromanage from a distance."
Malema told journalists last week that Ramaphosa was "useless" by allowing a minister to become as powerful as Gordhan.
However, those close to Gordhan said he was not close to his nephew and that Singh was a political activist in her own right.
Responding to questions, Gordhan said he was being used as a pawn by those seeking to discredit the president.
"The real issue at stake is a sinister and dangerous campaign to undermine the administration of President Ramaphosa and use every dirty trick in the book to discredit the administration's efforts to get South Africa back on track as far as economic growth, jobs and investment is concerned. I am, it would seem, a useful pawn to use as an object of various attacks.
"I do not intend to respond comprehensively. I will do so at the appropriate time to expose the nefarious intentions of those involved," said Gordhan.
Ramaphosa has retained Cassius Lubisi as director-general in the Presidency and the search is on to replace chief operating officer Lakela Kaunda, who has joined Zweli Mkhize at co-operative governance.
Other new appointments in Ramaphosa's office at the Union Buildings include Bejani Chauke and Steyn Speed as political advisers, Donné Nicol as special adviser, Khulu Mbatha as international relations adviser, Nokukhanya Jele as legal adviser, Charles Nqakula as security adviser, Olive Shisana as social policy adviser and Gerhard Koornhof as parliamentary counsellor.
At ANC headquarters, Ramaphosa has brought in former Limpopo premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi as legal adviser and Marion Sparg as head of monitoring and evaluation. Former political prisoner Sparg made headlines in 2003 when, as CEO of the NPA, she was accused of tender-rigging and nepotism. The charges were dropped in 2007.
A senior government official praised some of the appointments for bringing experience and stability. "The president recognised that there was no depth in the advisory team so he brought in experienced people such as Nqakula, Shisana and Mbatha.
"He also wants to build the intellectual credibility of the institution, but he needs people who can be honest in their critique."
Ramaphosa has placed a huge focus on rebuilding the state and attracting foreign investment. He secured a $20-billion (R134-billion) promise of investment in South Africa's oil and gas sector from Saudi Arabia during a Middle East state visit this week.
Presidential spokeswoman Khusela Diko declined to comment on the new appointments as they are yet to be confirmed and announced publicly.