This week, on the day when Anglo American stocks touched a 15-year low in London, President Jacob Zuma chose to appoint an obscure Free State MP, with no knowledge of mining but with ties to the controversial Gupta family, as his new mineral resources minister.
The incumbent, Ngoako Ramatlhodi (now moved to the public service portfolio), had been in the job for just over a year and his natural successor was his well-regarded deputy, Godfrey Oliphant. The timing of Mosebenzi Zwane’s appointment seems deeply enigmatic. The frazzled mining sector, caught between the aftershock of last year’s platinum strike and crashing resource prices, is about to embark on Mining Phakisa, a critical strategic engagement with the state.
Actually, it all makes perfect sense. What one has to realise is that Zuma’s political manoeuvrings have little connection with the national interest and more to do with his own narrow future and looking after his family and friends. The startling elevation of Zwane, which no one in the ruling party seems to have foreseen, is a typical Zuma tactic to rattle ambitious climbers and reinforce his powers of patronage.
But it has a deeper purpose. With the ANC’s national general council looming, it is clearly intended to reward and shore up Free State Premier Ace Magashule, to whom Zwane is known to be close.
One of Zuma’s loyalists and a member of the so-called premier league, which includes the premiers of Mpumalanga and North West, Magashule is at the forefront of a campaign to head off the succession challenge of Cyril Ramaphosa and advance the presidential cause of Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. This has nothing to do with strengthening the position of women in government and everything to do with extending Zuma’s influence over the ANC and the government once his second term ends.
There is a bonus for Zuma Inc. As Free State agriculture minister, Zwane approved the R144-million Vrede dairy fiasco, to which the Gupta family was linked. By providing an official “government-to-government” invitation to one of the guests, he also gave the Guptas a fig leaf to cover their nakedness during the uproar over the abuse of the Waterkloof airbase when an aircraft carrying guests to a Gupta wedding landed there in contravention of civil aviation laws.
*This comment originally appeared as an editorial in the Mail & Guardian.
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