Mbeki appoints Cabinet, retains key ministers

South African president says he doesn't envision major policy changes

June 18, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PRETORIA, South Africa -- President Thabo Mbeki appointed a down-to-business Cabinet yesterday, shuffling some portfolios and leaving others in the hands of key ministers from the administration of former President Nelson Mandela.

"The majority of the people are people who have served in the last government as ministers or deputy ministers. Clearly, one of the things we are saying is they have worked very well," Mbeki said.

He chose Jacob Zuma, deputy president of the African National Congress, to be his deputy president, ending speculation that the No. 2 job would go to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party.

Buthelezi rejected a proposal from Mbeki's ruling ANC that in return for the deputy presidency he accept an ANC premier in his home-base province of KwaZulu-Natal. Inkatha narrowly defeated the ANC there in the provincial part of this month's elections.

Zuma, who was economic and tourism minister in the KwaZulu-Natal government, is a popular figure and a respected political strategist and organizer.

His appointment extracts him from the political morass in KwaZulu-Natal, where negotiations on the makeup of the new provincial government are continuing.

The big Cabinet surprise was the appointment of Nkosazana Zuma, the former health minister and former wife of the new deputy president, to take over foreign affairs from the low-profile Alfred Nzo.

Ruling out major policy shifts overseas, Mbeki said at a press conference: "For the last five years, South African foreign policy has been very healthy and very sound."

Domestically, Nkosazana Zuma established herself as a controversial manager of the health portfolio, taking on the tobacco industry with anti-smoking legislation so tough that Mandela sent it back as possibly unconstitutional, and promoting the drug Virodene as a potential cure for AIDS.

Zuma is widely viewed as the second most-powerful woman in the country, after Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who is head of the ANC's Women's League and Mandela's former wife.

Madikizela-Mandela was not in the Cabinet lineup.

Mbeki pointed out he had doubled the number of women in Cabinet posts -- to eight of the 29 positions -- to "make the point that we are, indeed, committed to the matter of the emancipation of women."

Two key economic portfolios remain unchanged, with Trevor Manuel retaining control of the finance ministry and Alex Erwin serving his second term at trade and industry. Both are well regarded by the business community.

"The policy positions that have evolved over the past five years have been very good positions, so we are not visualizing major changes of policy," Mbeki said.

Perhaps the most testing job in the Cabinet falls to former Sports Minister Steve Tshwete, who moved to the safety and security portfolio to tackle the country's crime crisis.

Mbeki has made the fight against crime a top priority, but in a society so racially and economically divided and so heavily armed, combating violence is proving difficult.

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