Ramaphosa has Played his Cards Well
On Thursday (5 August 2021), President Ramaphosa reshuffled the cabinet amid calls for him to remove ministers deemed incompetent and those prone to scandals.
It took brazen acts of looting and violence - that went on for four days without government taking control of the situation - to convince Ramaphosa that change was needed.
The embarrassing failure of the security cluster to discharge its basic duty, that is protect citizens, property and livelihoods left Ramaphosa with no other choice but to reshuffle.
As Ramaphosa moved some ministers around, the lingering question was: what criteria does he use to determine the fitness of a politician for a particular ministerial position?
In the cases of Ayanda Dlodlo and Stella Ndabeni Abrahams, does it mean that they are going to perform better in the new ministries?
It does not take rocket science to figure out that Ramaphosa had two things in mind when he reshuffled his cabinet: his ability to retain power prior to and after the 2022 ANC conference and then his ability to reassure investors and citizens that South Africa is safe and a good place to do business.
The questions that beg answers now are:
(1) What impact will his reshuffle of cabinet have on his chances to secure a second term at the 2022 elective conference?
(2) What impact will this reshuffle have on the capacity of the Ramaphosa-led government to “effectively undertake” the three tasks of accelerating the vaccination programme, ensuring peace and stability and reviving the ailing economy?
From the Thabo Mbeki era, ANC presidents have reshuffled cabinets with the aim of solidifying their power and enhancing their chances of getting re-elected at the next ANC conference. This reshuffle is no different.
Ramaphosa has played his cards well, so to speak, in rewarding his loyalists and trying to maintain some semblance of unity in retaining Ayanda Dlodlo and Nathi Mthethwa. Like his predecessors, Ramaphosa overlooks performance and cases of wrongdoing.
Even as he makes changes to the security cluster, he retains Bheki Cele as Minister of Police despite the SAPS’ poor handling of the recent unrest. He moves around some ministers perceived as incompetent or immersed in scandals from one ministry to another such as Dlodlo and Ndabeni-Abrahams.
To all intents and purposes, only one minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, was fired. The embattled and under pressure Dr Zweli Mkhize resigned and Tito Mboweni apparently asked to be relieved of his duties as Minister of Finance. This gave Ramaphosa more space to reward loyalists such as Mondli Gungubele and Enoch Godongwane with prestigious positions in the executive. Ramaphosa also appointed Thandi Modise to replace Mapisa-Nqakula thus ensuring that women remain well represented in his Administration thus keeping the Women’s League happy.
Ramaphosa has also ingratiated himself with COSATU through the Sdumo Dlamini appointment as Deputy Minister of Small Business. As things stand now, Ramaphosa has ingratiated himself with the ANCYL, ANCWL, and COSATU. He is also making sure that key provinces such as GP, KZN and the EC remain well-represented in the cabinet. In this way, Ramaphosa has significantly enhanced his chances of winning re-election next year.
On the capacity of the Ramaphosa-led government to “effectively undertake” the task of fast-tracking the vaccination programme, the appointments of Dr Joe Phaahla and Dr Sbongiseni Dhlomo inspire some confidence because of their experience in the medical field. The question is: can they turn around the not-so-healthy public health system and accelerate the slow vaccination programme. The biggest challenge remains that of improving the public health system in rural areas and townships.
Another question is how the two doctors are going to handle the issue of the National Health Insurance (NHI). As was the case with the appointment of Cele as Police Minister and Shamilla Batohi as National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head, the expectation will be high that Phaahla and his team turn things around.
The lesson from the Cele and the Batohi experiences in their current positions is that, at best, it can take a very long time for individuals to change the image of the public sector that is perceived to be mismanaged and inefficient. It remains to be seen whether Phaahla and Dhlomo can change the culture and introduce meritocracy and a good work ethic among employees in the public health system.
The task of ensuring that peace and stability prevail is not going to be easy. It is cause for concern that after a month of riots costing hundreds of lives, thousands of jobs and left massive destruction of property, culprits remain at large. The changes he made to the security cluster are expected to yield immediate results in terms of the successful prosecution of “instigators” and co-conspirators.
It would not be a surprise if law abiding citizens are still panicking and fearful of another wave of chaos and anarchy as long as culprits go unpunished. In a country where violent protests are common, it is going to be important that Ramaphosa is seen to be in control and that his security cluster is up to the job of keeping peace and security. This may explain why he chose to place the State Security Agency under the Presidency. At the end of the day, the buck stops with the president.
The task of reviving the ailing economy is going to be another tough area for the president. What these riots expose is sheer desperation of the population facing very high unemployment, acute poverty and intolerable inequality. The arrival of COVID-19 in 2020 made an economy that was already in very bad shape worse-off. Then these riots added another dimension to the economic problems facing South Africa.
What this means is that hundreds of thousands of those losing jobs during this pandemic together with victims of the riots are going to be dependent on the R350 monthly grant. The questions this poses is: are the appointments of Ndabeni-Abrahams as the new Minister of Small Business and Dlamini as her Deputy Minister going to help revive our economy? What expertise and experience do they bring to the new ministry?
• This opinion piece was originally published in The Post newspaper on 11 August 2021.
Mr Zakhele Ndlovu is a lecturer in the College of Humanities specialising in politics and public policy.
*The views and opinions expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.