South Africa


How Cyril Ramaphosa is reshaping his Cabinet

President Cyril Ramaphosa watches the proceedings in Parliament as Members of Parliament are sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the National Assembly, 22 May 2019. Photo: Leila Dougan/Daily Maverick

As he works day and night to make his new Cabinet, here’s the top line: Most deputy positions face the axe, there’s a super-Presidency in the works and a ‘big bang’ announcement of departmental mergers is likely at the weekend.

Officials with knowledge of how President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to reshape his Cabinet predict a “big-bang” approach which could see significant changes.

Departments will be merged to scrap ministries, most deputy minister positions are likely to be axed and the Presidency will be strengthened to make it a centre of government.

Ramaphosa is said to want a “line of sight” over the state so that he has direct information on how governing priorities are performing. The Presidency has thrown a dragnet over communication on the new Cabinet, so sources have only been willing to speak to Daily Maverick off the record.

Popping the Zuma balloon

Former President Jacob Zuma ballooned his Cabinet to 36 ministers overseeing 45 departments and introduced deputy ministers into every portfolio; some even have two. Zuma did this to extend his patronage state and to keep onside the various factions of the ANC and its tripartite alliance partners — trade union federation Cosatu and the SA Communist Party.

Now Ramaphosa is preparing to take a scythe to the Cabinet and also to the broader executive, which could see only a handful of portfolios retaining the service of a deputy minister. Those deemed to need deputies are International Relations and Co-operation, the Treasury (the deputy oversees the Public Investment Corporation) and perhaps the revamped Trade and Industry and land portfolios.

By cutting deputy minister positions, directors-general will be able to make decisions and implement them without having to double-govern with too many political heads, as has now become the case.

Just how big is South Africa’s Cabinet?

It is an outlier in global terms. The table shows that, in size, the Cabinet is only beaten by Malaysia and India. Malaysia, a country of 31.8-million people has 59 government departments, while India, with 1.3-billion people, has 57 departments. Russia has 22 departments (population 142.1-million) and China, just 21 departments with 1.4-billion people.

Ramaphosa has different teams working on his plans to reorganise his government: They include a political team, a team of officials (civil servants) and a so-called kitchen cabinet of leaders outside government whom he consults.

There is no detail on a final number, but mergers are on the agenda: For example, the Economic Development department will be merged into the Trade and Industry department which was its original incubator. Officials suggest that Minerals and Energy will be put together again; they are presently separate ministries and departments. The different departments dealing with land are unwieldy and there is likely to be significant streamlining of these: This could see a renaming of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and a re-imagination of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Four key spheres

Ramaphosa and his teams are conceptualising government as being organised in four key spheres. By way of examples, these are the public administration (for example, the Treasury, Public Service and Administration, Co-operative Government, Home Affairs); the socio-economic departments to secure development (Education, Health), Security (Social Security or Intelligence, Defence, Justice and Correctional Services, Police); redistribution (Social Development, Land). The departments which are there to grow the economy such as Trade and Industry, Small Business Development, Tourism, Minerals and Energy could see further changes over the next few days as the Cabinet is finalised.

The fact that former ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu did not return to Parliament in that position this week suggests he is destined for a communications role in the Cabinet. In a digital economy and with Ramaphosa keen to consider how what is called the fourth industrial revolution (the era of automation, robotics and algorithm-guided business) impacts South Africa, suggests changes ahead in the portfolio now awkwardly called Communications and Telecommunications.

In that role, Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has been enthusiastic, but ultimately a bull in a china shop. Roleplayers in the sector would prefer her moved because she regularly over-reaches. Ndabeni-Abrahams has not made much progress in the auction of spectrum, which is holding back broadband access and cheaper data. She caused an exodus from a reformed SABC board, withheld the budget of the regulator, Icasa, and insulted Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub on Twitter and then deleted her tweet.

A super-Presidency?

Ramaphosa wants to turn the Union Buildings from less of an administrative centre into a centre of government from where policy and implementation are driven. Currently, this role rests with the Treasury.

Business Day reported last week that his former chief of staff Busani Ngcaweni will resuscitate a version of the policy co-ordination unit that ANC veteran Joel Netshitenzhe ran when Thabo Mbeki was president. It gave coherence to the policy as South Africa enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth.

It is unlikely that the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation will continue to sit in the Presidency as it is believed to be unwieldy to have a whole department based at the Union Buildings. Instead, it could be moved to the public service department.

This will free Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who currently heads that department, to play more a roving role as a prime minister of a special type. That depends on whether Deputy President David Mabuza takes up his role once he has cleared up matters with the Integrity Commission.

Women and youth

The president is a feminist, so expect many women in positions of significant authority. In addition, he is said to be passionate about a single significant change, and that is that there will be young people in his Cabinet.

Reports have suggested that former Limpopo Finance MEC David Masondo is destined for a Cabinet role; so is Ronald Lamola who has fronted for Ramaphosa as he has worked for months to find a palatable way of land redistribution for all. Spokesperson Khusela Diko may be elevated from her role as a key aide.

The changes are going to be significant and require manifold changes to departments.

By the new financial year, everything will be in place,” says an official.

Ramaphosa is guided by the National Development Plan, which focused on the need to return decision-making power over policy implementation to the administration.

Because the ANC needed to change the state, it put policy-making power as well as control over the bureaucracy into the hands of politicians — one key aspect was the cadre deployment strategy.

The plan recommended that this be changed to return greater authority to an independent public service as a means of creating the elusive capable state.

Ramaphosa may well allude to this when he announces his Cabinet and his plans for his first real term in office, say officials. DM


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