South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has announced his cabinet. As widely expected, he either fired or demoted almost all cabinet ministers implicated in corruption or considered incompetent who served under Jacob Zuma. In their stead Ramaphosa appointed his dream team to key ministries, bringing back former finance ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan both of whom had been fired by Zuma. But, contrary to expectations, he kept some ministers widely believed to have made a hash of their jobs. Politics and Society editor Thabo Leshilo asked Keith Gottschalk for his perspective.
Is the new Cabinet fit for purpose - is it better equipped to do what needs to be done?
This was a major shuffle, affecting two-thirds of ministers, more than most analysts had expected.
The new cabinet is undoubtedly better than the one that served under Zuma. The ministers incriminated in subverting procurement procedures for the benefit of the Guptas, or at best, above their level of competence, have vanished. The Guptas’s were allied to Zuma and were at the heart of corruption and state capture in the country.
The independence and competence of Gordhan, who has come back to serve as minister of Public Enterprises, and Nene who returns to the finance minister post, are welcome and will be well received by the markets. The appointment of Naledi Pandor to Higher Education and Training is a good fit. Her views and temperament match with the vice-chancellors of higher education institutions.
Ramaphosa appointed two former ministers to their previous jobs: Derek Hanekom, who was fired by Zuma, is back running tourism and Malusi Gagaba, who relinquished the finance ministry, has been put back in charge of Home Affairs. An obvious posting for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who ran against Ramaphosa for the position of president of the African National Congress, would have been her former portfolio in international relations. Instead she has become a minister within the presidency.
The country is onto its eleventh minister responsible for energy since 1994. This time the post has gone to Jeff Radebe. Each of the previous incumbents lasted an average of 2.4 years.
In future the revolving door of ministers, directors-general and deputy directors general will need to end.
Before then, there will be at least one more shuffle and pruning when, as Ramaphosa has indicated, the cabinet and the number of state departments are cut back.
It is a rule of thumb in political science that the poorer a country, the bigger its cabinet. The USA’s includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments. South Africa’s is 35, up from 30 under Nelson Mandela.
What does all this augur for the future, and Ramaphosa’s success?
Politics, except under a dictatorship, involves negotiating trade-offs with those with whom you have to negotiate, not only with those you would like to have as your allies. A winner only wins because he or she has formed a coalition of factions which outnumbers the rival coalition of factions.
Ramaphosa had to do some fancy footwork. This is because there’s broad consensus that his narrow victory over Nkosazana for the presidency was solely due to the intervention of the premier of Mpumalanga David Mabuza who ordered his followers to switch their votes at the last minute. Ramaphosa squeaked through. And, notwithstanding Ramaphosa’s preference for Pandor as his deputy, Mabuza won the necessary backing. Ramaphosa announced Mabuza’s appointment as deputy president of the country as part of his cabinet announcement. (Convention has it that the president and deputy president of the ANC serve as president and deputy president of the country.)
Making Dlamini-Zuma a minister within the presidency is clearly also a gesture of inclusivity to the anti-Ramaphosa faction.
Overall, Ramaphosa has a cabinet that forms a team he can work with, and that will help him assert his authority. As he said in announcing it:
These changes are intended to ensure that national government is better equipped to implement the mandate of this administration and specifically the tasks identified in the State of the Nation Address.