[OPINION] All the president’s men and women
It turns out there are clouds on the horizon in the ‘new dawn’ announced by President Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address. It was ever thus.
Last night’s Cabinet reshuffle announcement started almost two hours late. Given that Ramaphosa is known for his punctuality, when the announcement was postponed twice because of ‘further consultation’, it felt as if something was amiss. It was all rather frustrating because yet again, the country was kept waiting, presumably to deal with internal ANC politics. We can only hope that these delays that make the Presidency seem as if it is lacking in authority, do not become routine. When Ramaphosa eventually took to the podium he looked like a man somewhat exhausted, just more than ten days into the job.
This is no country for the faint-hearted. We could not expect a reconfiguration of Cabinet nor wholesale changes. Ramaphosa’s narrow victory at Nasrec and his ‘deal with DD’ (Mabuza) has created a difficulty of its own complex kind. Mabuza, the former Mpumalanga premier, has been tied to several corruption scandals and political assassinations. His ‘betrayal’ of the Zuma camp at Nasrec shows, too, what a political chameleon he is. As Matthews Phosa has said about the compromises at Nasrec, “Nothing principled guided the combination of the so-called ‘unity’ slate. Nothing. It was more about you give me power, I give you power. There’s (sic) no principles.”
When Ramaphosa read the reshuffle announcement Jacob Zuma was the proverbial elephant in the room. Ramaphosa has inherited a broken country, a broken ANC and a broken economy. Added to that, the detritus of Zuma’s bloated, inefficient Cabinet, filled with far too many corrupt and deadbeat ministers, cannot simply be cleaned up given the fractious nature of ANC politics.
So, last night was always going to be a ‘mixed bag’ that would not please everyone.
But this is politics and Ramaphosa’s Cabinet feels almost like a coalition Cabinet with a healthy (hopefully not fatal?) dose of realpolitik intruding.
As with ‘mixed bag’ decisions, it is not all bad news. That Nhlanhla Nene returns as Finance Minister is sweet poetic justice. Nene is a decent man. Ever since his humiliating axing by Zuma, he has maintained a dignified silence. He deserves his job back. Given the Commission of inquiry into Sars, Tom Moyane may soon be relieved of his job. Nene would no doubt prefer an honest man at the helm of revenue collection. Deputy Finance Minister Sifiso Buthelezi was also removed and replaced by Mondli Gungubele who has been outspoken on ‘state capture’.
All’s the pity that Mcebisi Jonas, another decent man, did not make the cut to a ministerial position. We can only hope that if indeed he wishes to be considered for public service, that he somehow finds himself back in a leadership position. There is also a rich irony in Pravin Gordhan taking over the reins of Public Enterprises after his cutting parliamentary interactions with Lynne Brown. Brown’s tenure at Public Enterprises has been shambolic and corrupt. She should not be let off the hook simply because she has been fired.
Ramaphosa has therefore managed to wrest our public finances from the corrupt and incompetent and so we should probably sleep a little better at night. Rob Davies and Ebrahim Patel at Trade and Industry and Economic Development have survived - both are thoughtful men, perhaps less given to the theatrics of politics and so they tend to fly under the radar. But, they are committed to task, as is their colleague at Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, who also retained his position.
Another inspired choice was Naledi Pandor at Higher Education. Pandor is currently delivering guest lectures at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is pure class - thoughtful, intelligent and not given to empty rhetoric. There is hope that she will calm a very unsettled sector.
But Gwede Mantashe at Mineral Resources was probably the last name anyone expected. Of course, no one knows the sector better than Mantashe. And for all his ‘mantash-ing’ as ANC secretary-general, he will be a far better messenger and negotiator of the Mining Charter and will be trusted by workers and business. Mantashe is also a consummate politician. Even when he was defending Zuma for all those years, it was hard to completely dislike him. He will be willing to engage and that can only be a great improvement on Mosebenzi Zwane.
Inevitably then, there are the contradictions. Malusi Gigaba should not be anywhere near a ministerial position given last week’s Pretoria High court judgment. Then, Judge Tuchten found that Gigaba had breached the Constitution and had told deliberate untruths. This was in relation to the Fireblade matter in which the Oppenheimer family had sought to open a private terminal at OR Tambo. Gigaba, in response, said he would take the matter on appeal. His return to Home Affairs reminds us of his greasing the wheels and expediting the Guptas’ naturalisation.
Added to this, putting Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at Rural Development and Land reform - she of the ‘hole in the head’ fame - and then Nomvula Mokonyane at Communications is worrying. Land reform is a central pillar of the ANC’s policy reform. Either the ANC is not taking the issue that seriously or Nkoana-Mashabane will be the party’s unstable messenger. Both options appear unattractive. Mokonyane, famous for her ‘picking up the rand’ comment, has left a trail of corruption at Water Affairs and Sanitation and an empty kitty. Communications is a key portfolio, riddled with vested interests and which stagnated under Faith Muthambi.
And then there was the Great Survivor of the night - Bathabile Dlamini. Having messed up royally at Social Development, she moves to the Portfolio of Irrelevance - Women. That ministry has never done anything worthwhile and seems to come alive for 16 days every December, declaring ‘activism’ in relation to violence against women and children. Frankly, it should be scrapped along with the ‘16 days’. Dlamini is incapable and corrupt and doubtless she is being retained but demoted because of her Women’s League ties. No magic there, no need to wonder any further than that.
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has been shunted to Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and one wants to ask whether the National Development Plan is dead now? This ministry is another dark hole. Countries that do not wish to lurch from crisis to crisis plan well. South Africa has no such tendencies. While well-intentioned, we seem to have scuppered the NDP and pay it lip service. Instead, we have preferred the shambolic model of governance with no real agreement on the NDP and whether it is, in fact, our planning lodestar. The uninspiring Dr Zuma will probably not manage to revive the discussion either.
In his announcement, Ramaphosa said that a full-scale reconfiguration of Cabinet would happen after a review. He will and must be held to account for that promise because continuing with a bloated Cabinet where patronage drives some positions runs counter to his Sona statement of ‘turning the tide of corruption’ in state institutions.
Despite the inevitable cynicism, South Africa could have been in a much worse position had Dlamini Zuma been installed as president. Added to that, it would be naïve to think that the ANC has not always been a party of compromise and contradiction as regards placing people in key positions. In so many senses too our country has been a place of compromise ever since Mandela’s ANC negotiated us out of a civil war. It’s the nature of the South African beast and not only of the ANC. Compromise can therefore be messy. It also often becomes a way of delaying what we do not or cannot deal with in the present political moment.
Over the next months, we will wait and see whether governance actually improves. Ramaphosa will have to assert his authority over this Cabinet early on.
What the past months show yet again is that the ANC seems incapable of fixing itself and so, as usual, it will be citizens who will need to save this democracy from the most egregious corruption. This will require vigilance.
Therefore, while Cabinet and governance changes are crucial, as the saying goes, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for”.
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february