, CAPE TOWN, May 11 – South African President Jacob Zuma’s surprising and diverse new cabinet matches his pledges to smash poverty and boost development, but enormous challenges remain, analysts said.
The country’s new president, whose controversial history and leftist allies had caused concern, swelled the ranks of cabinet in a massive overhaul of government to put more focus on key ministries and create a new system of oversight.
"In many respects it makes great sense, the institutional redesign of cabinet portfolios," said Susan Booysen, a political analyst at the Wits University in Johannesburg.
"It gives the sense that they know exactly where some of the implementation problems are, in planning and monitoring," she said. "The development theme comes out very strongly. More of the departments have a development in their designation than they had previously."
The new team was to take office Monday as the economy is sliding toward recession, dragged down by the global economic crisis, making it even harder to pull down an unemployment rate estimated at 40 percent.
They also face the enduring legacy of poverty, especially in rural areas, that have been forgotten in the recent boom years.
Dirk Kotze, political analyst at the University of South Africa, said Zuma’s appointments appeared to be following through on promises to focus on job creation, education, health, rural development and crime.
"There is an element of continuity. On the other hand what is interesting is the number of new portfolios," said Kotze.
Top among the newly created jobs was leading a powerful new planning commission, given to Trevor Manuel, who had led the finance ministry for 13 years.
He won wide acclaim for sheltering South Africa from the worst of the global economic crisis, and rumours of his possible move have rattled markets in the past.
Manuel’s successor, respected tax boss Pravin Gordhan, had been floated well ahead of time in a bid to reassure markets against major shifts in economic policy, analysts said.
"By including Pravin Gordhan they tried to find a substitute who will be almost in the same league as Trevor Manuel… and someone with really a solid background in the financial sector."
Kotze said Manuel’s move was effectively a promotion as the National Planning Commission "might be a type of a super ministry" with its oversight of all other departments.
"Instead of creating a vacuum with his departure, that reinforces his position."
But the vital health ministry, which deteriorated under the dissident AIDS policies of former president Thabo Mbeki, will be led by a little known provincial leader Aaron Motsoaledi.
AIDS lobby group Treatment Action Campaign expressed surprise at the shuffle, warning it could set back the fight against HIV, which affects some 5.7 million people in South Africa.
"I have to say that it’s very disappointing," spokesman Mark Heywood said, adding that Motsoaledi, a medical doctor, may have sterling qualities but he should quickly move to reassure the AIDS community.
ANC allies from the communist party and trade unions received several key posts, but Kotze said fears of a significant shift to the left were unfounded.
"The fear that existed will certainly not materialise in government. The left is not as influential as some might think."
But opposition leader Helen Zille said her Democratic Alliance warned Zuma’s changes were no guarantee of success.
"It remains to be seen whether … the creation of a planning commission within the presidency will have any positive effect on service delivery," she said.