PRESIDENT Nelson Mandela's recent sudden reshuffle of his Cabinet of national unity strengthens Deputy President Thabo Mbeki's position as heir apparent. Mr. Mbeki's forceful hand was behind the sacking of Dr. Pallo Jordan, a popular figure in the African National Congress (ANC) and minister of posts, telecommunications, and broadcasting, and the placing of key colleagues into other ministerial positions.
Mr. Jordan is an Mbeki rival and antagonist of long standing from the intellectual left. He is believed to have irked President Mandela by opposing his reconciliation policies toward Afrikaners, especially with regard to the continued use of Afrikaans on state-controlled television and in the schools and Army. He also spoke out against clauses in the new Constitution (still being debated in South Africa) that would sacrifice the civil liberties for which the ANC fought, substituting provisions that could help combat crime.
Jordan and Mbeki clashed most decisively in 1994 and 1995, when Mbeki sought a guaranteed slot on South African TV to put forward the views of the ANC and extol its accomplishments. Jordan opposed anything that smacked of government interference with a free press and media.
In the Cabinet reshuffle, Trevor Manuel, minister of trade and industry, becomes minister of finance. Mr. Manuel is a technocrat with limited political following. He replaces Chris Liebenberg, an independent white banker, who resigned when it was clear that the finance ministry was becoming politicized.
Manuel's approach to managing the South African economy should prove little different than that of Mr. Liebenberg. Both are market-oriented. Both sought a more open trading regime, and Manuel promoted the lowering of South Africa's high tariff barriers against its poorer neighbors, like Zimbabwe.
The South African corporate community nevertheless favored the promotion of Alec Erwin, former Communist trade unionist and deputy minister of finance, to Liebenberg's post. Instead, he was given Manuel's old trade and industry position, presumably to strengthen Mbeki's own control over the government and the key economy ministry.
Mr. Erwin had impressed businesspeople and the international finance community with his keen awareness of South Africa's urgent need for job growth. (More than 40 percent of all South Africans are unemployed.) Despite his background, he favored market competition and an end to state intervention.
The sharpest words in Mandela's announcement of the reshuffle were reserved for the much trumpeted Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). He acknowledged the failure to date of that initiative, directed by Minister without Portfolio Jay Naidoo. Too few houses have been built (the target is 1 million in 10 years), too few schools constructed and equipped, and too few jobs created. (In fact, there appears to have been a net job loss in the past year.) Mandela moved Mr. Naidoo, nevertheless, into Jordan's post.
The RDP office and team, however, were retained, but under Mbeki. They will be linked more closely with Mbeki's own economic advisers. The deputy president, both through the RDP office and through his relationship with the new minister of finance, will have a commanding role in promoting economic change and delivering results popular with the public.
Mandela's reshuffle served Mbeki's political interests, and focused the succession race in a manner that Mandela has favored from the beginning of black rule. By sacking Jordan unceremoniously, and thus departing unexpectedly from his usual support of old colleagues, the president also showed that he can be tough and decisive. He put other members of the Cabinet on notice that too much outspoken disagreement with the head man was dangerous. Mbeki may want that precedent to survive into his own presidency.