After the almost tsunami-like wave of euphoria that greeted Jacob Zuma’s handover of the reins of
leadership to Cyril Ramaphosa, a wave boosted by the latter’s strong State of the Nation Address, it
was inevitable that a measure of realpolitik would intrude at some stage. Last night’s cabinet reshuffle
might well have been such a moment, and probably the first of many.
There were high hopes for a full clean-up of cabinet, with marching orders being given to all the
corrupt ministers, all the Gupta-linked ministers, all the inept ministers and all the underperforming
or non-performing ministers. Clearly, Mr Ramaphosa was not able, and perhaps not willing, to move
so far or so fast. Rather, it appears to be a case of getting rid of the worst and bringing back the best,
with a fair number of questionable performers left alone or shifted sideways. Thus, some of former
President Zuma’s closest allies are out: Mosebenzi Zwane, David Mahlobo, Des van Rooyen, Faith
Muthambi, Bongani Bongo. Conversely, people with a track record for diligence and hard work are
in, significantly strengthening the executive: Pravin Gordhan, Nhlanhla Nene, Zweli Mkhize, Derek
Hanekom, Gwede Mantashe.
Somewhat surprisingly, given her disastrous handling of Social Development, Bathabile Dlamini has
been retained in cabinet, though shifted to the Women’s portfolio within the Presidency. This signals
Mr Ramaphosa’s enforced sensitivity to ‘constituencies’ within the ANC; in this case the Women’s
League, of which Ms Dlamini is president. Perhaps a similar consideration explains the survival of
Nomvula Mokonyane, whose tenure as Water and Sanitation Minister was so bad that the Standing
Committee on Public Accounts chairperson has described her department as having “totally
collapsed”. Evidently another high-profile departure, Fikile Mbalula, lacked such a place-saving
constituency. Quite why he was sacked while his fellow Youth League veteran, Malusi Gigaba, was
merely moved from one senior post (Finance) to another (Home Affairs) is unclear.
Perhaps Ms Dlamini, Ms Mokonyane and Mr Gigaba have simply been placed in what the airlines
call a holding pattern. In fact, the appointments as a whole could be viewed as a ‘holding cabinet’ or
in Mr Ramaphosa’s words, a ‘transitional cabinet’. Some potential foes have been kept close, such as
Dr Dlamini-Zuma, who takes over from Jeff Radebe in charge of monitoring and evaluation in the
Presidency. On the other hand, a number of reliable allies have been given new tasks: Naledi Pandor
takes over Higher Education, and will have to deal with the free tertiary education headache; Lindiwe
Sisulu goes to International Relations, a post that will require a more diplomatic approach than we
are used to from her; and Mr Radebe gets Energy, where hopefully he will put a firm end to
speculation about nuclear power deals.
From the President’s statement announcing the reshuffle it appears that some ministers might well go
when the restructuring of portfolios and departments happens. Indeed, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that, as the NPA does its work and the Hawks continue their investigations, the President
might be given grounds for firing others.
All in all, and despite the questionable retentions, this is a much stronger, much more competent and
– above all – much more dependable executive than the one that Mr Zuma cobbled together.
Hopefully, we will now be spared the embarrassment of ministers lying to us, to the Courts, and to
Parliament in pursuit of their not-so-hidden agendas.
It would be good to be able to end this brief assessment on that note. But a deep and worrying shadow
looms over the new cabinet, and over Mr Ramaphosa’s vision of renewal and restoration. David
Mabuza, our new Deputy-President, comes to the number two job in the country with a reputation
every bit as low as Jacob Zuma’s; some would say more so, since there have been no credible
allegations of the use of violence in pursuit of political ends against Mr Zuma. Mr Mabuza will not
necessarily wield much direct power as D-P, but there is no reason to think that his political ambitions
have now been exhausted. And he is known, like Mr Ramaphosa, to be willing to play a long game.
Unless Mr Mabuza turns out to have reformed himself quite radically, we may find ourselves creeping
towards the brink again in ten, or even five, years’ time.