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Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reshuffle plucks the low-hanging fruit but avoids pruning the slowly rotting top branches

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Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

Good governance is slowly making its way back into government after the Scorpions and other specialised entities were either disbanded or hollowed out in the last decade. The recent reshuffling of the Cabinet was long overdue, but the question we should be asking ourselves is: will it bear any fruit for the country?

In seizing the urgency of the moment with his long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa injected a breath of fresh air into his agenda. However, he did not go far enough.

Ramaphosa should have considered serving only one term as the president of the ANC. This would have given him a free hand to solve the gargantuan challenges that are holding the nation back.

Good governance is slowly making its way back into government after the Scorpions and other specialised entities were either disbanded or hollowed out in the last decade. However, there is another important element that always seems to be lacking under Ramaphosa – swift, decisive leadership. Ramaphosa has made a lot of promises about fighting corruption, and yet it continues to take place under his leadership.

We have seen how people looted PPE funds and how little was done to stop it – this, according to the Special Investigating Unit report.

We saw with the Digital Vibes scandal how he waited for weeks before putting former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on special leave.

We don’t know what is happening with his spokesperson, Khusela Diko, as there is still an acting spokesperson in the presidency. Will she be fired or will there be a slow process of rehabilitation?

The recent reshuffling of the Cabinet was long overdue, but the question we should be asking ourselves is: will it bear any fruit for the country?

First, the good: The reshuffle finally means that we don’t have any acting ministers and all vacant posts of deputy ministers have been filled. This means we can finally judge people on their merits. They can no longer complain that there was uncertainty hanging over their heads.

Now, to the bad: We continue to see mediocrity being rewarded under this administration. Is the reshuffle really something we should be celebrating as a nation? Or is this just Ramaphosa recycling the old guard? Is the president playing politics or is he taking South Africans for granted? Does this new Cabinet mean the ANC does not have a lot of capable and honourable men and women in Parliament who can assist in taking this country forward?

We have watched many of Ramaphosa’s ministers underperform for years. It is hard to understand why he still keeps them on board, because they have neither the technical skills nor the political base to explain their continued presence in government.

It is important to read my words in the context of what is happening in the country. Commodities aside, the economy is not growing at a fast pace. The unemployment rate is unsustainably high. Eskom mishandled a generation unit at Medupi on Monday and this once again highlights how unstable our electricity supply is. Also, we are not vaccinating fast enough to reopen our economy to tourists and to bigger manufacturing activity.

While it is an undeniable fact that Covid-19 has contributed to some of the issues South Africans are facing as a nation right now, many problems are of our own making.

What was interesting about this reshuffle is that two ministers resigned and only one minister was sacked, i.e. Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Was she sacked because she publicly contradicted Ramaphosa on the cause of the recent unrest? It must be said that her dismissal has been considerably softened by the ANC setting her up to become the next Speaker of Parliament – which pays more than her previous position.

Before Mapisa-Nqakula was dismissed, the security cluster ministers had not been speaking with one voice on the unrest. It showed a shocking lack of coordination between ministers of the security cluster as well as between them and the president.

Best practice dictates that in such situations, we must have a united command council. That seems not to have been the case with our government, which is a frightening thing to consider.

We had Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo saying she gave Minister of Police Bheki Cele an intelligence report ahead of the unrest, while Cele denied receiving such a report.

The police failed the people of South Africa because they did not act on time. Was Cele kept in his position because of ANC internal factional politics?

All the ministers of the security cluster should have been sacked – no one should have been spared.

Dlodlo has been moved to the department of public service and administration, which has very complex issues of its own. We are all aware that it took unions some time to sign the recent agreement on wage increases. Minister Senzo Mchunu performed well in that portfolio and there was no need to move him to the water and sanitation portfolio. Is he going there due to his skills? Well, why don’t we get more skilled negotiators into government then?

Also, Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, continues to enjoy the perks that come with being a minister while South Africans only ever get to see him at funerals. He has dismally failed those who work in the creative fields, most of whom are young people. I don’t even want to get into our medal haul at #Tokyo2020. Was Mthethwa retained because of politics in the ANC? 

