11. May 2009

New Cabinet points to policy continuity

President Jacob Zuma announced a major overhaul of government on Sunday, naming powerful figures to key posts charged with overseeing and improving the South Africa's limping public services.
One day after his swearing in, Zuma announced a restructured Cabinet including minority party members and leftist allies, establishing a powerful planning commission which will be headed by the hugely popular former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
Zuma said the strategic planning body would "enable us to take a more comprehensive view of socio-economic development in the country".
Former tax boss Pravin Gordhan, credited with improving tax collection during his time at the helm of the country's revenue service, will take over in steering the crucial ministry through a global economic crisis.
Kgalema Motlanthe, the outgoing president seen as a benchwarmer after his predecessor Thabo Mbeki was forced to resign, will be deputy president.
Zuma, who campaigned hard on a pro-poor platform promising change and a renewed focus on service delivery warned civil servants that "the era of hard work has begun".
"We reiterate that we will not tolerate laziness and incompetence and that we will emphasise excellence and achievement from the Cabinet and the public service," he said.
"With these objectives in mind, I am confident that the new structures of government will enable the state machinery to speed up service delivery," he said of his new Cabinet, inflated to 34 ministers and 28 deputy ministers.
The key health ministry has also changed hands, going to relatively unknown provincial education head Aaron Motsoaledi while Barbara Hogan -- in the health job for only seven months -- was moved to the key public enterprises post.
Mark Heywood of the Aids lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign said he worried that the second switch in less than a year at the top of the ministry could set back the fight against the pandemic.
Mbeki's denialist policies saw the HIV/Aids crisis spiral out of control, giving the country one of the world's worst infection rates while his health minister promoted vegetables instead of medicine.
"I have to say that it's very disappointing," Heywood said, adding that Motsoaledi, a medical doctor, may have sterling qualities but he should quickly move to meet industry players.
About 5,7-million people in South Africa are living with the HIV virus that leads to Aids, which itself claims an estimated 1 000 lives a day, according to United Nations data.
Zuma also split the minerals and energy ministry into two, believed to give better focus to the key energy industry which was marred last year by mass blackouts.
The education department was also divided into two, with close Zuma backer Blade Nzimande -- the head of the South African Communist Party -- named chief of higher education.
Zuma named the head of one of the smaller white minority parties, Pieter Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus, as deputy minister of agriculture. Many white Afrikaans farmers have complained their views are not heard by government.
While campaigning Zuma had promised minority groups a more inclusive approach to government.
"Pieter Mulder is a South African. He belongs to a particular political party. And as we said all the time in ANC, we are very embracive in terms of cooperating with other political parties," said Zuma.
Zuma's team takes office as South Africa is sliding toward its first recession since the fall of apartheid 15 years ago.
"I don't think that there is going to be a fundamental change in economic policy," said analyst Adam Habib, setting events in the context of big-bank bailouts and nationalisations in major Western economies.
"I think there will be a slight shift to the left but frankly in a world where there's such dramatic shifts to the left by the United States and the United Kingdom, our shifts are going to be very moderate," he said.
Zuma's ascent to power was nearly derailed by corruption claims and bitter in-fighting within the African National Congress (ANC), however after a mammoth struggle he led the party to a 66% victory in general elections on April 22.
'Bad news' for South Africa But, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille feared the Cabinet line-up might signal a shift in macro-economic policy to appease Cosatu and the SACP and criticised it as including several "serial under-performers".
"With few exceptions, President Jacob Zuma's new Cabinet is bad news for South Africa," Zille said.
"In addition a host of sinecure deputy ministries have been created, more to solve the ANC's internal political problems at taxpayers' expense, than to add value to service delivery."
Investec investment strategist Brian Kantor said the Cabinet line-up included concessions to the left in the shape of Patel and Nzimande, but that Manuel was expected to keep a firm grip on economic policy in a move that would go down well with international markets.
"Gordhan has a lot of institutional memory, but a minister of finance is more than a technocrat. Maybe the political job will be done by Manuel.
"He's a realist. That kind of realism and that kind of experience is very useful and very good," Kantor said. (mail&guardian)

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