Ramaphosa’s GNU cabinet is weak tea: Ivo Vegter - Biznews

The cabinet announcement held little excitement, as familiar faces were reshuffled and the former opposition got crumbs.

The cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa brought more disappointment than hope. Familiar under-performers were shuffled around, and minor parties with minimal electoral influence received significant positions. Despite promises to reduce the cabinet size, it expanded to 32 ministers, costing taxpayers millions. The Democratic Alliance (DA) received fewer influential posts, limiting their ability to enact change. Critics argue the new cabinet prioritizes political alliances over competency, undermining potential progress.

Ivo Vegter

The cabinet announcement held little excitement, as familiar faces were reshuffled and the former opposition got crumbs.

It was an evening of disappointments. President Cyril Ramaphosa once again displayed his disrespect for the nation on Sunday night as he turned up to his cabinet announcement – already scheduled at a late time – almost an hour late.

Then he announced a national executive that conceded as little as possible to the Democratic Alliance (DA), while reshuffling some familiar under-performers and filling up space with minor parties with even smaller electoral mandates.

He began by acknowledging that he had to break his promise to reduce the size of the cabinet. Instead, he expanded it to a bloated total of 32 ministers, not counting deputy president Paul Mashatile.

Of deputy ministers – most of whom we don’t need at all – there are now 43, adding up to a grand total of 75 multi-million rand pay cheques with all the trimmings.

(Deputy ministers earn R2.22 million, or R185 000 per month; ministers earn R2.69 million, or R224 167 per month; and the deputy president, like the speaker of the National Assembly and the chair of the National Council of Provinces, earns R3.16 million, or R263 333 per month. Cabinet salaries alone, therefore, cost the taxpayer R186.7 million per year.)

That cabinet had to increase in size is, of course, nonsense. The ANC did not need to invite smaller parties into the Government of National Unity (GNU), and those small parties did not need cabinet positions.

The ANC did so purely in order to deflect their arch-rival’s insurgency into the national executive and undermine the power of the DA.

One-seat wonders
And so we have the absurdity of the nationalist and socialist Pan Africanist Congress, which brings a single Parliamentary seats to the GNU (1 in 287, or 0.35%), receiving a full ministerial position (1 in 33, or more than 3%). It was given Land Reform and Rural Development, a department newly split from Agriculture. From this lofty height, its disputed leader, Mzwanele Nyhontso, will “advance the revolutionary agenda of the liberation struggle”. In the case of land, being “a priori a property of the indigenous people”, this means rendering it “common property”, so that it “cannot be bought and sold”, and “cannot also be collateralised as capital whatsoever”.

Likewise, Patricia De Lille, whose GOOD Party is another one-seat wonder, gets a whole ministerial post. She remains Minister of Tourism at the head of a moribund department. She has occupied this post for over a year with little to show for it by way of reform or achievements, except for co-publishing (with Ebrahim Patel’s Department of Trade Barriers, De-Industrialisation and Control) a Tourism Master Plan, which has never done any industry any good.

Both of these should have been deputy minister positions, at most. Ganief Hendricks of Al-Jama-ah, who only became deputy minister of Social Development even though his party brought two seats to the GNU table, and Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement, who was made a deputy minister of Defence despite commanding three Parliamentary votes, will both feel hard done by.

Man of culture
Gayton McKenzie, the hard-line religious conservative ex-convict in charge of the power-hungry Patriotic Alliance (PA) was always going to get a ministry for his party’s nine seats in the GNU. With his hang-em-high and kick-em-out rhetoric, let’s all be grateful that it’s not Police or Home Affairs, and that he has instead been entrusted with the epitome of an unnecessary ministry: Sport, Arts, and Culture. Bookies will rejoice, but I doubt McKenzie has ever seen the inside of a theatre, an auditorium, or a serious art gallery. He is many things, but a man of culture, he is not.

The Freedom Front Plus has six seats, but it also gets a mini-ministry for its leader, Pieter Groenewald. He is to be in charge of Correctional Services, which was unnecessarily split out of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. One expects medical parole will be less easy to obtain in future.

