MAHLATSE MAHLASE: Cabinet reshuffle makes hope for accountability less likely

**OPINION**

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first Cabinet reshuffle since officially taking office has failed to live up to expectations as he maintained many of the non-performing and inept ministers while praising the discredited. This was an opportunity to address the shameless behaviour of particularly the now disgraced former Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize for allegedly siphoning funds meant for COVID-19, but failed to do so.

Ramaphosa’s first Cabinet was understandably one based on compromise and survival. It was seen as his way to please the warring factions within the ANC with the hope to achieve some sort of unity. Keeping them inside the tent was a strategy worth pursuing at the time. It was, however, expected that at some point he would need to overhaul his executive to deal with his detractors and bring in fresh new talent to drive his own agenda. Disappointingly, this did not happen soon enough. The country has since been in perpetual crisis mode, unable to cultivate the capable leadership needed to deliver on the many promises made.

The sweeping changes made to the Ministries of Finance, State Security, Defence and Health, while a marginal improvement, reflect an organisation that has run out of ideas and where the pickings are rather slim.

In fact the only bold move he made was the charge of state security, cutting out the middle man by disbanding the ministry so the country’s top spies report directly to him. History will tell if it was the right move.

His failure with regards to consequence management saw Bheki Cele kept on as Police Minister, a reward for Ayanda Dlodlo in Public Service and Administration. Firing Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula could not have come sooner and has been long in the making. But she gets a new deployment soon. Ramaphosa, like his predecessors, have to make sure the ANC elite can feed their families by keeping them in the employ of the state, despite their non-performance and embarrassment.

The recent violence in the country was a spectacular show of that poor performance. Ramaphosa himself said Security Cluster ministers failed in their duty. And as a result more than 300 people are dead, over 100,000 people are now jobless and the livelihoods of entrepreneurs burnt to ashes in an economy already struggling to rebound.

If failing to stop the worst violence post-apartheid was not enough to get you fired – then what would?
Instead of showing the country a united front in what had occurred and what was needed to bring the violence under control, ministers contradicted him, some were missing in action for days while South Africans anxiously waited for leadership and decisive action. We are still waiting Mr President.

The message we received loud and clear is that keeping the peace in his tattered and tainted ANC is more important than national interests. While we understand that firing his detractors would lead to a larger group working against him ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in 2022, becoming president of a country means that the well-being of its citizens should come first, always.

Perhaps we expected too much. Was the promise of a clean government just too much? Surely describing Mkhize’s leadership as outstanding despite him being implicated in corruption of the worst kind was a step too far. Mkhize has been implicated in a R150 million irregularly awarded tender to his associates with some of that money allegedly ending up in the accounts of family members. At a time when desperate South Africans trusted him to save lives, his family members were renovating houses, buying salons with taxpayer money.

When Ramaphosa entered office, he promised to clean up following the “nine wasted years” of our now jailed former president Jacob Zuma. Yet he chose from the same ilk that were complicit in South Africa’s economic, social and moral decline.

In the mix is still Sports and Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Lindiwe Sisulu, very loud supporters of the jailed former leader. We still have Pravin Gordhan who oversaw the finance portfolio and loosened his grip on the country’s purse. Today, the country’s debt is unsustainable. He is now accountable for state-owned entities in crisis but we hardly ever hear from him as he declines requests for interviews with the media.

Some have made light of Roland Schoeman’s offer to become the Minister of Sport but it is indicative of the desperation amongst South Africans who want to see this country succeed. They know what is needed to save this country. If only the ANC would see this, too.

Cabinets the world over have always been seen as an opportunity to extend patronage. It buys loyalty and keeps leaders in positions of power. It buys them time for a possible second term. Surely with the pandemic and recent violence, the needs of the country should come first. We all want our country to work and serve us all. We are desperate for accountability and efficiency. The hope is fading.