President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new cabinet has few surprises. He culled the so-called captured and integrity-challenged ministers, but there were surprisingly few new faces.
The composition of the cabinet was the litmus test to prove whether Ramaphosa has taken control of the ANC and wrestled power from the opposing faction he so narrowly beat at Nasrec in 2017. It was his opportunity to show the extent of his power base within the ANC. Many, including myself, hoped he would announce a fresh and competent cabinet indicating a clean break from the former Jacob Zuma administration he inherited.
Unfortunately, it is clear many concessions were made and that the factionalism in the ANC remains. But, on the positive side, he appointed key individuals as ministers of crucial portfolios.
Another surprise is the size of the cabinet, although it may have flowed from concessions. Ramaphosa’s executive number is 64, which is only slightly less than the 73 Zuma had. It is also a far cry from expectations of a cabinet of 25 ministers and 10 deputies.
South Africa does not need such a big cabinet. We need more competent director-generals and officials to effectively implement government policy and to improve the efficiency of departments and service delivery.
A bloated leadership also dilutes accountability.
I had really hoped Ramaphosa would pull a few rabbits out of the hat to indicate a strong conviction to address the core structural problems South Africa faces. Imagine the reaction if he announced a new anti-corruption department as part of the security cluster with Thuli Madonsela at the helm? Or Trevor Manual as a new Minister of Investments. It would have been interesting if a prominent representative from the private sector was appointed in one of the economic ministries, someone like Jabu Mabuza.
I know these tasks will be addressed in other ministries, but such appointments would have made a strong statement.
But be that as it may, from a business and confidence perspective, the cabinet is better than the previous one and few will be able to fault it.
The economic and financial cluster remains one of the critical clusters, and Ramaphosa’s choices reflect continuity.
When Tito Mboweni was appointed as finance minister last year, he brought a fresh approach to the finance ministry. However, it was not widely expected that he would be reappointed as he has said on several occasions that he didn’t want the job. He seemed to think that it was beneath a former governor of the Reserve Bank to be a mere minister.
But he is a good appointment. He has gravitas and will be able to stand up to other ministers when they come cap in hand, and that is a non-negotiable trait the finance minister has to have. Hopefully he will serve the full term.
Ebrahim Patel has done much more behind the scenes as Minister of Economic Development than many give him credit for. It was, after all, not an easy job to attract industrial investment with ubiquitous policy uncertainty, allegations of state capture and distrust in the air.
The reappointment of Pravin Gordhan, despite the obviously politically-motivated report of the Public Protector questioning his integrity, as Minister of Public Enterprises minister is a good move. This is one of the most important portfolios and requires continuity.
The same applies for Gwede Mantashe as mining and energy minister after combining the two ministries. He has the respect of the mining industry and this is critical to address the significant distrust between the industry and government.
The biggest positive surprise was the appointment of Thoko Didiza as the Minister of Agriculture and Land Reform. She is an old hand, knows agriculture and her appointment will be well received in agriculture circles. Hopefully she can also accelerate land reform by reducing political emotion and improving the department’s efficiencies.
All in all, not a bad cabinet and it will give the president more time to restore the trust relationship between the private sector and government. Once/if this happens, it will accelerate investment, which will lead to economic growth. I don’t know how much time he has to achieve this, but hopefully he surprises us soon.