JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s new president announced a Cabinet shuffle late Monday that replaces the finance minister and puts a former finance minister in charge of the country’s troubled state-owned companies.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was sworn in this month after former South African leader Jacob Zuma resigned in the face of multiple corruption allegations, signalled his intent to clean up the graft that has weakened one of Africa’s top economies by appointing two widely respected former finance ministers.
One of them, Nhlanhla Nene, will return to that post after being replaced by Zuma in late 2015. And Pravin Gordhan, whose firing by Zuma last year sent South Africa’s economy briefly into recession, will rejoin the Cabinet as public enterprises minister.
The finance minister who replaced Gordhan, Malusi Gigaba, has been criticized for his ties to the Gupta business family that is accused of using its association with Zuma to manipulate state companies for its own financial benefit. Ramaphosa moved Gigaba back to the home affairs ministry.
Ramaphosa said David Mabuza will become deputy president after he is sworn in Tuesday as a member of parliament.
Last week, Ramaphosa said his Cabinet would shrink after a months-long review and that his government would conduct “lifestyle audits” on government officials, starting with his office.
Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader and businessman who was deputy president under Zuma, made the Cabinet announcement 90 minutes after it had been scheduled despite his calls for the government to do things on time.
The new president apologized for the delay and said “last-minute consultations” had to be made, an indication of the negotiations he is having behind the scenes with Zuma’s allies as he seeks to unify the ruling African National Congress party ahead of next year’s elections.
South Africa’s largest opposition parties quickly criticized parts of the Cabinet reshuffle. The Democratic Alliance party said Ramaphosa had fired “Zuma loyalists,” hinting that the changes were more about factional manoeuvring within the ruling party than anything else.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane also asserted that Mabuza was unfit to be deputy president because of corruption and other scandals tied to his leadership of Mpumalanga province.
“The decision to retain the bloated, oversized Cabinet means Ramaphosa has failed to seize this first opportunity to cut the size of Cabinet. We should not have to wait for a review study to cut the waste,” Maimane said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters party said the reassignments indicated that Ramaphosa was putting the interests of the ruling party above national interests.
“The ANC does not have energy. It does not have new people with new ideas,” Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, an EFF parliamentarian, told state broadcaster SABC.
Ramaphosa also appointed a former rival to the presidential office, selecting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to direct planning, monitoring and evaluation.
Rampahosa narrowly defeated Dlamini-Zuma, the former president’s ex-wife, in a December race for the leadership of the ANC. The victory positioned Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma as president.