First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Commentators and pundits have already weighed in on the significance or lack thereof of the latest reconfiguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet – his first in 26 months. But despite the appointment of new ministers and the swapping of ministerial chairs, the reality is that in the end Ramaphosa effectively fired one minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who had led the Department of Defence and Military Veterans.
In a sea of mediocrity and incompetence in some cases, South Africans can be forgiven for having hoped for more changes and an injection of new blood into the executive. Instead it’s a case of more of the same.
In a tweet, national coordinator of the ANC Youth League Task Team Nonceba Mhlauli lamented the lack of youth representation in the Cabinet.
“The lack of inclusion of young people in the National Executive is (a) serious cause for concern … there’s literally no one below the age 35 in the National Executive!” she wrote.
She was not the only one disappointed.
While we now have new ministers in Finance, Health and in the Presidency, these vacancies came about as a result of resignations in the first two cases and the death of Jackson Mthembu in the third case.
How Ayanda Dlodlo is still a minister remains a mystery. After a shambolic tenure at State Security, she has now been given the responsibility of looking after the important ministry of Public Service and Administration
But even more bizarre is how Minister of Police Bheki Cele remained unscathed in all the changes. To better understand the changes one need not look any further than the political interests of the president and also his need to appease the various factions within the ANC.
Another question that the Cabinet reshuffle raises is whether Ramaphosa made the changes as part of the political pageantry that precedes his appearance before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, led by deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, this week – Ramaphosa appears before the commission on 11 and 12 August. But at the same time he had no choice as he was embarrassed by the recent unrest and rampant looting in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng. His government’s ineptitude was exposed.
Enough about the reshuffle. Although most people are inclined to believe that the reshuffle is a momentous occasion, it is actually the events of this week that carry more significance for our country.
It is unprecedented that a president of a country appears before a commission of inquiry in the same week that his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, is in court for corruption. At the same time, the suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule will be appearing in the Bloemfontein High Court in the R235-million Free State asbestos corruption case.
All this will be happening this week and what it symbolises is that we still have a strong judiciary and institutions of democracy in this country. A lot may be wrong with our country, but we have to acknowledge that we are doing something right.
As South Africans we are always quick to find fault with what we have and with what we don’t have. But it is important to reflect on this moment and its meaning. Granted, the decay of our social fibre and the disrespect for the rule of law, as we saw during the looting and vigilante killings in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, are a bigger threat to our democracy and its stability.
Also it makes no point to have a strong judiciary if we have weak police and an incompetent Parliament. Democracy rests on three pillars – the judiciary, the legislature and the executive – and all three need to be strengthened if our democracy is to thrive.
As things stand, it is only the judiciary that is flexing its constitutionally endowed strength. Government remains weak while Parliament is still recovering from years of the erosion of its capacity to hold the executive to account.
But more worrying is the loss of Thandi Modise as the Speaker of the National Assembly. Very few in the opposition benches would disagree with the view that her leadership gave credibility to the national legislature, which had been hollowed out by years of political manipulation during Zuma’s term.
Lack of trust in the government and its institutions is commonplace the world over. But in our instance, if Ramaphosa is to succeed in cleaning up the image of government, it will not depend on a Cabinet reshuffle.
Rather he has to make sure that law-enforcement agencies get to the bottom of unearthing the shadowy figures behind the unrest that cost our economy R50-billion.
That not much progress has been made in this case – despite the arrests of a few loudmouths – is worrying. While we accept that our government was caught unawares by the extent of the turmoil, that they still do not know who was behind it is telling of how ineffective our law enforcement agencies are.
The sooner the so-called instigators are found and prosecuted, the better for our country.
Otherwise, we will have nothing to celebrate. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.