EDITORIAL: Step by step to a better Cabinet
A bigger axe is to be wielded later, when Cyril Ramaphosa feels he has greater power and advantage
Cyril Ramaphosa’s first Cabinet appointed on Monday is, in his own words, "a transitional Cabinet". The new additions are a reflection of the coalition that won at Nasrec. Most importantly, David Mabuza is now deputy president, Gwede Mantashe is minister of mineral resources, Pravin Gordhan is minister of public enterprises and Bheki Cele is minister of police.
The worst of the worst, or at least most of them, were axed to make way for the new additions.
Those who were kept on are a reflection of the old ANC order. Their retention, for now, is a sign that this group has not disintegrated and still holds some degree of power. However, many have been moved out of strategic portfolios to ones of lesser import. When Ramaphosa’s promised review of the size and structure of the Cabinet is completed many of these posts are likely to be scrapped.
All the strategic economic ministries have been commandeered and all positions have been filled with strong and competent individuals
The public response to the changes has been critical. Citizens are unhappy that Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and Malusi Gigaba have been retained. Many are not inclined to accept that this is only the first stage of a more thorough overhaul that Ramaphosa is planning. Their inclination to believe in the promises of the ANC leader is also waning.
But this is Ramaphosa holding the ANC together by balancing interests and constituencies and rewarding those who had to be rewarded for the sacrifices made in his accession to power. The bigger axe is to be wielded later, when he feels he has greater power and advantage.
Business has been much more celebratory than the broader public, with good reason. Organised business, being familiar with Ramaphosa and close to him socially and politically, is used to his modus operandi of playing the long game, and recent history shows he is likely to win.
Business — and the economy more broadly — has also been strongly considered in the choices Ramaphosa has made.
All the strategic economic ministries have been commandeered and all positions have been filled with strong and competent individuals. The return of Nhlanhla Nene to finance is a great boon to the country. Not only is he known by the markets and investors, but he has the ability to put a damaged Treasury back together and restore its spirit.
Gordhan, who has indicated he will serve in the Cabinet for one year only, is there for one reason: to clean up state-owned enterprises and put them back on track. Unlike Ramaphosa, Gordhan will not take the long road.
Rooting out corruption in state-owned enterprises has been his consuming passion since he was fired in March 2017, and he is itching to get going.
The appointment of Mantashe as minister of mineral resources is inspired and has filled the mining industry with optimism. Mantashe is passionate about mining and the people who work in it. Preserving jobs and encouraging investment will be at the top of his agenda.
His political approach is to seek solutions through negotiation. It is hard to imagine a better person to lead a new Mining Charter process from the government’s side.
Also of critical importance to the business environment is the change in the energy portfolio. Under Zuma’s administration, energy ceased to be an economic portfolio and became a political football. There is much work for Jeff Radebe to do, but the way forward is not difficult. SA has excellent engineers and professionals, many of whom, until recently, were in government or at Eskom. There are plenty of skills to draw on. Radebe just needs to appoint the right people.
For stage one, all of this is not bad. Ramaphosa has made great progress. While he will have to beware that not everyone in the public shares the virtue of patience to the extent he does, business does have reason to give round one a hand of applause.