30 May 2019

South Africa: Ramaphosa Names Cabinet for His 'Clean-Up'

Photo: Kopano Tlape/GCIS
Deputy President David Mabuza, foreground left, and President Cyril Ramaphosa, foreground right, along with Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Directors- General and Senior Government officials at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House for the Extended Cabinet Meeting.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaposa has picked a new cabinet that is largely devoid of the taint of corruption and incompetence and warned they will be 'closely monitored'.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa has named his new cabinet. It's gender-balanced and it has a few fresh faces, but opposition members say that Ramaphosa has put party politics over reform.

The new cabinet is leaner, with 28 rather than 36 portfolios and gender-balanced, with 50% women ministers - up from 48% in the previous cabinet - and putting South Africa on par with Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Ramaphosa's choice of ministers was a highly politicized event, with people from both within and oustide the ruling African National Congress (ANC) casting a critical eye on the appointments.

"The people who I am appointing today must realize that the expectations of the South African people have never been greater and that they will shoulder a great responsibility," Ramaphosa said in a national address on Wednesday, 29 May.

He warned the new ministers that action will be taken if their performances are unsatisfactory.

Cleaning up the government

The expectation is high among South Africans, who re-elected the ANC on May 8, Ramaphosa, as the party leader and president of the country, clean up a system that has been caught in scandal after scandal over several years. Ramaphosa took offices afterJacob Zuma resigned in February 2018 amid persistent corruption allegations.

"To form the nation's Cabinet was the first real test for President Cyril Ramaphosa's much talked about 'clean up' and tough stance on corruption," said Mmusi Maimane, leader of South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA). "Unfortunately, Ramaphosa placed the internal factional interests of the ANC ahead of the interests of the people of South Africa," Maimane said.

In his new cabinet, Ramaphosa has retained a number of his old ministers but dropped several who have been accused of graft. The reappointment of David Mabuza as deputy president, drew wide criticism from the opposition. Mabuza's name has been flagged up by the ANC integrity commission for in connection with corruption. Mabuza was sworn in late as a member of parliament as he reportedly tried to clear his name.

Main offenders excluded

That he finally dropped ministers Bathabile Dlamini and Nomvula Mokonyane was seen to demonstrate Ramaphosa's zero tolerance approach. Dlamini ran the key social development ministry into the ground and Mokonyane is facing serious corruption allegations. The two women, veterans of the ANC, were the source of wide public outrage.

The leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, said they "rejected" the new cabinet and specifically decried the appointment of Pravin Gordhan as the minister of public enterprises.

Gordhan was recently found guilty of improper conduct by South Africa's public protector in a case that stems back to his time as head of the national revenue service. Gordon was, however, also instrumental in exposing corruption in the Zuma administration.

"Had [Gordhan] been excluded, the president would have been vulnerable, and the ANC would have been destabilized," explained political analyst Lesiba Teffo.

A number of new faces in the cabinet, includes the former ANC Youth League deputy president Ronald Lamola, a lawyer in his 30s who will serve as justice minister, and Njabulo Nzuza, who was appointed as deputy home affairs minister. In a surprise move, Ramaphosa also brought Patricia de Lille from the newly-formed Good party in as public works and infrastructure minister.

Addressing jobs, land and the economy

Besides dealing with a row of corruption scandals that plagued the last administration, the new government will have to grapple with high levels of unemployment, demands for a redistribution of land, a downturn of the economy and power outages that have been plaguing the country. Figures suggest that one in four South Africans is currently unemployed. Many observers put the low voter turn-out in the elections to the disillusionment, particularly amongst young voters.

"Almost R5 billion (€306 million or $341 million) each year would be saved if President Ramaphosa cut the Cabinet to 15 Ministers, and resources could prioritize a service-oriented government that focuses its work on delivering services and enabling an environment for job creation," opposition leader Mmusi Maimane claimed. Ramaphosa's cabinet appointments, Maimane continued, suggest that he has no new ideas on how to address the country's job crisis.

Economic analysts, however, viewed Ramaphosa's decision to ensure continuity on the economic front. "From what I gather, investors were hoping that Tito Mboweni would stay as minister of finance, " economist Azar Jammine told DW pointing out that the Rand gained from R14.85 to R14.66 against the US dollar as a result. The former labor minister and central bank governor in Nelson Mandela's cabinet was brought in as finance minister in October 2018, after the last minister resigned in connection to a corruption case.

As the ministers are sworn in on 30 May, analysts and politicians kept a keen eye on the cabinet and how it is taking on the tasks ahead.

Thuso Khumalo contributed to this report from Johannesburg.

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