Mbeki gives top job to scourge of drugs giants

ONE OF South Africa's most brash and controversial politicians, Nkosazana Zuma, became one of Africa's most powerful women yesterday when President Thabo Mbeki named her foreign minister.

But announcing the first cabinet of the post-Mandela era, the new South African leader did not fail to make a gesture towards the markets by reappointing the respected finance and trade ministers, Trevor Manuel and Alec Irwin.

The markets responded by strengthening the rand.

The Inkatha Freedom Party leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who remains minister for home affairs, allegedly turned down the deputy president's post. This has been rendered largely ceremonial by the creation of a new "ministry to the presidency", to be headed by Essop Pahad, a friend of Mr Mbeki's since their days at Sussex University. Jacob Zuma, the jovial second in command of the African National Congress - which holds two-thirds of seats in parliament after the latest election - takes the deputy president's role. This means that two divorcees, Jacob and Nkosazana Zuma, will face each other once a week in cabinet meetings.

Ms Zuma, who is seen by her supporters as frank and outspoken, is very close to Mr Mbeki - a factor which protected her in South Africa's first democratic government, in which she was health minister and he was deputy president.

A former ANC militant, she has often been at the centre of controversy, taking on the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries. She was once the subject of a scandal for her ministry's sponsorship of a lavish Aids-awareness musical that cost a fifth of the government's budget for fighting the disease.

Mr Mbeki is expected to make the fight against HIV a personal campaign. He always wears an Aids ribbon and, in Pretoria yesterday, so did most of his cabinet members.

An absentee in the appointments was Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who had been tipped for a government role after working hard during the ANC's election campaign. Also missing were several ministers of the Mandela era with dissenting voices, such as Pallo Jordan and Derek Hanekom. This will confirm the view that Mr Mbeki intends to run a tight ship.

The new president, 57 today, has appointed professionals to their own fields, such as Kader Asmal, a former teacher, who moves from a successful spell in water affairs to education.

Mr Mbeki said his nominations were mainly a reshuffle, and that he was "not visualising any major changes in policy".