FIRST TAKE: It's steady as she goes for Ramaphosa's Cabinet

2018-11-22 22:11
Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams (GCIS).

Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams (GCIS).

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President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday opted not to make major changes to his executive, filling the ministries left vacant by the passing of Edna Molewa (environmental affairs) and resignation of Malusi Gigaba (home affairs) with members of his current executive while merging two other departments. 

Politically he didn't have too much room to manoeuvre. He made his big play on his inherited Zuma Cabinet earlier this year making a whopping 23 changes, including firing 10 holdover ministers. Those who got the chop in the first two weeks of the Ramaphosa government included Zumaïtes David Mahlobo (spy), Mosebenzi Zwane (Gupta affairs), Des van Rooyen (weekend special) and Lynne Brown (Gupta liaison).

But others remained behind, like Nomvula Mokonyane, who was moved from a dysfunctional and technically bankrupt department of water affairs and sanitation, and Bathabile Dlamini, who made a royal mess of social development and had to be sanctioned by the Constitutional Court.

Both are still holding on to their Cabinet positions.

In fact, Mokonyane has been given a new assignment at environmental affairs where she will be in charge of the fight against the scourge of rhino poaching and championing environmental laws and regulations. And, even more distressing, is the fact that she'll also be roped in to help manage the unfolding disaster in the Vaal catchment area where pollution and deteriorating sanitation infrastructure – for which her old department should be blamed – have wreaked havoc on the eco-system.

Dlamini has been left untouched as minister in the Presidency in charge of women's affairs, a place where she can do minimum damage.

Ramaphosa's reshuffle has left the economic and security clusters untouched. The main economic departments (finance, economic development, trade and industry) as well as the security clusters (police, defence, intelligence) are considered provinces where heads of state will always attempt to imprint their stamp of authority given its strategic importance.

But home affairs, where he has appointed Siyabonga Cwele, and communications, now headed by Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, aren't fluffy departments like sport and arts.

Cwele has a chequered history as intelligence minister where was involved in cleaning out the spy agency's leadership early in former president Jacob Zuma's term. And home affairs plays a central role in greasing the wheels of the economy as well as ensuring border security.

Of all the appointments, that of Ndabeni-Abrahams probably carries the most political significance. She is young, comes from the ANC's youth structures, has been an MP for more than a decade and a deputy minister for a couple of years. Her elevation to a full ministry could placate Ramaphosa's critics saying that the ANC is purging it of a younger generation of leaders, a message that was heard after Gigaba resigned.

Ramaphosa however would not want to make any far-reaching changes before next year's ballot. The ANC is divided, there is resistance against the government's cleanup operation and the party's former president is mobilising against the leadership. The president, for now, wants to consolidate.

It's steady as she goes. But after the election? All bets will be off.

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