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Ramaphosa’s reshuffle deals with Zuma camp without alienating them

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Friday, 6 August 2021 09:54

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa is moving to a more consolidated presidency. Adrian Dennis/Pool via REUTERS

Close to midway through his current term, President Cyril Ramaphosa has made extensive changes to his executive for the first time. The move is both a reflection of his weakness and his power. If his gambles at finance and security pay off, Ramaphosa may have laid the foundations for a second term.

With reports of an imminent “second wave” of large-scale violence planned in the name of jailed former president Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa needed to flex his muscle. The former business mogul started his tenure with a strong emphasis on economic reform, but widespread violence and out-of-control looting three weeks ago have changed this course.

Ramaphosa, who came to power on an anti-corruption ticket, is also set to testify next week before the state capture inquiry into widescale government corruption under Zuma’s tenure, when Ramaphosa was deputy president.

Zuma was supposed to appear in court on Tuesday in his long-running corruption case, but was hospitalised early on Friday 6 August for an undisclosed ailment.

“While calm has been restored to the affected areas and our law enforcement agencies are working hard to bring those responsible to justice, we have acknowledged that our security services were found wanting in several respects,” Ramaphosa said during his 20-minute late-night televised address on Thursday, delivered in a serious and business-like tone.

It followed a day of meetings with, amongst others, the leadership of the governing African National Congress as well as its allies, labour federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party. It also followed a day after the return of his deputy, David Mabuza, from a five-week stint of sick leave. Mabuza is a powerful enigma and Ramaphosa is likely attempting to keep him on-side.

Ramaphosa outlined three priorities underlying the reshuffle:

  1. Accelerating the country’s Covid-19 vaccination programme;
  2. Ensuring peace and stability after the recent violence; and
  3. Rebuilding the economy and providing relief to the vulnerable.

There were few leaks ahead of the reshuffle, signifying Ramaphosa’s tightened grip on an ANC still divided in loyalties between him and Zuma.

Despite promises to streamline the bloated cabinet, Ramaphosa grew his executive by two members. Zuma used frequent reshuffles and an enlarged cabinet to cement his power and to dispense patronage.

Centralising intelligence

In a move described by some commentators as bold and by others as an unwelcome centralisation of power, oversight of the country’s intelligence services will now be in the Presidency after the responsible minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, refused to take responsibility for the failures that led to widespread looting and violence in the KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces three weeks ago. More than 300 people died and billions of dollars worth of damage was done.

Ramaphosa appointed one of his most trusted allies, Mondli Gungubele, as minister in the Presidency to replace Jackson Mthembu, who succumbed to Covid-19 earlier this year.

Gungubele was most recently a member of Parliament, but served as deputy finance minister for a year and was previously a mayor of the Ekurhuleni Metro in Gauteng province. He has no security background, but has recently been outspoken about Zuma’s refusal to testify before the state capture inquiry – a move that led to Zuma’s 15-month imprisonment.

Former deputy minister of state security, Zizi Kodwa, will remain in his current portfolio but within the Presidency.

The intelligence agency was central to Zuma rising to power, and it has often been more pre-occupied with ANC infighting than national security. A further overhaul is on the cards as two of the top positions in the state security agency are vacant. Ramaphosa on Thursday appointed an expert panel to “lead a thorough and critical review of our preparedness and the shortcomings in our response” to the recent violence.

Sydney Mufamadi, who was police minister under former president Thabo Mbeki, and who led a high-level panel probing the shortcomings in intelligence, was appointed Ramaphosa’s national security adviser at the same time.

New minister for the military: Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was dropped from the defence portfolio where she served for almost a decade. She appeared to downplay the recent violence, which Ramaphosa called an insurrection.

“We have people making reference to an insurrection or a coup,” she told MPs. “The issue is, if it is an insurrection, then the insurrection must have a face.”

Ramaphosa subsequently ordered the deployment of the entire army to contain the violence.

