OPINION: Cabinet conundrums

Norman McFarlane

Freshly inaugurated President Cyril Ramaphosa wasted no time in getting back into the saddle on Sunday, getting visits from Tanzania’s president, Dr John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, and Cuba’s vice-president, Salvador Valdes Mesa, at the presidential residence in Tshwane, Mahlamba Ndlopfu.

He also delayed the announcement of his much-anticipated cabinet, to “later in the week”.

Considering the political tightrope that he is walking, it should come as little surprise that he is taking his time: there is a great deal at stake.

Whereas his predecessor changed his cabinet with alarming regularity, Mr Ramaphosa knows that stability is vital – he needs to assemble a cabinet that meets a number of requirements, not least of which is keeping multiple stakeholders largely happy, so that he can progress his reform agenda.

He has made it clear that he plans to slim down his cabinet, and the consensus among commentators seems to be 25 cabinet ministers and as few as 15 deputy ministers.

He can only do this by combining a number of the ministries created by Mr Zuma, seemingly to reward people for their support. A prime example is the ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

That all three require focused attention is axiomatic, but grouping them to create a ministry as Mr Zuma did, suggests that putting them together was an afterthought.

Mr Ramaphosa must also consult widely – with alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP, with his Top Six colleagues, the ANC National Executive Committee and National Working Committee, the ANC Women’s League, and the ANC Youth League.

Aside from satisfying the conflicting objectives of continuity and change, he must also satisfy various stakeholders, and balance age, gender and racial diversity in his slimmed-down cabinet, while avoiding, as far as he is able, people high up on the ANC’s election list, who have been compromised.

The ANC Integrity Commission has identified 22 MPs, and at the time of writing, the likes of David Mabuza (who “delayed” taking the oath of office as a parliamentarian), Gwede Mantashe, Bathabile Dlamini, Bongani Bongo, and Mosebenzi Zwane have appeared before the commission, and a report was set to be completed and submitted to the ANC top brass on Tuesday.

The compromised Nomvula Mokonyane, who has held three cabinet portfolios was appointed parliamentary chair-of-chairs, but she voluntarily stepped down, saving Mr Ramaphosa the embarrassment and potential backlash if he overlooked her.

There are others who did not make the cut with the ANC’s reduced majority who will also have to be replaced: Trade and Industry Minister “Red” Rob Davies, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Senzeni Zokwana, and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

He must also accommodate some of the ANC young Turks, like Zizi Kodwa, and Ronald Lamola, and to ensure continuity, the likes of Jackson Mthembu and Mondli Gungubele, who is tipped to become Tito Mboweni’s deputy in finance.

But here’s the thing: Mr Gungubele’s name is tainted in the ongoing Public Investment Corporation inquiry, and like Messrs Mabuza and Mantashe, must clear his name before he can be considered.

With the second most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal, having nobody in the ANC Top Six, Mr Ramaphosa must surely be considering ANC head of organisation and former KZN premier, Senzo Mchunu, who sits at no 13 on the ANC’s national list, for a cabinet post.

A further complication is the bomb shell dropped by Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who on Friday released a report on her office’s investigation into the long-running issue of the early retirement of former SARS deputy commissioner, Ivan Pillay. Despite the National Prosecuting Authority having long ago dropped all charges, her report finds that then Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, a key figure in Mr Ramaphosa’s reform programme, guilty of maladministration in approving Mr Pillay’s pension payout. Mr Gordhan has, of course, taken the report on review, but how can Mr Ramaphosa appoint Mr Grodhan, but sideline Mr Mabuza while he awaits the outcome of the integrity commission probe?

In the event that Mr Mabuza does not make it out of the integrity commission’s probe squeaky clean – and it is evident that Mr Ramaphosa’s delay is partly to allow time for this to happen because he really needs Mr Mabuza under his eye in the executive – he must seriously consider a woman deputy president.

Top of the list is Naledi Pandor, his running mate of choice in his campaign for ANC president, with Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma a close second, and Lindiwe Sisulu a long third, the latter clearly no reformist.

But as much as he might prefer Dr Pandor, his politically expedient choice would be Ms Dlamini Zuma, in order to mollify the radical economic transformation, expropriation without compensation, populist faction that still holds a good deal of sway in the ANC’s power structures.

Good luck, Mr Ramaphosa.