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.”


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.


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.

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