Why the DA got a terrible deal in formation of GNU cabinet: Katzenellenbogen - Biznews

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been massively shortchanged in the GNU deal. It has not been given a fair allocation of Cabinet posts. It is confined to the more administrative Cabinet posts that have little scope over key policies. While it has six Deputy Minister posts including ones at Finance and Trade and Industry, these are overseen by ANC Ministers.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been marginalized in the GNU deal, receiving only administrative cabinet posts with limited policy influence. Despite holding six deputy minister positions, these are overseen by ANC ministers, restricting the DA’s ability to implement reforms. The DA faces significant challenges in its assigned departments, with limited power to influence key areas like public enterprises and empowerment laws. Their involvement in the Cabinet could impact their political standing ahead of local government elections.

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been massively shortchanged in the GNU deal. It has not been given a fair allocation of Cabinet posts. It is confined to the more administrative Cabinet posts that have little scope over key policies. While it has six Deputy Minister posts including ones at Finance and Trade and Industry, these are overseen by ANC Ministers.

Under this deal, the DA cannot even replace the Directors General, the head civil servants in the departments it runs, to ensure that merit alone is the basis for selection. That means it will be stuck with senior civil servants, many of whom got their jobs on the basis of their ideological affinity to the ANC, rather than merit. It is impossible to ensure that they are willing to serve the Minister of the day.

The pushback from the comrades on President Cyril Ramaphosa to leave the DA out of the GNU arrangement and even go with the EFF might have been mounting. The consequence is that we will not see the implementation of reforms that hold a better chance for growth. The politics are not right within the ANC.

In the end the ANC was able to push harder and obtain a deal which leaves the DA effectively caged, preventing its Ministers from pushing reform agendas.

Do its best
Yet, in the face of an all-round bad deal, the DA has to do its best and stay in Cabinet to prevent the radical comrade parties from taking a place at the table.

The DA has no posts with real power that could influence a reform agenda. Key public enterprises like Eskom and Transnet are sealed off from DA influence. The DA has a deputy minister in the Electricity and Energy department, but she might have little to do that has real impact. There is also a DA deputy minister at the Trade and Industry department. But it’s unlikely he can do much to unravel the department’s large empowerment programmes. He might find himself opening the South African stands at international trade shows.

There are seven parties represented in the Cabinet – the ANC, the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Patriotic Alliance (PA), the Freedom Front Plus, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and Good. The DA is the only party that has been seriously short-changed.

In spreading Cabinet posts around, the President gave the DA six posts, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), two, and the Patriotic Alliance, the Good Party, the Freedom Front Plus, and the PAC were given one seat each. Two parties which only managed to get one MP elected each, the Good party and the Pan Africanist Congress were given Cabinet posts.

On the basis of fairness, Cabinet posts should be allocated in proportion to the number of National Assembly seats each party brings to the GNU. All together the GNU parties have 279 seats. The DA should have at least ten of the 32 Cabinet posts, but only has six. The ANC should have about 18 seats, not 20. The consequence of this is that with 62.5 percent of Cabinet posts, the ANC can on its own achieve the more than 60 percent required for “sufficient consensus” for a measure to gain Cabinet approval.

Maybe the six Deputy Minister positions are to compensate the DA for the Cabinet posts it should have had. But the Deputy Minister can only influence policy to the extent allowed by the Minister in the department. If one of the smaller parties is given a Deputy Minister post, there is always a full ANC Minister sitting above them.

The DA cannot now pursue an agenda that would see public enterprises liquidated or sold off, changes to empowerment laws and regulations, and moving the civil service toward merit-based hiring and away from cadre deployment. The comrades were scared by the DA getting too close to the levers of power and successfully pushed back, and the President gave way to them.

That is why the DA did not get Trade and Industry, which runs a massive fund that tries to create black industrialists. And that is why they have been given six B-grade cabinet posts. The DA might be able to turn around the departments it has been given, but they also could be tripped up by political rivalry trying to show they cannot do better than the ANC.

It will be difficult for the DA to turn around its departments in the two years ahead of the local government elections. Even then, it might not be given credit by the voters. It could be seriously damaged by its association with the ANC.

The six cabinet posts the DA was given – Agriculture; Basic Education; Home Affairs; Public Works and Infrastructure; Forestry and Fisheries; and Communications and Digital Technologies  ̶  are more administrative than policy-oriented.  The DA ministers will be tested more by the disasters than successes.

Land Reform and Rural Development has been cleaved off the agriculture department. That means DA leader and recently appointed Minister of Agriculture, John Steenhuisen, will not be able to appear on TV handing out land. He will have to ensure that animal vaccines are available, and that outbreaks of foot and mouth disease are stamped out as fast as possible, and that extension officers do their jobs.

So what does Minister Steenhuisen say when he is asked by farmers why he is part of a government that wants to seize private property?

At Basic Education, the new DA minister Siviwe Gwarube will have to ensure that teachers turn up on time, and actually teach to the required standard. That will bring the DA into direct conflict with the powerful South African Democratic Teachers Union, which has been quick to object to her appointment because of what they say is the anti-union attitude of the DA. The union will be sure to test her very early on.

Public Works and Infrastructure is an important department, but with the heavy public debt burden, its budget is severely constrained. Key will be whether the new minister will be able to root out corruption in the allocation of contracts and bring the construction mafias to justice.

There is no reason not to take on these big challenges and remain in the Cabinet. At least being in the Cabinet and having departments to run and exercising oversight through Parliament means the DA could be better positioned to challenge the ANC. For any real progress, the DA will have to test this new arrangement in every possible way.

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen is a Johannesburg-based freelance journalist


This article was first published on the Daily Friend.