National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise, who served in the ANC’s military wing during the anti-apartheid struggle, will now be in this portfolio in her long-overdue appointment to cabinet. Modise, who also previously served as premier of the North West province, is considered to be an experienced and consistent leader.

Police unchanged: Police minister Bheki Cele was the only one in the security cluster to retain his portfolio, despite public anger over police inaction over the looting and violence.

Cele is, however, tough-talking and, like Zuma, hails from  KwaZulu-Natal and his inside knowledge of the criminal and power networks in the province likely serves Ramaphosa well.

Curing the health portfolio

In an uncontroversial and widely welcomed move, Ramaphosa promoted Joe Phaahla from his position as deputy health minister to take charge of this portfolio.

It follows the resignation of Zweli Mkhize, whose family was implicated by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) as having received kickbacks from a communications tender issued by his department. Mkhize has been widely slammed by media, commentators and a corruption-weary public after money meant for the fight against Covid-19 was channeled, among others, into luxuries and into establishing a hair and nail salon for his son and daughter-in-law.

Mkhize penned a reluctant resignation letter on Thursday afternoon following a meeting with Ramaphosa, in which he said he would take the unit’s investigation on review. “It is regrettably clear that the SIU worked with a predetermined outcome and a closed mind in the investigation,” he wrote.

Mkhize, formerly premier of KwaZulu-Natal, has an open line to Zuma although he’s not been considered a loyalist, and could become an figurehead for Ramaphosa’s detractors ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in December next year.

Phaahla’s new deputy, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, was formerly in the health portfolio in KwaZulu-Natal and has a chequered record.

Ramaphosa’s hesitancy

The long time Ramaphosa took to reshuffle his cabinet – the move was reportedly twice postponed in the past four months – shows he isn’t confident enough of his support in the party to make any sudden moves.

It took him a year to find a finance minister to replace Tito Mboweni, who signalled that he wanted out of the portfolio, and Development Bank of South Africa head Enoch Godongwana was a consolation prize.

Godongwana, a politically safe bet for Ramaphosa as he has long chaired the ANC’s economic transformation subcommittee, was released by Zuma from his position as deputy minister of economic development in 2012 after being embroiled in a scandal in which the company he co-owned, Canyon Springs Investments 12, borrowed R93 million from a clothing factory workers’ provident funds. The company was eventually liquidated. Godongwana claimed to have been unaware of this.

Mboweni was considered an austere and business-friendly minister, and markets reacted to his resignation with the rand dipping 25 cents against the dollar before recouping some losses.

Ramaphosa also demoted presidential hopeful Lindiwe Sisulu from human settlements to tourism. Sisulu has been openly critical of Ramaphosa in recent times and appears to have been aligning herself to the Zuma camp.

Mixed reaction

Labour federation Cosatu said it was “disappointed that the president recycled the same old guard that has proven itself incapable of fixing our many problems”. It also expressed disappointment that the size of the executive wasn’t reduced and government departments realigned to improve efficiency.

Lobby group Business Unity South Africa expressed a similar sentiment. “We don’t think we need an executive of this size to undertake the responsibilities of the state,” CEO Cas Coovadia said in a statement, adding it was important that the new minister now go on to implement government policies.

The second biggest opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, reacted negatively to the reshuffle, saying Ramaphosa’s changes “are intended to serve the ruling party’s factional squabbles and reassure those in [his] faction that their jobs and patronage network are safe for him to win the next ruling party conference”.

The opposition IFP, whose stronghold is in KwaZulu-Natal, called the reshuffle a “knee-jerk reaction from the President”.

Despite his tough stance against Mkhize’s alleged wrongdoing, Ramaphosa had limited space to effect the anti-corruption reforms that he would have liked to. The opposition DA has questioned how Zuma’s former intelligence minister, David Mahlobo (deputy minister of human settlements), and energy and mineral resources minister Gwede Mantashe, were retained despite previous damning revelations against them at the state capture inquiry.

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