President Jacob Zuma rewarded political friends and bowed to pressure from the ruling ANC's labour and communist allies in appointing his new cabinet, South African media said Monday.
Zuma announced a 35-member cabinet late Sunday to see through his second term and notably named the country's first black finance minister since the advent of democracy 20 years ago.
"Zuma's pals pack new-look cabinet," a front-page headline in The Times read.
Fresh faces included "people who have demonstrated their loyalty and support for his political ambitions", said the newspaper.
Nhlanhla Nene, 55, the treasury's former deputy head, replaced Pravin Gordhan,of Indian origin, who was moved to the local government portfolio.
The move followed "relentless pressure from the ANC's left-wing allies," according to The Times.
"Zuma surprises with Gordhan move," said Business Day.
It was unclear whether Nene had the clout to push through the African National Congress's development plan, which its left-leaning allies have criticised as neo-liberal, the paper reported.
"The test will be whether Mr Nene can hold the line with a similar tenacity to that of Mr Gordhan and their predecessor Trevor Manuel," Business Day said.
Other new entries pointed to the payment of political debts with the ANC's alliance partners the SA Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu, said the newspaper.
Former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana became agriculture and fisheries minister, while Young Communist League leader Buti Manamela was made junior minister based in the president's office.
The Star newspaper, recently acquired by a Zuma-allied businessman, called the new cabinet "the most important decision of his political career".
"The business of government was redesigned to ensure he will be remembered as the president who finally brought about South Africa's democratic transition," said the newspaper, referring to pressures to increase the wealth of black South Africans.
The economy remains predominantly in white hands, despite a raft of empowerment programmes since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.