We also have Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, who has not been seen over the past few months even though load shedding continues to hold the economy back. Very little is being communicated about the South African Airways do-over. Is Gordhan still up to the task?

Furthermore, Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa has admitted at the Zondo Commission to taking money from business associates. That is very serious! How is he still a deputy minister – is he being retained because he is loyal to Ramaphosa? There is also Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, under whose watch the decline of Prasa has continued. There doesn’t seem to be a clear plan on how the railways will be revived. The poor need the trains to be operational as they are more affordable than taxis. Other entities are being bailed out, but the most important institution that serves the poor is being overlooked.

Talking of the poor, the department of small business development should have been moved back to trade and industry. Let’s stop giving people positions and shoes they cannot fill. When we do that, it is inevitably the poor, and the youth especially, who suffer the consequences. The president moved Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams because he clearly has no confidence in her… and he clearly does not have high hopes for small business development. We know that Ndabeni-Abrahams failed at the department of communications and digital technologies. She did not even understand the 4th Industrial Revolution. How then do we give her the monumental task of saving township businesses, youth businesses, skills and so on?   

Although mines are performing well, which would be a sign that Minister Gwede Mantashe is doing a good job, we have to ask, at what cost? If coal is hurting our communities and slowly killing the planet, and the EU is about to impose a carbon border tax, surely the critical energy portfolio should be led by someone who understands the urgency of the moment?

With regard to Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, we only ever see her on Women’s Day. What about the fight against GBV, the glass ceilings in government and in the private sector? Women deserve a 24/7 champion – like Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at UN Women, for example.

Minister Naledi Pandor has been failing too, and the recent African Union elections were a clear sign that she does not understand our foreign policy. What is our foreign policy agenda? We knew this under Mandela and Mbeki. For a while now, nobody knows what we stand for. The appointment of some ambassadors, like Mathu Joyini to the United Nations, still does not make sense. Small countries like Rwanda have stolen a march on us at the AU because we do not have proper relationships there. The president should have moved Pandor to another department. She is a capable minister – just not at the department of international relations.

Tourism was doing well under Minister Nkhensani Kubayi-Ngubane and you could see she was pushing for transformation in that sector. One struggles to understand the logic of moving Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to tourism instead of sacking her. We all know that before she went to human settlements, Ramaphosa had previously appointed her as Minister of International Relations and Cooperation. She is now shifting to her third portfolio. Is she one of the untouchables? If so, why? Certainly not for her skills!

One thing South Africa should consider doing is learning from a number of countries around the world.

We need the discipline of the Chinese. You mess up, you go! End of story. The Chinese are also supremely talented at training leaders at district and provincial levels before they take up positions at national level. Chinese leaders at all levels don’t need consultants to inspect hospitals, bridges, buildings or sewerage. They all have the training to do those things.

When we keep recycling people, in whose interest is that? The poor? Really?

We can also learn from Kenya’s political system. There, the law prevents ministers from holding elective positions such as members of parliament. Ministers are therefore not politicians and this really helps with accountability – people perform as there is no politics at play when the president appoints his cabinet. Ministers are appointed based on knowledge and expertise. 

We need to see clean and good governance and we can try to achieve that if politicians are not appointed as ministers. This is my final point. The government should be led by technocrats.

If we do not push for this, well… we get the government we deserve as a nation. DM

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  • Well said Mr Tau!
    Will the reshuffling of the cabinet bear fruit? In my opinion…no!
    When you keep on doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result – it’s called “insanity!” And that is what we have here. CR is hamstrung between wanting the power of Capitalism and keeping the Zuma ANC faction happy! They’ve all got too much to lose if they lose, So the innocent taxpayer is left on the treadmill having to run faster and faster to keep the country spinning. We are tired now, Mr President – your party has finally broken us.

  • Is this really it? Have we only got this pathetic load of shysters to choose from? Where are the WITS, UCT and other graduates of the last 20 years? Where are the people of integrity? We hear about them protecting their communities and feeding people in need. We hear about those that make a difference. Where are they and why are they not leading policy and productively spending government money to rescue communities from the mess that has been made?

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