The IFP, with its 17 seats (5.9% of the GNU) gets two surprisingly beefy ministerial portfolios, plus a deputy ministry. They are IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa as minister of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs, Mzamo Buthelezi as minister of Public Service and Administration, and Narend Singh as one of the deputies in the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

DA haul
It’s the DA allocation that disappoints. Despite occupying 30.3% of the GNU’s 287 seats, its cabinet haul is a mere six ministries out of 32, representing only 18.75%.

That leaves the ANC with 20 cabinet posts (62.5%), although it represents only 55.4% of the GNU’s seats in the National Assembly.

In addition, the DA receives six deputy ministerial positions, of which only two are the sole deputy post in their respective departments.

The DA’s portfolio of cabinet seats would have looked a lot stronger if it had included the powerful position of minister of Trade, Industry and Competition. That would have given it a genuine say in the future economic trajectory of the country.

As it is, the DA’s leader, John Steenhuisen has to be content with the Department of Agriculture, which has been stripped of its Land Reform and Rural Development functions. Sure, food security and agricultural production are important issues, but despite Ramaphosa’s claims to the contrary, agriculture is hardly a sunrise industry.

The DA also gets the ministries of Basic Education; Public Works and Infrastructure; Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment; Home Affairs; and Communications and Digital Technologies.

Of these, Basic Education is perhaps the most important for the long-term future of South Africa. Siviwe Gwaruba, who turns 35 this year, will have her hands full, however.

The general secretary of the powerful South Africa Democratic Teachers’ Union, Mugwena Maluleke, called the appointment an “affront”, and said, “Their motive is to weaken the unions, in particular SADTU.”

Let’s hope Maluleke is right.

Public Works and Infrastructure is significant because it is a mess. The country’s infrastructure is in a shocking state of disrepair, the stock of government-owned buildings is poorly maintained, and the department is allegedly riddled with corruption. It also wields a large budget and its impact cuts across many sectors, including transport, energy, water and sanitation, education, and health.

It will be an opportunity for Dean Macpherson, who was appointed minister in this department, to prove that the DA can make a difference at a large scale, against entrenched opposition from cronies and crooks.

Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment is a good department for the DA’s Dion George, since it will test his resolve to cut unnecessary red tape and facilitate rapid socio-economic development even in the face of determined opposition from well-funded lobby groups.

Leon Schreiber should be good at Home Affairs. He can only be an improvement on the incompetents that came before him.

Solly Malatsi, the 38-year-old former DA spokesperson who has shadowed several ministries in the past, has been put in charge of the long-mismanaged Communications and Digital Technologies ministry. A long succession of short-lived ministers have left the department in disarray, with interminable delays and poor policy choices bedevilling the development of the technology industry.

As Duncan McLeod writes on TechCentral, Malatsi will face a large number of policy challenges involving rewriting outdated information and communication technology laws, repurposing state-owned Sentech, determining the future of the troubled SABC, completing the digital television migration project (“something a dozen ANC ministers have been unable to do”), and deciding what to do with the bankrupt Post Office and Postbank.

The DA’s deputy ministerial appointments are to the departments of Finance; Trade, Industry and Competition; Higher Education; Energy and Electricity; Water and Sanitation; and Small Business Development.

Old faces
A number of familiar faces have been reshuffled.

To the relief of the entire country, Gwede Mantashe has lost control over energy to the minister of Electricity and Energy, Kgosientsho Ramakgopa. (I said relief, but he was right about nuclear power, and right about the pernicious influence of global environmental lobby group over African energy policies.)

Mantashe is a lynchpin of the tripartite alliance. A co-founder (with Ramaphosa) and former secretary-general of the National Union of Mineworkers, and also a former chairperson and politburo member of the South African Communist Party (SACP), and current chairperson of the ANC, he is a factional power-monger within the ANC that Ramaphosa could not afford to ditch. Ramaphosa’s own survival against the Radical Economic Transformation faction of the ANC in large part depends on the support of Mantashe.

Accordingly, he retains the remainder of his former portfolio, now under the title of minister of Minerals and Petroleum Resources. This does not bode well for the recovery of this declining industry.

Enoch Godongwana has been retained as minister of Finance, which explains why markets reacted positively to the cabinet announcement. The National Treasury and the Reserve Bank under the capable Lesetja Kganyago have been twin islands of prudence, risk-aversion, and resistance to ideological excess. Markets will welcome the continuity and continued commitment to curb expenditures, limit bailouts to failing state-owned enterprises, and restrain the national debt.

