The president’s new-look cabinet unpacked
The president’s new-look cabinet is a mixed bag of compromise, controversy and clever appointments, experts say
IT WAS one of the most eagerly awaited announcements since the dawn of South Africa’s democracy and the pressure on the president must have been immense. After the nine wasted Jacob Zuma years there were high hopes Cyril Ramaphosa would be brutal with his broom, sweeping away all the dead wood and rotten eggs, and ushering in strong minds with hands unsullied by corruption.
He was also expected to cut the cabinet significantly, banishing the bloat Zuma had introduced.
And what did we get in the end? A cabinet of compromise. Trade-offs had to be made and deals struck, leaving us with something that “resembles scrambled eggs”, as political commentator Barney Mthombothi put it. “It’s neither fish nor fowl.”
THE NUMBERS GAME
Ramaphosa trimmed the number of ministers from 36 to 28 and the number of deputies from 37 to 34 – far from the massive purge everyone was expecting.
The promise of a “reconfigured” cabinet has proven to be a fallacy, says Lukhona Mnguni, political analyst and researcher at the University of KwaZulu Natal’s Maurice Webb Race Relations Unit.
Ramaphosa’s ministers-to-deputy-ministers ratio is higher than Zuma’s, he says. “Deputy minister appointees indicate where factional battles were fought in the ANC and where the president made concessions.”
For instance, David Mahlobo was axed as minister of energy last year and “now suddenly he’s good enough to come back as deputy minister of human settlements”.
Political analyst Sanusha Naidu is also worried Ramaphosa created the impression of having “super ministries” that now have two deputy ministers. These include: trade and industry; agriculture, rural development and land reform; cooperative governance and traditional affairs; and international relations and cooperation. “It means he hasn’t cut down on the bureaucratic excesses as promised,” Naidu says.
But political commentator Justice Malala says Ramaphosa needed to accommodate some of the dead wood, which is why he didn’t slash his cabinet as expected. “His cabinet is on all fronts an accommodationist one that tries to make small movements forward and yet not alienate or make any ANC faction too unhappy to walk out,” he adds.
Malala points out the president booted out ANC Women’s League favourites Bathabile Dlamini and Nomvula Mokonyane but upped the number of women in the cabinet to 50%. This leaves the Women’s League without recourse to complain, he says.
THE MONEY MATTER
Economist Dawie Roodt says even if Ramaphosa had cut back the number of departments to five, it wouldn’t have saved a significant amount of money. “That’s not where the big money goes – the big money goes to education, health services and so on.”
The government would have saved “a couple of hundred million” if the cabinet had been trimmed more “but that’s just a drop in the ocean”.
“The political reality is he had to build his presence and use cabinet posts as a loyalty reward,” Roodt says. “Yes, he could’ve reduced the number of posts but a couple of guys would have been angry with him.” And the more people the president has on his side, the better his chances of turning the country around.