Zuma Starts Second Term
South African president Jacob Zuma started a second five-year term on Saturday, appointing a cabinet that has drawn sharp criticism from financial analysts.
While Zuma claimed an overwhelming general election victory on May 7, the ANC’s share of the vote slipped for a third consecutive time.
The party’s credibility has suffered under the weight of recent corruption scandals and economic protests have taken their toll.
The swearing-in ceremony was marked by the absence of representatives from the United States and Great Britain. Officials from South Africa’s fellow BRIC nations Russia, India, and China were on hand to witness the event.
U.S. president Barack Obama did congratulate Zuma in a private phone call, notes the BBC.
Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by former ANC member Julius Malema, disturbed the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony by showing up in bright red overalls and hardhats. Female members dressed as maids.
Malema told reporters that his group showed up dressed in blue collar attire to show they represent the interests of the working class in South Africa.
The South African economy has struggled to recover from the 2009 recession, with job growth at its lowest in five years. Labor unrest among platinum miners, coupled with the beleaguered energy company Eskom’s warning that power may be reduced during these winter months has contributed to lowering consumer and business confidence.
Zuma’s cabinet appointments on Sunday roundly drew sharp criticism from political analysts and economists. The removal of Pravin Gordhan from his post as finance minister was denounced by many. Gordhan, who steered the South African economy through its first recession in 17 years while reigning in spending, cracking down on waste and fighting off special interests.
Gordhan warned in 2011 that South Africa could go the way of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya if its leaders ignore inequality and unemployment.
Gordhan was replaced by Nhlanhla Nene, who has been at the Treasury since 2008 and becomes the country’s first black finance minister.
“The cabinet appointments suggest that political logic prevailed over economic reform priorities and a good governance agenda,” Anne Fruhauf, southern Africa analyst at New York-based risk adviser Teneo Intelligence, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying. “Gordhan’s removal may raise concerns over the Treasury’s ability to stick to its course of fiscal consolidation and its clampdown on corruption.”
Zuma also appointed new energy and mining ministers with no experience in those industries. He also expanded the cabinet to include new ministries like the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services as well as the Department of Small Business Development.
Investors looking for more private sector participation have blasted the move, noting the South African government is now among the largest bureaucracies in the world.
“Our Cabinet is simply too big,” said Seisfa Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kaizer Nyatsumba on South African business radio program The Money Show.
“In 1994, President Nelson Mandela constituted a Cabinet made up of 28 ministers,” said Nyatsumba. “That number remained the same when President [Thabo] Mbeki became president. When President Zuma came in, that number jumped to 34 and now to 35.”
In comparison, Nyatsumba noted the United States has 15 department heads, Germany 16 ministers, and Japan has 18.