Naledi Pandor has lost both her seat in Parliament and her cabinet position, to be replaced as minister of International Relations and Cooperation by former Justice minister Ronald Lamola. Unfortunately, he largely shares Pandor’s anti-Western outlook, and is unlikely to significantly change South Africa’s foreign policy.

The perennially under-performing Angie Motshekga, whose legacy will be that 81% of Grade 4 kids cannot read for meaning, has been rewarded by putting her in charge of – as I described it on X – “two helicopters, a training jet and a dented submarine”. Defence, that is. Expect the decline of the armed services to continue.

Another teacher, senior ANC- and Ramaphosa-loyalist Senzo Mchunu, has been appointed minister of Police. His only relevant experience is vicious faction-fighting in Kwazulu-Natal.

Mantashe’s successor as chairperson of the SACP, Blade Nzimande, has been blessed with the portfolio of Science, Technology and Innovation, which is all that remains after Higher Education was split into its own department, under new minister Nobuhle Nkabane.

I don’t know much about Nkabane, but her curriculum vitae on Wikipedia looks pretty decent for the position. She’ll have her work cut out for her, however, with complex unresolved problems over tertiary education funding, high dropout rates, and strained academic resources.

In the Department of Health, Joe Phaahla has been demoted to deputy minister, a position he previously held under both Aaron Motsoaledi and Zweli Mkhize. Motsoaledi, who was health minister from 2009 to 2019 has returned to his former post, much to the dismay of observers in the health sector, as Mia Malan writes for the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism.

A retrospective assessment of Motsoaledi’s tenure in Spotlight suggests why.

Although Motsoaledi is credited with accelerating the rollout of anti-retroviral treatment for AIDS patients, the turning point against denialism really came under his predecessor, Barbara Hogan.

Meanwhile, almost everything else that could go wrong, did. Motsoaledi oversaw a period of “deep-seated dysfunction in provincial health departments”.

“There was a sense in the Motsoaledi years that there was always a new crisis, always a new fire to put out, and that there was just never enough capacity in the National Department to deal with it all,” journalist Marcus Low wrote in his assessment.

His “war on salt” earned him the nickname “Nanny Motsoaledi”. It was part of a broader campaign of policing the lifestyle choices of South Africans.

Motsoaledi is best remembered the Kwazulu-Natal oncology crisis, during which cancer patients died without as much as painkilling medication, as well as for the tragedy that ensued when the Health Department terminated its contract with Life Esidimeni, a private care provider. In the latter case, it moved 1 500 state mental health patients to cheaper NGO and community facilities. Almost 10% of the patients subsequently died of starvation and neglect in unlicenced and grossly under-resourced circumstances.

Appointments such as those of Mantashe, Motsoaledi and Motshekga suggest that the ANC continues to reward loyalty even in the face of failure.

Hard bargain
All of the DA appointees to cabinet will have to deal with either ANC deputy ministers, in the case of ministerial positions, or ANC ministers, in the case of deputy ministers. It will not run any department on its own.

The DA claims to have “driven a hard bargain”, but I can’t help feeling that it was short-changed. Either way, it will have a massively difficult time enacting real reform in any of its portfolios, opposed as it is by entrenched ANC cadres, unions, and criminal cartels.

All in all, the cabinet, bloated though it is, is weak tea. The DA is under-represented, given their electoral influence in the GNU, and ANC loyalists with poor records are over-represented.

I’m inclined to agree with this editorial in PoliticsWeb, which says entering the GNU on the current terms could destroy the DA. It will assume the great burden of public expectation, and, unable to deliver results rapidly, will only reap public disillusionment.

The editorial concludes that “the DA [will] be in no position to effect any kind of useful change at all… in office but not in power”.

This is why I favoured a limited confidence-and-supply arrangement all along. I would be surprised if this GNU lasts very long, or achieves very much. I truly hope the newly-minted DA ministers and deputy ministers can prove me wrong.

At least we’ll have impeached former judge John Hlophe of Jacob Zuma’s MK Party as Leader of the Official Opposition to keep a watchful eye on this chimeric cabinet.

Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets


This article was first published on the Daily Friend.