President Cyril Ramaphosa gave a taste of how the sixth administration of the country post the general elections next year could shape up, but he steered clear of rocking the boat too hard to avoid an internal fallout in the ANC too close to the polls.
Ramaphosa merged the communications and telecommunications departments into one, doing away with a minister and a deputy from the Cabinet collective of 33 ministers and 36 deputy ministers.
The numbers suggest that the move was a small drop in the ocean, but Ramaphosa dubbed it the “first wave”.
In ANC circles it is understood that Ramaphosa wants to have some 10 fewer posts for ministers and an even bigger cut of deputies.
It is a difficult political terrain for him to navigate, particularly when some of those who are candidates for the chop have established themselves as influential figures in the ANC structures.
Think ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, who is also Minister in the Presidency for Women, and who has been confirmed by the apex court to be on the wrong side of the law.
At any other time that would have been a solid reason for Ramaphosa to dump her.
Then there is the new Minister of Environmental Affairs Nomvula Mokonyane – previously at communications – whose successor in the water and sanitation department, Gugile Nkwinti, has come short of fingering her for bankrupting the department.
It was expected that the pending financial audit report of the department would provide Ramaphosa with the necessary ammunition to get rid of her and mark Mokonyane’s fall from grace.
For now, she remains in Cabinet.
It would raise eyebrows that Mokonyane graduates from a R1.5 billion budget (2018/19) at communications to a lucrative R7.1 billion at environmental affairs.
She is a survivor, as others have quipped.
The current political climate has ensured survival for the likes of Dlamini and Mokonyane.
The women’s league is a serious vote catcher for the ANC.
Its members – always in their trademark doeks, green blouses and black skirts – religiously flood the campaign rallies.
The backlash could be huge if Ramaphosa stepped on their toes and he knows that too.
The ANC would need all the ground forces it could muster to stage a pushback against the opposition in the coming elections.
But also, not everyone in Ramaphosa’s ANC top six would have been keen to see Dlamini shown the door.
There is already an argument in Luthuli House to disarm Ramaphosa from having even the faintest thought that Dlamini should go.
Their defence is that the court did not say Ramaphosa should fire Dlamini. In other words, unless the court spells it out, Ramaphosa must carefully consider how he proceeds. The ANC top six last month had a “bosberaad” (a meeting in an isolated venue to break a political deadlock) of some sort in Bela-Bela in Limpopo to iron out issues among them.
City Press learnt that the meeting was heated but at the end everyone went home smiling and hugging – which may explain why the Maharani plot to topple Ramaphosa was foiled.
Ramaphosa would not want to be responsible for breaking the fragile pact by firing someone like Dlamini.
The alternative would have been to lobby the women’s league to provide a replacement candidate to appease them.
If Ramaphosa did try that, then clearly it did not work.
But the post-election era may prove to be a bloodbath for many hangers-on from former president Jacob Zuma’s executive.
It would also mean fewer committees and committee chairpersons in Parliament.
And it would still be a risky move for Ramaphosa as many of those who are members were also elected in the Nasrec ANC national executive.
He would just have to be tougher and ride the storm.