In the United States of America, talk is that when a US president’s popularity ratings start to wane, they would find a new war somewhere in a third world country they can win to distract attention from themselves and get the country to unite behind a single cause.
In South Africa, the unpopular but wily President Jacob Zuma has once again found a way to distract us away from a damning Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that the National Prosecuting Authority reinstate the charges against him.
From Friday morning when the judgement was handed down political writers, analysts and cartoonists had a field day discussing how he would eventually land in jail, even if he tries dodging charges right now.
But by Tuesday morning Zuma had completely switched the conversation. The discussion now was why he had reshuffled his Cabinet yet again and the political ramifications of his actions.
As he had done with previous reshuffles, Zuma did not bother to explain. In fact his security detail pushed away a reporter who dared to ask the question while Zuma was opening a dam in Limpopo on Tuesday morning.
Because he has not explained anything, it is hard to find the positives from the reshuffles.
This is because even before you consider the merits of the movements, the first point to note is that all the deadwood in Cabinet – including Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown – were not touched.
They were neither moved sideways nor axed altogether, like Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
That omission immediately says this was not about improving government performance. It was about something else.
First, I agree with most South Africans who say it’s about the nuclear deal.
Former Intelligence Minister David Mahlobo, who has been in touch with the Russians about energy matters, had all along been prepared for this role. Zuma wants a trusted ally who can give the Russians what they want without blinking an eyelid.
Second, it was about punishing a former ally, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, who had turned against him and become a critic.
Nzimande had long feared that he would be axed. When the rumours first surfaced that Nzimande could be axed, a story was spread then that Zuma was targeting communists.
But by dealing with Nzimande alone, Zuma has caused confusion among the communists, who on Tuesday voiced their anger but were lacking in detail about a course of action.
He also punished former Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, who was only appointed six months ago, for daring to show a level of independence from him and for not taking control of the SABC in the manner he wanted.
But most importantly, Zuma consolidated his own position. He showed loyalty to the misfiring ministers, who will be more motivated to support him and his preferred candidates for ANC’s December conference.
He picked Bongani Bongo from obscurity to make him state security minister, generating another position of patronage for a minister who owes his position to him. He chose a trusted ally in Mahlobo to sign whatever needs to be signed in energy deals.
Zuma cares little what we think. We may pontificate all we want, but he gets away with what he wants.
Even the ANC leadership said through secretary-general Gwede Mantashe that they were merely informed but not consulted.
Having survived all efforts to remove him from office in the past year, it is once again Jacob Zuma 1- Critics 0