* Zuma says changes made to strengthen government
* ANC heavyweight Nyanda loses cabinet post
* Zuma may hope biggest reshuffle will appease left
(Corrects wording of fifth par, substituting ‘relations’ for ‘tensions’)
By David Dolan
PRETORIA, Oct 31 (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma sacked seven ministers on Sunday in a major cabinet reshuffle aimed at strengthening the government and seen as making some concessions to the left.
Zuma told a news conference that the reshuffle — the biggest change in the government since he became president in May 2009 — was aimed at boosting government ministries, and improving basic services and the lives of the poor.
“Given the fact that we still face serious challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality in the country, government has to work at a faster pace to change the lives of the poor,” Zuma said.
The government’s leftist allies in labour federation COSATU and the South African Communist Party have piled pressure on Zuma to create more jobs and lift economic growth in Africa’s biggest economy.
Relations between the ruling ANC and COSATU have soured over a public sector strike which was settled in October with a 7.5 percent wage increase — double that of the rate of inflation.
The government said last week it aimed to create 5 million jobs over the next decade. [ID:nLDE69P111]
The change was one of the most radical overhauls of the South African cabinet in several years and some of the changes could be due to Zuma making a concession to his leftist labour and communist allies, said Nel Marais, analyst at Executive Research Associates.
He cited the replacement of Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan — responsible for state entities like power utility Eskom [ESCJ.UL] and rail and logistics group Transnet [TRAN.UL] — who has been criticised by labour federation COSATU.
“There is clearly a cleansing process going on and one or two of the ministers have been criticised over ineffectiveness. Hogan was in a key portfolio and under pressure from the left, so it could be a concession to them,” Marais said.
Zuma’s communist and labour allies have been pushing for economic policy to move to the left to benefit the poor.
Another big change was the replacement of Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, a former head of the South African National Defence Force and a senior official in the ruling African National Congress.
Zuma appointed Radhakrishna Padayachie as the new communications minister.
Opposition parties have accused Nyanda of poor performance while local media reports raised instances of mismanagement in the ministry.
Zuma said the country needed a cabinet and public service that understood the needs of the country’s citizens.
“We reiterate that we need a national executive and public service that knows where our people live, who fully understand the needs of our people and what we are trying to achieve”.
Zuma appointed new ministers for the communications, labour, sports, public works, public enterprises, arts and culture and social development ministries.
He moved Arts and Culture minister Lulu Xingwana to the Women’s Ministry and Social Development Minister Edna Molewa to the Water and Environmental Affairs Ministry.
He also created new deputy minister posts in the energy and minerals resources ministries. (Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Ralph Boulton)