, PRETORIA, Nov 1 – South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday fired seven ministers, including a senior official in the ruling ANC party, in what he said was a bid to better meet the needs of the country\’s poor.
"We are guided by the mission of our government, which is to improve the quality of life of all South Africans especially the poor, working with all our people," Zuma told reporters.
He said that in the 17 months he had been president, he had been able to study the functioning of administration "to ascertain what works and what needs to be changed or strengthened."
Among those axed was controversial communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, a senior official in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), who previously served as the head of the South African National Defence Force.
Also sacked was Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, the minister for women, children and people with disabilities, who was criticised for failing to get the newly established ministry off the ground.
There were no changes however at key ministries such as finance, foreign affairs and home affairs.
Explaining the reshuffle, Zuma said access to basic services like water and power was still as important as it was at the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
"Given the fact that we still face serious challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality in the country, government has to work at a faster pace to change the lives of the poor.
"Our people need to see a visible improvement in the delivery of water, electricity, health care, education, social security, civic services, safety and security and a host of other basic needs.
"We have the resources, including skilled and experienced senior staff, who have to ensure that these services reach our people, under the leadership of their ministers and deputy ministers."
The main opposition Democratic Alliance welcomed the changes.
They showed "a positive indication of renewed focus on accountability," the party\’s parliamentary leader Athol Trollip said in a statement.
"These ministers did not perform, and President Zuma made the right decision to remove them from their positions."
Among those promoted was former youth firebrand Fikile Mbalula, credited with leading the campaign that saw Zuma elected ANC president in 2007. A deputy police minister, he now becomes minister of sport and recreation.
Another former ANC youth wing leader, Malusi Gigaba, moved from deputy minister of home affairs to minister of public enterprise.
But perhaps the most high-profile departure was that of Nyanda, who was replaced by his deputy minister Roy Padayachie.
His sacking came after a string of scandals, including his preference of a five-star Cape Town hotel over his official ministerial accommodation.
During his time as head of the nation\’s armed forces, he was in the spotlight when a company he partially owned received tenders worth millions of dollars from the army.
And he had been criticised for owning shares in one of the country\’s mobile telecommunications operators while he was communications minister, said to constitute a conflict of interest.
Nyanda also made headlines in July when he fired the director general at his department after she questioned tender irregularities.
One senior figure who escaped the axe despite coming under fire in recent months was Richard Baloyi, who heads the public service and administration ministry.
He was criticised for his handling of a recent three-week civil servants\’ strike which crippled public schools and hospitals.
Zuma kept him in his post, choosing instead to give him a deputy minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, one of a number appointments at that level which the president said were designed to strengthen the ministries.