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Stuck, half-way through the Ramaphosa Rubicon


Susan Booysen is Director of Research, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), and visiting and emeritus professor, Wits School of Governance.

Most of the Cabinet changes were sideways shuffles such as Malusi Gigaba’s. A total of 23 of the Cabinet portfolios changed hands, and 10 Cabinet members bit the Rubicon dust.

This week’s Cabinet reshuffle was Ramaphosa’s Rubicon, which could not quite be conquered. It was the ANC’s internal compromise and unity game versus the opposition’s compromise and contaminated game. Opposition had a field day: cabinet is infested with dead wood, state capture and criminal suspects. Hapless performers deface the cabinet instead of generate hope and confirmation of a new era in South African politics.

The first Ramaphosa Cabinet was to show whether the ANC’s “New Dawn”, in the aspiration of President Cyril Ramaphosa, would emerge as a credible new movement. Or, would it be compromised by the Zuma counterweight. Ramaphosa’s juggling of interests, bartering of names, and compromises showed that there was a plan, but the Rubicon was not quite crossed.

This Cabinet is the team through which Ramaphosa’s leadership abilities will be judged in the year ahead. Ramaphosa stressed that the Cabinet is “transitional”, to take the ANC to the 2019 elections. (The “configuration, size and number of national ministries and departments” would be done in due course, said the president.) The electorate will judge by the performance of this team, more than the explicit content of its election campaign, whether the ANC will rule at the next ballot box. The team’s flaws and failures will be recalled, as much as the positives and the corrected parts.

Ramaphosa had to perform the juggling act of a lifetime, to unify the ANC (read: forge an alliance between the two ANC factions, and hopefully they will in due course emerge as an integrated party, or current factions will be eclipsed by new, cross-cutting ones) while showing evidence that the ANC as government is cleaning up the ANC and ANC government from corruption and capture that besmirched the ANC in the time of Zuma.

He had to be true to his current political raison d’être of change, cleaning out corruption and restoring the ANC as a credible-ethical organisation, while maintaining the ANC as a united party, without internal rebellion and destabilisation. In Ramaphosa’s words, he was “conscious of the need to balance continuity and stability with the need for renewal, economic recovery and accelerated transformation”.

These were just the starting points of the balancing act that informed the Cabinet redesign. The considerations were: “inclusivity” in terms of factional balance, bringing in those who had made it onto the ANC’s National Working Committee (NWC), and some who were on the National Executive Committee (NEC) but not NWC, gender and the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL, as unfortunate representative on gender), provincial spread, representation of Tripartite Alliance partners (or at least appointments that are acceptable to them) and thank-yous to trusted comrades who had helped bring the away-from-Zuma transition to this point. Non-negotiables for new appointments were no Gupta baggage, no capture, no corruption. Requirements for retention were more flexible.

Ramaphosa asserting control over the economic sector stands out as the great redeemer of the reshuffle. Nonhlanhla Nene is back at the helm of the National Treasury, Public Enterprises is with Pravin Gordhan, Energy (including nuclear power decisions) with Jeff Radebe (away from security apparatchiks with Russian connections) and Mineral Resources with Gwede Mantashe.

David Mabuza was unavoidable as Deputy President, given ANC and government conventions. It will now be up to Ramaphosa to ensure Mabuza is gainfully deployed, working for a national good and aware that there will be no Mpumalanga curtain to provide cover. As in other cases of whispered (or proven) misdeeds, let legal processes roll, and let no high-level political stone-walling prevail.

ANC conventions plus required factional-reconciliation may mitigate gaps in Cabinet appointments, but hold little water in the public realm. On the streets and in social media (therefore the public mind and opinion) there is little space to ignore outcries around ANCWL president Bathabile Dlamini Zuma being appointed as Minister for Women (in the Presidency). On her gender track record stand, among others, her condemnation of the Khwezi protest at the IEC centre, her defence of women abuser Mduduzi Manana, her adoption of NDZ as woman candidate for the ANC presidency on instigation of Jacob Zuma (rather than feminist persuasion), her policy conference statement that the ANCWL choose men to speak their case because women “are too emotional”, and her refusal to back a woman as ANC deputy president. The list goes on, nothing redeeming in sight. The message from this appointment can be none but disrespect for all women, irrespective of recognition of the delicate balancing actions.

A total of 17 out of the 35 Cabinet members are women, but Bathabile is the saboteur. She also distracts from the elevation of several women to high-profile portfolios, in particular Lindiwe Sisulu to International Relations and Co-operation, Naledi Pandor to Higher Education (at a crucial time for this portfolio), or the hitherto-underexplained compromise candidate Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba as Minister of State Security. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s appointment to Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Presidency could be powerful, should she wish to energise the function beyond the water-treading of her predecessor. (She might even be entrusted with managing the performance contracts of the Cabinet members.) However, given the presence in the Presidency of she who dishes out gender offence, the Presidency appears like an abode for otherwise unemployable women.

The weaknesses in the new Cabinet are obvious manna for opposition parties. The Economic Freedom Fighters judged it as a “mere realignment of corrupt and State Capture delinquent ministers. No one‚ with the best interests of South Africa today‚ could have Malusi Gigaba‚ Nomvula Mokonyane‚ Bathabile Dlamini as Cabinet members and ministers”.

The Democratic Alliance weighed in: “The Cabinet remains filled with compromised ministers, Gupta loyalists and corruption accused…”

Malusi Gigaba, appearing back in Home Affairs, is suspect in conduct involving the Gupta family, at both Home Affairs and in State-owned Enterprises. He has been fingered for lying under oath along with Des van Rooyen and Lynne Brown (both fired). Besides the recycling of Gigaba, Thulas Nxesi is back in Public Works, wiping some Nkandla egg from his face, and Bheki Cele is in police, still recovering from bad policing statements – but with thanks from Ramaphosa for his crucial role in the Zuma-Ramaphosa transition. Derek Hanekom (Tourism) was also in line for thanks, along with a batch of others.

Most of the changes were sideways shuffles such as Gigaba’s. A total of 23 Cabinet portfolios changed hands, and 10 cabinet members bit the Rubicon dust. Among them were eight key operators of the Zuma regime: David Mahlobo, Faith Muthambi, Lynne Brown, Fikile Mbalula, Des van Rooyen, Mosebenzi Zwane, Bongani Bongo, and Nathi Nhleko (along with Joe Maswanganyi and Hlengiwe Mkhize). Dlamini and Gigaba were saved by the trade-offs. In terms of government and the public perception of the ANC, many of the appointments and retentions make no sense at all. Besides Dlamini and Gigaba, there is Nomvula Mokonyane (foot in the mouth proponent for “we don’t need your vote” and “we shall pick the rand up”.

These manoeuvres showed that the ANC is in a holding operation, using Cabinet as a state structure to preserve the transitional ANC. The Cabinet package, with its statuses and patronage, is for now fodder to help the ANC remain united into Election 2019. Its only true redeeming quality, the crossing of its own Rubicon, will be to work simultaneously for the national interest, and deliver tangible social and economic outcomes, in the year ahead. DM


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