Speaking at the Union Buildings in Tshwane, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday appointed new ministers of environmental affairs, communications and home affairs, but resisted calls to make broader changes to his Cabinet.
He appointed Siyabonga Cwele as home affairs minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams as communications minister, and Nomvula Mokonyane was shifted from communications to environmental affairs.
“In making these changes, I remain determined that the Cabinet of our nation should have what I would call an appropriate mix of experience and capability, as well gender, as well as a generational mix as well,” said Ramaphosa.
Cwele moves from minister of telecommunications and postal services. He served as minister of state security in former president Jacob Zuma’s first term between 2009 and 2014 before he was replaced by David Mahlobo.
Ndabeni-Abrahams was appointed deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services in 2017 after the communications portfolio was split. She was previously deputy minister of communications since 2011. She made headlines in 2016 after writing to former president Jacob Zuma over her tense relationship with then-communications minister Faith Muthambi.
Ramaphosa said the communications and telecommunications and postal services ministries will be merged and led by Ndabeni-Abrahams, but the departments will remain separate until after the 2019 elections.
He said deputy energy minister MP Thembi Majola would resign from Parliament in January due to family commitments.
Two Cabinet posts were vacant after environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa passed away in September and home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba resigned on 13 November, first as a minister and two days later as an MP.
The public protector instructed Ramaphosa to act against Gigaba after the courts found he had lied under oath and violated the law in relation to Fireblade Aviation’s efforts to establish a fixed-based aviation facility at OR Tambo International Airport.
Gigaba, who at various times led the home affairs, public enterprises and finance portfolios in Zuma’s Cabinet, has been accused of having a close relationship with the Gupta family and unquestioningly following the former president’s lead. He has denied the allegations.
He reportedly resigned under pressure from the president and ANC officials.
When he appointed his executive in February, Ramaphosa said it was a “transitional Cabinet” that would lead the government into the 2019 elections.
He was forced to act in October, however, replacing former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with Tito Mboweni.
Nene resigned following his admission at the State Capture Inquiry that he had met the Guptas on multiple occasions, contradicting comments he made in a 2015 interview. The president didn’t use the October reshuffle to remove those seen as Zuma allies.
In his latest move, Ramaphosa again resisted pressure to fire Minister of Women in the Presidency Bathabile Dlamini and Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane – instead shifting her to Environmental Affairs – since he announced his first Cabinet in February. Gigaba was also on the list before he resigned.
As social development minister under Zuma, Dlamini was found to be responsible for the Sassa grants debacle where the department failed to implement a system to insource the payment of social grants.
The Constitutional Court said she was “reckless and grossly negligent” and recommended the NPA investigate whether she should be charged with perjury. Dlamini also leads the ANC Women’s League.
Ramaphosa shifted Mokonyane to the communications portfolio after she served as water and sanitation minister in Zuma’s administration. Her successor, Gugile Nkwinti, said she left the department in “a mess”.
Standing Committee of Public Accounts chairperson Themba Godi said the department had “completely collapsed” under Mokonyane. Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu cast “significant doubt” on whether the department could continue as a going concern.
Ramaphosa was elected ANC president in December 2017 by a slim margin and is widely seen to be cautious to act against some Zuma allies to maintain stability and his grip on power within the party.
While the president has been criticised for retaining ministers implicated in corruption, State Capture or maladministration, he has slowly been shedding his predecessor’s allies from the executive, starting in February when he fired Lynne Brown, Mosebenzi Zwane, Des van Rooyen, Bongani Bongo and David Mahlobo.
In his State of the Nation Address, Ramaphosa announced a review of the size and configuration of Cabinet. Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki each had 28 ministers in their Cabinets, while the number grew to 35 under Zuma.
In May 2018, the president said a technical task team had been appointed and the review would be concluded in time for the introduction of the sixth Parliament, which will sit after the 2019 general elections.DM