So finally the long awaited Cabinet reshuffle has taken place. After a few aborted deadlines President Cyril Ramaphosa took to the podium late on Monday night to tell us who will join his new Cabinet.
Despite that this is clearly a transitional Cabinet intended to take us to the 2019 election, Ramaphosa made dramatic changes. He fired 10 ministers from their posts and in doing so got rid of many of the bad apples – especially those linked directly or indirectly to the Gupta family.
He also made a point about his predecessor’s lack of judgment by bringing back Nhlanhla Nene, Pravin Gordhan, Derek Hanekom, Bheki Cele and Blade Nzimande. What sweet vindication it must have been for each of them to get the call – in particular Nene. He also included a few new additions. Importantly he appointed some safe hands (from his perspective) in the mineral affairs and energy portfolios.
Of course the opposition parties were quick to criticise. All the parties proclaimed loudly that this was a compromise Cabinet and with some even suggesting that nothing has changed. Ah now, fellows! (They were all men.) To suggest that getting rid of Lynne Brown, Bongani Bongo, David Mahlobo, Faith Muthambi, Fikile Mbalula, Mosebenzi Zwane, Nkosinathi Nhleko and Des van Rooyen makes no difference is just ludicrous and shows the desperate opportunism of the opposition.
Not that Ramaphosa needs to pay much, if any, attention to the opposition at the moment. Since the opposition parties lost their biggest asset – Jacob Zuma – their opinion polls have shown massive, even catastrophic losses in voter support.
So Ramaphosa faces no threat whatsoever from the opposition. His biggest threat comes, and will for the foreseeable future come, from within his own party.
Until the Cabinet reshuffle two nights ago, he was in a “sweet spot”. The general public were very happy with his appointment, as were the financial markets and overseas investors. More importantly, everyone in the ANC loved him – or at least pretended to love him.
Those who are in Cabinet wanted to retain their positions so even the most passionate Zuma supporters turned into Ramaphosa groupies. Those who were not in Cabinet, wanted to be, so they were super nice to him. And for the rest? Well, they just want to stay out of jail so they were also going to try and assure him of their everlasting love.
Of course now that Ramaphosa has started to make decisions that might not be so comfortable for everyone – such as who is out of Cabinet – he is entering much more dangerous political terrain.
It is important that we consistently remind ourselves that Ramaphosa won with only 179 votes at Nasrec in December. If he had gotten 90 votes less Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would have won. His top 5 and the NEC were almost evenly divided.
Although the divisions in the ANC have certainly softened and the lines somewhat blurred since December, they are not gone. Like a toxic witches’ brew, factionalism bubbles just under the surface. And so, even though I am sure he wants nothing more than to make a total clean sweep, Ramaphosa has to act with caution if he wants to survive.
That includes making compromises in the selection of his new Cabinet.
He had to ensure that the Cabinet shuffle would not further inflame the already volatile situation in the KZN ANC. Thus he brought in Dlamini-Zuma, Cele and Mkize. This could have also played a role in retaining Nomvula Mokonyane who, despite being Gauteng based still has very strong roots in KZN.
He also had to appease the Alliance – in particular the SACP – which is why we saw the return of Blade Nzimande.
Bathabile Dlamini, who clearly should not be in Cabinet, was retained because Ramaphosa could not afford to totally alienate the Women’s League. And even though it pains me to say it, he has put her in a position where she can do limited damage.
Of course the biggest compromise remains the appointment of David Mabuza as deputy pesident. Although a practice has developed in the ANC that the deputy president of the party also becomes the deputy president of the country, many had hoped that Ramaphosa would (at least for the interim) appoint a woman and thus keep Mabuza out of Cabinet.
His appointment is perhaps the clearest sign of the compromises Ramaphosa will have to make to keep his party together. However, this compromise might turn out to be very costly for the ANC and country in the long-run.
Although he made many positive appointments, the Cabinet reshuffle this week is a clear indication that Ramaphosa will not always be able to move as fast and as decisively as we (and he) would prefer – not if he wants to survive politically the next 11 years.
– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.