PRETORIA (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma replaced Tokyo Sexwale as housing minister in a cabinet shake-up on Tuesday, removing the anti-apartheid stalwart who has criticized his rival's stewardship of Africa's biggest economy.
In a reshuffle less than a year before Zuma seeks re-election to another five-year term, embattled communications minister Dina Pule was also ousted, along with the minister of traditional affairs, Richard Baloyi.
Zuma is almost assured of victory in the 2014 election given his ruling ANC's stranglehold over politics but international credit agencies have downgraded South Africa in the last year, citing Zuma's ineffectual leadership among other long-term risks.
Pule has been embroiled in scandal since being accused in media reports of giving preferential treatment to a firm run by her then-boyfriend - a charge she denies.
The ministers of energy and transport swapped portfolios while the much-maligned basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, at the centre of scandal in which textbooks went undelivered for months to a province, kept her post.
Sexwale was among a group of senior African National Congress (ANC) members looking to replace Zuma last year, although Zuma is almost assured of being the party's presidential candidate in 2014 after winning an ANC leadership contest in December.
Many party veterans feel Zuma has steered Nelson Mandela's former liberation movement away from its idealistic beginnings and into a morass of graft, cronyism and a culture of self-enrichment.
Mandela, now 94 years old, has spent a month in hospital battling a lung infection that has left the country's first black president in critical condition.
South Africa was mired in recession when Zuma came to power, but since then has struggled to pick-up to pre-2008 growth rates of around 5 percent.
Since the ANC took after the end of apartheid in 1994, the government has built hundreds of thousands of houses and provided basic service to millions of poor blacks left by the wayside during white-minority rule.
But festering labor strife in the mining sector, a poor education system and a rigid jobs market have been eroding South Africa's economic competitiveness.
This is Zuma's fourth reshuffle since taking office.