Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has reshuffled her Cabinet only seven months into the new administration.
Zille announced a portfolio switch in a terse statement this afternoon, stating that senior DA politician Theuns Botha who has been Health MEC was moving to Cultural Affairs and Sport.
Botha has been in Zille’s Cabinet since May 2009 when the Democratic Alliance took over the governance of the Western Cape.
He is switching roles with NomaFrench Mbombo, who is new to politics and whose star seems to rise rapidly.
Until May this year she was a professor of community health at the University of the Western Cape. She became a member of the Western Cape provincial parliament after the May 7 general elections and Zille immediately appointed her to her Cabinet as MEC for Cultural Affairs and Sport.
She is one of two women that Zille appointed to her provincial executive.
Zille was not available for comment at the time of publishing, nor was Botha whom sources have described as “fuming” at the development.
Zille’s spokesperson Trace Venter said the premier had used her judgement when making the changes and was confident that her decision would make her Cabinet an even stronger team.
“She believes that all her provincial ministers have the right blend of skills, expertise and experience to deliver on the promises we have made to citizens of the Western Cape and she looks forward to working with them in 2015,” said Venter.
She rejected the view that Botha’s appointment to Cultural Affairs and Sport was a demotion, saying that the government was running a lot of programmes that fall under this department and it was as crucial a portfolio as others.
“The Cultural Affairs and Sport has always been an important portfolio and it is going to be a big focus of this government going forward. I don’t think it’s a demotion and the premier also doesn’t see it as a demotion,” said Venter.
Venter said Zille had considered that Mbombo had a long background in health and that she had done “a very good job” so far in government since she started.
Mbombo’s phone went unanswered when contacted for comment.
DA sources have for many years claimed that there were tensions between Zille and Botha.
These allegedly originate from 2006 when Botha, who was the party’s leader in the Western Cape did not support Zille’s race to become the DA’s mayoral candidate for Cape Town. He instead supported her opponent at the time, Lennit Max, to be the mayor.
This was just one of a number of battles that Botha lost against Zille.
The provincial leadership of the DA is also viewed as divided into two broad factions – the liberals from the old Democratic Party, and a conservative faction comprised of remnants of the old Labour Party and the National Party. Botha is believed to belong to the latter group.
After years of leading the DA in the Western Cape, he relinquished the leadership position in November 2012, but was elected deputy provincial leader, a new post in the party structure.
Sources have claimed that Zille did not want a hullabaloo to be made about the shuffle, and hence the announcement was made when many media houses are on holiday.
Venter said there was nothing sinister about the announcement being made on December 31 besides the fact that it was coming into effect on January 1.