Guest Column

Limited choices force a conservative Ramaphosa Cabinet

2019-05-31 09:09
Pres. Cyri Ramaphosa maak sy nuwe kabinet bekend. Foto: Felix Dlangamandla

Pres. Cyri Ramaphosa maak sy nuwe kabinet bekend. Foto: Felix Dlangamandla

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Acting as Chairman of the Board – in corporate terms – President Ramaphosa has found a large body of ANC insiders who he feels he can work with and will largely take his lead, writes Daniel Silke.

At least President Cyril Ramaphosa's first major hurdle, that of compiling an acceptable Cabinet has been accomplished. But somehow, the old adage of "you can only work with what you have" comes to mind when dissecting the intricacies of the appointments. 

There were few real surprises, little new blood of consequence, and overall, it was something of an anti-climax after the week of high drama as David Mabuza and Pravin Gordhan faced legal and disciplinary challenges.

For Ramaphosa, this was clearly a first tranche of change. He said as much. And, he indicated the he would police the performance agreements with his new executive and would be prepared to act if they were not upheld. So, we can expect change should circumstances of scandal and inefficiency creep into the first "New Dawn" Cabinet.

The lack of excitement in the eventual announcement was perhaps simply a reflection of a continued approach of extreme caution by President Ramaphosa. The fragility of Nasrec 2017 is still there. Ace Magashule is still acting as the anti-Ramaphosa whilst Jacob Zuma's legal matters continue apace.

For the president, the best he could hope for was to assemble a team largely supportive of him and simultaneously offer additional positions to all the vested interest groups within the ANC – some supportive and others combative.

It was a political pastiche which is to be expected within the complex world of ANC politics. When you have to satisfy the alliance partners, add in a healthy dose of diversity, sprinkle over a generous gender balance, add the right amount of patronage and season with some political enemies to keep them close at bay, it all becomes a compromise. Still, this was Ramaphosa's compromise – it does still reflect a larger wholistic approach to sorting out these nuances under his leadership.

He did loosen the bonds of the Zuma era by eliminating (directly) Bathabile Dlamini and (indirectly), Nomvula Mokonyane. But, he couldn't resist the man who largely was responsible for his victory, one DD Mabuza. It is a debt-of-gratitude that makes the bond strong, at least for the immediate future.

Cabinet reflects Ramaphosa's attempt to stamp his authority

So acting as Chairman of the Board – in corporate terms – President Ramaphosa has found a large body of ANC insiders who he feels he can work with and will largely take his lead. That's the important bit – the Cabinet choices reflect an attempt to stamp his authority on his Presidency at an early stage and even of some of the choices were suspect, their inclusion will reflect an attempt to reel them into the Ramaphosa world view.

For the media and the markets, the major headlines simply reflected continuity. The maverick Tito Mboweni is back as finance minister despite open criticism from Cosatu. Ramaphosa sure stood his ground on this since any real structural economic reforms in South Africa will be predicated on a buy-in from the trade unions. 

Similarly, Ramaphosa stood firm against the EFF's pressure and re-appointed Pravin Gordhan. Clearly, the president must feel that Gordhan has an excellent chance of winning his case against Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane as the last thing he would want is an embarrassing resignation of a senior minister soon into the new executive's term.

Should Gordhan win the case, other political consequences could follow with a weakened Public Protector under severe pressure to be recalled.

So with the two kingmakers in Mboweni and Gordhan firmly in place, and Mabuza "clearing" his name in a mystery series of meetings with the ANC's Integrity Commission, President Ramaphosa could put the rest of the Cabinet puzzle together.

Perhaps most disappointing was his failure to use the two constitutionally-mandated openings in Cabinet to bring in talented individuals from outside the political realm. Given Ramaphosa's links with business, imagine the sentiment shift an appointment directly from the private sector might've heralded.

South Africa is awash with outstanding corporate talent who have presided over substantial wealth creation for their shareholders. It's that type of talent that is really needed to balance the more ideologically driven Ebrahim Patel who retains a critical economic cluster portfolio in trade and industries.

Using those two positions to bring in the likes of the former CEO of FirstRand, Sizwe Nxasana for example, would've been a clear signal to business that government was ready to re-ignite its relationship with the private sector. Instead, the "outsider positions" went to ANC insiders, namely Parks Tau and Patel.

Re-kindling the flame of reaching across the aisle

Significantly, Ramaphosa did re-kindle the flame of reaching across the aisle and appointing an opposition MP to spice up the executive.

This time, Patricia de Lille ticked all the boxes. She had the right mix of diversity (and talent) going for her along with a recent history of embarrassing the DA and being a potential ally for the ANC in its quest to regain lost ground in the Western Cape.

De Lille's appointment is an important one in that it does afford the rather closed and myopic ANC caucus a chance to be infused with some new thinking. And if that is what the president was seeking, then it's a welcome step.

For De Lille, she will have to make sure she is not subsumed by the ANC or she will find herself facing a backlash from within her own fledgling party. She will also need to secure some scope to really act within Cabinet to pressure public works to find hitherto scarce urban land for housing.

Finally, President Ramaphosa has brought in his former contender for power, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. This is a smart move to keep her close-by and a key player as the "New Dawn" is attempted.

But, from a political perspective, Dlamini-Zuma is important to the flagging fortunes of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. Her role there amongst traditional and rural communities can be very useful to the party as it attempts to claw back some of its lost support in the province.

Contrary to the newspaper headlines that this new Cabinet represented a "Dream Team" for Cyril Ramaphosa, it was more of a conservative work-in-progress representing a better pick of the available ANC caucus insiders. That there were not many more talented individuals on the ANC party list, is an issue the party will urgently need to work on for future years.

Sure, it was younger, but not by that much. Yes, it was cleaner, but not that squeaky clean and while it was smaller, it definitely wasn't small enough. Ultimately, whatever the personalities involved, it will all be about policy and performance. It's a start with a tough road ahead. But it's a start.

- Daniel Silke is director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website.

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Read more on:    anc  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  patricia de ­lille  |  cabinet appointments
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