Embattled South African president Jacob Zuma reshuffled his cabinet with less than a year to go before elections Tuesday, axing tainted allies and Tokyo Sexwale, a long-time big-hitter of the ruling ANC party.
"I have decided to make changes to the national executive," Zuma said in a terse announcement of five senior ministerial changes, which he said was aimed at taking South Africa's transformation forward.
Zuma announced that Sexwale, who defied the president in a recent ANC leadership battle, would be removed as minister for human settlements.
The departure of 60-year-old Sexwale -- who served prison time on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and is now one of South Africa's richest men -- consolidates Zuma's power base and removes a potential rival.
He was replaced by ANC member of parliament Connie September.
"Twenty years of democracy have changed the face of our country, and the last five years have pushed that change forward," Zuma said, thanking Sexwale and others for their service.
Sexwale, once a commander of the ANC's armed wing, has long been tipped as a potential leader of the party and of the country.
After the 1994 elections he served as the premier of Gauteng province, which incorporates Johannesburg and Pretoria, but relinquished this post in 1999 to become a businessman.
In the private sector he picked up a string of directorships and assets spanning the mining, engineering and energy sectors, earning most of his wealth in the diamond sector.
Zuma also axed communications minister Dina Pule, who has been embroiled in a corruption probe over favours to her alleged lover.
Meanwhile the ministers of energy and transport traded portfolios.
But the biggest surprise may have been the ministers who survived.
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga survived despite a scandal that left kids in one province without textbooks for a year.
Her leadership of the ANC's women's league -- which will be a crucial ally in Zuma re-election battle -- appears to have been enough to save Motshekga's cabinet career.
That left Zuma open to charges that he has not done enough to remove the taint of corruption and maladministration from his government.
"Is the president just moving chairs? His inability to do anything about an under performer is going to raise questions," said political analyst Ralph Mathekga, of Clear Content consulting.
Labour unrest had also put agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson under fire.
And the deaths of 15 South African troops in the Central African Republic had raised speculation about defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ncgakula's position.
Mzukisi Qobo, a political risk analyst, said there was also surprise that Zuma did not announce a new head for the National Prosecuting Authority.
Zuma faces a case at the constitutional court over his failure to appoint a permanent head of the authority, which controversially dropped corruption charges against him shortly before he became president.
Zuma had been accused of graft linked to a multi-million dollar arms deal.
The National Prosecuting Authority has since been riddled with allegations of political interference and prosecutorial incompetence.
"Zuma is caught between a rock and a hard place, if he appoints someone who is strong with integrity, that person may act independently to expose corruption in government," said Qobo.
"I think people think Zuma is not prepared to do much in regards to this portfolio," he said, adding, "they are disappointed."
South Africa's Agang opposition party leader Mamphela Ramphele said the reshuffle "fell far short of what the citizens of this nation should expect".