All eyes on Zuma s new cabinet

May 10, 2009 12:00 am

, JOHANNESBURG, May 10 – New South African President Jacob Zuma unveils his cabinet Sunday with all eyes on the key finance portfolio tasked with steering the country through approaching recession.

Zuma has promised to boost the country’s lacklustre public service and at his inauguration Saturday reiterated that much work lay ahead in a speech that balanced themes of reconciliation and sober challenges.

"The dreams and hopes of all the people of our country must be fulfilled," he told 5,000 invited guests and 50,000 onlookers at his swearing-in in Pretoria.

"There is no place for complacency, no place for cynicism, no place for excuses. Together we must build a society that prizes excellence and rewards effort, which shuns laziness and incompetence," he added.

South African newspapers called for honesty and hard work as they ushered in the new era.

Zuma and his cabinet would have to "do more with less" to deliver promises to do away with poverty, crime and unemployment, said the Sunday Times.

"Jacob Zuma holds the prize," said its editorial, which called for good governance.

"Now it is the country and not the party that begs the attention of the new government."

While speculation is rife on who will be named to the country’s fourth democratic government, the 67-year-old has warned that there will be no favours when he announces his line-up, despite pressure to please leftist backers.

They supported him throughout an eight-year corruption probe and drove his stunning come-back from the political wilderness after he was fired as deputy president in 2005 by the then president Thabo Mbeki.

His team takes office as South Africa heads into its first recession since the fall of apartheid 15 years ago.

"We must acknowledge that we find ourselves in difficult economic times," Zuma said on Saturday.

"We will not be spared the negative impact, and are beginning to feel the pinch. This will require more hard work than ever before."

The finance portfolio is the most closely watched with popular, long-serving minister Trevor Manuel tipped for a cabinet redeployment after 13 years at that post, which made him a favourite with investors.

Manuel is credited with having steered South Africa’s banks safely through the global meltdown. The charismatic finance chief also oversaw the country’s first budget surplus in 30 years.

Another key appointment will be Zuma’s choice of health minister after years of AIDS denialism under Mbeki that let the world’s worst HIV crisis spiral to lethal proportions.

Activists want Zuma to retain no-nonsense veteran activist Barbara Hogan who was appointed to the post late last year by Zuma’s immediate predecessor, president Kgalema Motlanthe.

Motlanthe is tipped to serve as his deputy where he is likely to be viewed as a steady hand and a welcome sign of continuity in the presidency.

"There will be a mix of old and new" in Zuma’s cabinet, political analyst Adam Habib told AFP.

The media called on Zuma to watch his cabinet ministers closely and replace those who did not perform. Mbeki who was frequently criticised for keeping on under-performing ministers.

"Corrupt ministers and officials must be fired, not redeployed or allowed to fight on endlessly at the public’s expense," said the Sunday Times.

Zuma took office after his ascent to power was nearly derailed by corruption claims and bitter in-fighting within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

His fierce rivalry with former, Nelson Mandela’s immediate heir, sparked a dramatic power struggle within the party.

Zuma ultimately took control in December 2007 and pushed the ANC to sack Mbeki as head of state nine months later, provoking a breakaway from the former liberation movement.

Despite the dissent, he led the party to a 66 percent victory in general elections on April 22.


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