Cabinet Watch

Positives of cabinet reshuffle tainted by Gupta connection

Mosebenzi Zwane, in Gupta’s pocket?
Mosebenzi Zwane.jpg

There were some real positives in President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle last week, but the Gupta fly also returned to spoil the ointment.

With the wisdom of hindsight, it might have been a blessing in disguise that President Zuma waited an extraordinarily long time to fill the position of the late Minister Collins Chabane, killed in a car accident in March this year. It gave him the opportunity to bring in some fresh blood to the portfolio of Mineral Resources at a critical juncture for that key sector of the economy.

The incumbent at Mineral Resources, Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, takes over at the Public Service and Administration portfolio, temporarily filled by Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa since March.

The newcomer to the cabinet is ex-Free Sate MEC for Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Mosebenzi Zwane.

At a time when government has entered into discussions with the mining industry and its stakeholder trade unions about the troubled sector – due also to developments in the global economic environment – it is probably a timely move.

Some years ago, during an informal conversation, the then President F.W. de Klerk told me that he believed regular cabinet reshuffles were not only productive, but also essential.

He argued that in most portfolios there comes a time when it is needed to inject new energy. After some years the plans made by individual ministers are due for review and adaptions. It is not that easy for individuals to admit that some of their plans have not worked and need change.

They might also have picked up some baggage along the way, which makes it difficult for them to bring all stakeholders along in new developments.

In this regard it should be remembered that Minister Ramatlhodi had the unenviable task since May last year, after the general election, to deal with the crippling strike in the platinum mining sector, which was the longest strike in its history. It has, however, now become critical to secure the cooperation of both trade unions and industry to deal with the challenges faced by the industry.

Zwane’s profile

Stepping into his new role, Minister Zwane, at first glance, has much going for him. For one, he should have a fair understanding of the mining industry and the concerns of mineworkers.

He has been the ANC’s constituency contact in its constituency office for Welkom in the heart of the Free State gold fields. He was also a member of the mayoral committee for finance in the Thabo Mofutsanyana District Municipality and became its executive mayor in 2006.

The one-time teacher, with a secondary teacher’s diploma from the South African Teachers College in Pretoria, also holds a certificate in executive leadership in municipal development from the University of Pretoria and studied towards a BCom in financial management at the University of South Africa.

As MEC in the Free State he has a solid reputation for building strong relationships with the private sector and embarking on multi-sector projects.

Enter the Gupta fly

At the end of August we reported how the relationship between President Zuma, and other members of the executive and the Gupta family is “contaminating” government.

As the recent controversy surrounding a tender to deliver coal – which turned out to be coal of inferior quality – to Eskom revealed, the Gupta business interest extends to the mining industry.

And, as far back as May 2013, we warned that the government’s own investigation into the so-called Guptagate affair, when a private plane carrying Gupta wedding guests landed at Waterkloof air force-base, left more questions than answers.

It now turns out that the Gupta family has another close contact in the cabinet and, to boot, one that might have played a key role in the lead-up to the Waterkloof incident.

In that report it is revealed that, after an initial denial to land the plane at Waterkloof, the Guptas resorted to “the use of the diplomatic channel with the support of an individual in the Indian High Commission who re-designated the wedding entourage as an official delegation to enable them to use the Air Force Base Waterkloof under the cover of diplomatic privilege”.

A report in The Sowetan last week, after the announcement of Mr Zwane’s new appointment, reminds readers that it was under his watch as Free State MEC that “his department reportedly sent a letter, on behalf of the provincial government, to Shivpal Yadav, minister in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, inviting him to visit the province.

“The letter was allegedly used to secure permission for the controversial landing of the Gupta family’s private jet with wedding guests at the Waterkloof military airbase in 2013.

“However, there was reportedly no evidence that any official business was done with the Free State government.”

And it is not the only controversy involving the Guptas in the Free State during the time Mr Zwane was the MEC for agriculture. Much controversy still surrounds a R570 million tender to establish a dairy farm, Estina, comprising substantial Gupta involvement, to service the needs of emerging farmers.

The contract was the subject of an investigation by the treasury, which found the project, also dating from 2013, was riddled with irregularities. The investigation also revealed that the project appears to have been conceived during a visit to India by senior department officials and the then agriculture MEC, Mr Zwane.

by Piet Coetzer

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