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Ramaphosa’s Cabinet keeps his friends close and his enemies closer

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

There is a big difference between being loyal and being faithful. Someone can be loyal to something right or wrong, while a faithful person will always be sincere to what they think is right, such as ridding ourselves of the corrupt among us. The new Cabinet is a mixture of loyalty and faithfulness.

As the nation waited with bated breath for the announcement of the new Cabinet on 29 May 2019, it was disappointing to hear that it would only be made later that day. The president has always prided himself on starting on time and dispelling this notion of “African time” – and yet here we were. What could be the delay, most wondered. It could only be assumed that last-minute horse-trading, negotiations, motivations and demotivations were preventing the president from making his announcement on time.

And then came the moment of truth. But before this, I had heard people wondering and discussing who would be heading up which ministry and department; who would the president get rid of and replace or shuffle to another ministry? This was, of course, entertaining to hear, but for me, my criteria were somewhat different. Different because I had been at the coalface of this tug of war in the ANC, which started before Nasrec and the fight for who deserved to be in the president’s seat. It was an unforgiving war on both sides and given the narrow victory by President Cyril Ramaphosa, I wanted to observe two things with this impending announcement.

One, whether Ramaphosa would be loyal to those who had supported him throughout his campaign, before, during and after Nasrec. And secondly, whether ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule had had a negative hand in the composition of this Cabinet and whether he had interfered as he did with the Parliamentary list process. I was interested in these two things because this would indicate to me whether Ramaphosa was taking charge of his government or whether indeed it was the party leading the State. A dangerous proposition, if I say so myself.

Then the announcement came. I was relieved. I was relieved because although the president engaged in extensive consultations, he stuck to his guns with regards to those who had been faithful to him and his cause till now. Like most negotiated settlements, however, you cannot always get everything you want because it is, after all, a “give-and-take” process. And so surprises we could do without were: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, David Mahlobo and Sdumo Dlamini. I single out these names because they were strong Jacob Zuma henchmen in the previous administration – they and a few deputy ministers, actually.

A look at the Cabinet shows that CR took a conscious decision to reward his comrades who had stood by him at the ANC Nasrec conference. The bulldogs who rallied the delegates around CR were people such as Jackson Mthembu, Bheki Cele and Joe Phaahla, all of them being rewarded with ministerial positions – Mthembu in the Presidency, Cele back as police minister and Phaahla deputy to Zweli Mkhize in the Health Department. Furthermore, Senzo Mchunu, who at Nasrec was the preferred candidate for secretary-general in the CR camp, lost to Magashule; and hence the president rewarded Mchunu with Public Service and Administration. In an ironic way, the president is saying to us that if Mchunu cannot run the party, then he should be allowed to run the entire public service.

Next was the announcement of one of the CR strategists and someone who would have been part of the war room at the Nasrec conference, Pravin Gordhan. He was rewarded with the Public Enterprise Ministry. This is very strategic since Gordhan was previously the minister of finance and the commissioner of SARS, giving him ample experience and know-how of what exactly is required in sorting out the embattled state-owned enterprises. And this despite Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s untimely report on and recommendations against Gordhan.

In the report, which investigated a matter that took place more than five years ago, she found that Gordhan had acted improperly when he granted Ivan Pillay early retirement with full benefits. I say untimely because it is rather apparent that she attempted to influence the president’s decision-making with regards to his Cabinet, but Ramaphosa would have none of it. He wanted Gordhan and with the vast experience he brings to the table, was not willing to fall into the PP’s trap.

Julius Malema might threaten the president with being a constitutional delinquent, but from where I’m sitting, the fact that Gordhan’s lawyers immediately challenged the PP’s report in a court of law means that the matter is now sub judice, meaning, “under judgment”, being considered by a judge or court and hence, no final decision has been made with regards to the validity and legality of the PP’s recommendations. As such, the president may continue with appointing such persons to his Cabinet until a court finds otherwise.

I think it’s important at this point to also add that the PP was appointed by the Zuma administration to do his bidding, in much the same way that Shaun Abrahams was appointed. And we all know what eventually happened to most such appointments. Richard Mdluli, Lawrence Mwrebi, Nomgcobo Jiba, Tom Moyane to mention a few, were all found to be unfit for their respective public offices and were told to just leave, now.

