Ramaphosa’s new cabinet is a motley crew: what he’ll need to make it work

Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan were both fired by former South African President Jacob Zuma. Photo: GCIS

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced sweeping changes to the Cabinet he inherited from Jacob Zuma. Notably, respected former finance ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan, who were both controversially fired by Zuma, are back. Ramaphosa said the changes made his government better equipped to carry out its mandate. Politics and Society editor Thabo Leshilo asked Mashupye Maserumule for his thoughts.

Is the new Cabinet fit for purpose – is it better equipped to do what needs to be done?

It could possibly be, largely because the ministries generally regarded as strategic in the economy have been wrestled out of the control of those allegedly implicated in the capture of the state: National Treasury, Public Enterprises, and Mineral Resources. Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and Pravin Gordhan as minister public enterprises are excellent choices. Bringing in former mine worker organiser Gwede Mantashe to head up minerals and energy is also an inspired decision.

The contributions of the three men are desperately needed to get South Africa out of the economic doldrums. The government economic cluster is consolidated. This is what Ramaphosa’s administration needs, at least for now.

By retaining some of Zuma’s loyalists who’d performed woefully, such as Bathabile Dlamini, I think Ramaphosa was trying to manage a political dynamic – to keep the party’s powerful Women’s League on side. The league is a voting block within the governing party and Dlamini is president of the league.

Those like Dlamini that he’s kept from the old administration have been assigned to less strategic ministries. Because of this, I don’t think they’ll be able to have much influence in disturbing the strategic objectives of Ramaphosa’s administration.

The way he constituted his cabinet also reflects the distribution of power that emerged at the ANC’s national conference in December. The conference spawned a motley crew (it includes some Zuma loyalists) in the ANC’s national executive committee, the party’s highest decision-making body in between conferences.

Because of this, Ramaphosa will need leadership capabilities of epic proportions to ensure that everybody pulls their weight in achieving what he promised in his state of the nation address. To keep track of government’s progress the monitoring and evaluation role that will be played by the new minister in the presidency, Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, will be crucially important. Her appointment to this portfolio makes her a prime minister of some sorts.

As the Deputy President of the country, David Mabuza is part of the presidency assigned the responsibility of the leader of government business in parliament. This is a very important role. It requires political authority, sophistication and gravitas. Managing the parliament-cabinet nexus is important to optimise the functioning of the state. The jury’s still out on whether DD – as Mabusa is known – has what it takes.

Ultimately, whether the cabinet is fit for purpose is a function of the quality of leadership at the helm -– the presidency. Important personalities that comprise that leadership are Ramaphosa, Dlamini-Zuma and Mabuza.

What does all this augur for the future, and Ramaphosa’s success?

I think the choices Ramaphosa made show that he is trying to consolidate his power base for the 2019 general elections. He wants to focus on the ANC gaining credibility rather than being pre-occupied by internal party squabbles. The choices he made show this. He tried to accommodate all the factions in the ANC. This is a brilliant tactical move. But his success lies in how he will build on this.

His state of the nation address captivated the nation. This, coupled with his strong anti-corruption stance, presaged the possibility of a good future. But that future is the function of collective leadership at the political executive level.

Nevertheless, the majority of cabinet members appear to be amenable to his leadership. This is important for his success – at least for now as he finishes Zuma’s term. His true test is likely to emerge after the general elections in 2019 – if the ANC wins. For the moment he’s managing what he has consistently referred to as “the transition”. It stands to reason that the cabinet, as constituted, is part of “managing transition”.

Mashupye Herbert Maserumule, Professor of Public Affairs, Tshwane University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation.