During his term in office, former president Jacob Zuma reshuffled his cabinet 11 times. It was his main political weapon, to secure loyalty and to punish those who refused to toe the line. It was one of the ways Zuma used the state to build and wield political power.

The selection and arrangement of ministers and deputies was also the mechanism to enable state capture, now the trademark of the Zuma presidency.

Skill, performance and delivery outcomes were never the main considerations. It was always about the power play, placating constituencies in the ANC alliance and opening doors to loot.

The big questions now are whether President Cyril Ramaphosa has a different game plan and whether he will keep his word to use the national executive as his delivery machinery.

The 28 ministers and 34 deputy ministers Ramaphosa chose last week turned out to be a bigger compendium than expected. Ramaphosa had promised to downsize the government to streamline its work and cut unnecessary costs. But the national executive remains one of the world’s biggest, and some of the choices, particularly of deputy ministers, clearly serve to appease Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

Ramaphosa had the added challenge to accommodate people in the Zuma faction in innocuous positions to neutralise the fightback campaign against him.

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