Another critical function for CR was always going to be the economic cluster ministries. Here, the president invoked his constitutional powers, which allow him to appoint any two people to Cabinet posts who do not feature on the National Assembly list. He appointed Ebrahim Patel to the Trade and Industry Ministry. The second such appointment was reserved for the Honourable Patricia de Lille, but more about this appointment a bit later.

The next few appointments were to bring in some young blood but also to ensure some kind of continuity following the CR presidency. The young Ronald Lamola was rewarded with a full ministry post in Justice and Correctional Services (Lamola played a critical role in ensuring that Limpopo was solidly behind CR), and Khumbudzo Ntshavheni was named Minister of Small Business Development. Lamola has his work cut out for him, for it is he who will have to have the balls to arrest and prosecute his fellow comrades in the ANC, and perhaps, Parliament.

Fikile Mbalula was rewarded for his efforts with the Transport Ministry. I need not remind our razzmatazz minister that he too has his work cut out for him – whether it be the ongoing e-tolls saga, the Prasa debacle at Transnet or the Metrorail issues in the Western Cape. And even though Mbalula was firmly behind the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma camp at Nasrec, he has since seen the light. Not only did he aptly steer the ANC’s election campaign towards a decisive victory, but we also saw how he tackled Magashule at the IEC elections results centre when the secretary-general tried to downplay the critical role of the Ramaphosa factor in the elections.

The appointment of De Lille I can safely say caught most of us off-guard. Why and for what benefit, I heard people asking? Is it because of the constituency she represents in the Western Cape and Northern Cape? A constituency the ANC has been losing over the past few years? Perhaps it’s the president’s way of saying that we can still accommodate certain individuals from the opposition benches. After all, Mbeki also had some of them in his Cabinet, notably, “Kortbroek” Marthinus van Schalkwyk and Mosibudi Mangena. Or is it because she is a corruption-buster of note and such expertise will sorely be needed in that particular portfolio of Public Works and Infrastructure?

One of the key responsibilities of this minister is the question of Section 25 of the Constitution, which deals with land. We must remember that even though De Lille has been a political chameleon over the past number of years (Independent Democrats, DA, Good), she cut her political teeth in the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and for these types, the land question was always uppermost in their minds. This is the key matter on which they fought to overthrow the apartheid regime. So this should be familiar territory for Aunty Pat. Let’s see how she will conduct herself in this regard.

Finally, we come to DD Mabuza, our deputy president. This cat with nine lives evidently also knows how to play chess. What a masterstroke to refuse to be sworn in at Parliament, instead insisting his name be cleared with the ANC Integrity Commission. But we know it was a bit more than that, surely? Rumour has it that DD had been feeling alienated by CR over the past few months. In short, he was welcome to be in the room but not sitting at the table, so to speak. And he wanted to be not only at the table but also to be given real responsibilities going forward.

Furthermore, though he would like to take sole credit for pulling CR over the line at Nasrec, there were a few others who needed to be rewarded from Mpumalanga, hence a number of them were appointed deputy ministers – I count at least six. With all that settled and agreed upon then, DD was ready to be sworn in and take his rightful place at CR’s side – after all, that was his only demand stemming from Nasrec.

A concluding remark must indeed be that CR has done with this Cabinet what no other president before him could achieve, and that is to appoint women to more than half of the Cabinet posts, a welcome determination. So, even though there was broad consultation and even though the alliance partners did something unspeakable on the sidelines of the Cabinet announcement – which was to hold media interviews about the Cabinet appointments, a prerogative of the president and the government, and not the party or alliance partners – CR has managed to keep his inner circle close and his enemies even closer.

Remember, faithfulness does not depend on personal experience. A loyal person will always be loyal because of something they observed or experienced, such as losing to the CR camp at Nasrec and realising there’s a new sheriff in town. Loyalty is a word that is considered stern. A person can be loyal to something right or wrong, while a faithful person will always be sincere to what they think is right, such as the clean-up campaign of CR, and ridding ourselves of the corrupt among us.

We would like to believe that those few men and women who stood by CR during the Nasrec Conference are the faithful ones, while the others in his Cabinet remain loyal for now. DM

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