South Africa’s Jacob Zuma faces first big test of new govt

Bruised but victorious, Jacob Zuma will be sworn in for a second term as South African president this week. Who he chooses as his lieutenants will help decide if the next five years are as rocky as the last.

After the ANC-dominated parliament has formally elected him as president on Wednesday and he is sworn in on Saturday, Zuma faces the first big decision of his second term: who will be in the cabinet.

In the past, the buildup to the choice of top-line ministers has been overhyped before the actual appointments dashed expectations of change.

Zuma has tended to distribute the government’s 30-plus ministerial posts among the ANC’s rival factions, meaning reshuffles have a little something for everyone. 

But with the country’s economic problems mounting and investors parking their money on the sidelines waiting for reform, Zuma’s choices this time round could have far-reaching consequences.

‘The disappointing domestic growth prospects will be a major challenge for the government this year,’ said RMB economist Mamello Matikinca. ‘The need to address labour issues has become more pressing.’ 

The moneymen will welcome unionist-turned-businessman Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment as deputy president, but will be looking to see who gets top economy-related portfolios as an indicator of whether the much-vaunted and little-implemented National Development Plan will finally become more than words.

The plan, first floated in 2011, envisages a swathe of major infrastructure projects, labour reforms to curb unemployment and rejects the nationalisation of key sectors such as mining. 

It has been moribund thanks to opposition from within the ANC and with the party’s allies in the South African Communist Party and in the trade union movement, which say it is too liberal.

Who Zuma choses and why will be seized upon as an indication ‘that the centre of gravity may be shifting’ within the ruling party, according to Nomura economist Peter Attard Montalto.

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