South Africa: Who’s who in Ramaphosa’s economic cluster? 

By Xolisa Phillip, in Johannesburg
Posted on Monday, 2 May 2022 16:56

A man of many titles – freedom fighter, union founder, chief constitutional negotiator, farmer and businessman-turned-politician – President Cyril Ramaphosa presides over sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest economy. Amid rising populism, who does he trust to safeguard the economy?

As leader of the government, Ramaphosa wields the power to hire and fire ministers, who, in conjunction with the president and deputy president, constitute South Africa’s cabinet. Although the president also appoints deputy ministers, they are not part of the cabinet.

In forming his cabinet, Ramaphosa has struck a balance between economic priorities, the complicated alliances and the internal dynamics of the African National Congress (ANC) – the political party that describes itself as leader of the South African society.

Ramaphosa has brought in both friends and rivals but reserved the pick of powerful portfolios for allies while permitting detractors to only run less-prominent ministries.

20 ministers sit in the economic cluster, coordinating policy, but not all ministries hold equal weight. Six core ministries – and their executive principals – stand head and shoulders above the rest. The Africa Report takes a look at who Ramaphosa has entrusted with his economic reform agenda.

By law, all but two cabinet appointees must be members of parliament. Ramaphosa used this discretion in August 2021 when he appointed Enoch Godongwana as finance minister, the custodian of fiscal policy and overseer of public procurement.

Godongwana’s path to power is similar to that of Ramaphosa. Both have served as general secretaries of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), enjoyed favour on the boards of private companies as well as public entities, and advanced a moderate line within the ANC.

Despite the rising influence of the radical economic transformation (also known as RET) faction in the governing party, Godongwana reinforced a market-friendly message as the long-serving chair of the ANC’s economic sub-committee.

Godongwana’s re-entry into the executive raised eyebrows because of a slew of scandals he was embroiled in as a government official – both provincially and nationally – and in his private business dealings.

In January 2012, he stepped down as the deputy minister of economic development because of a private sector deal gone wrong that resulted in the loss of R100m ($6m) in pension money belonging to members of the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU).

In 2012, during the inquiry into the missing millions, Godongwana expressed regret and offered to repay some of the money. When he took his oath of office in August 2021, Godongwana said he had atoned for his mistakes.

Director-general since June 2017, Dondo Mogajane will leave the National Treasury on 7 June 2022 after 23 years at the institution in various functions, including chief of staff. The head of the National Treasury is one of the most powerful officials in the public sector, holding responsibility for strategic planning and legislation.

Crucially, when the state – through the department of public service and administration – enters into a new public wage agreement sometime this year with its estimated 1.2 million employees (teachers, nurses, the police, and other professionals), the department will need approval from the National Treasury.

Indeed, back in February, the Constitutional Court invalidated the third year of the previous three-year public wage determination, which was agreed to by the public service department and unions in 2018, because of a failure to obtain concurrence from the National Treasury.

The deputy directors-general responsible for tax and financial sector policy, public sector procurement, and the budget office all report to the director-general.

Mogajane’s immediate two predecessors served as deputy directors-general for asset and liability management, the office that manages the state’s debt portfolio, offering a hint into who could replace him. Mogajane, however, did not climb the ranks via that route.

Pravin Gordhan’s claim to fame is his success in turning the South African Revenue Service (SARS) into one of the most feared and efficient public sector institutions when he was commissioner from 1999 to 2009.

A two-time finance minister and one-time cooperative governance minister, Gordhan is now in charge of state-owned entities (SOE), including the electricity public utility Eskom, the rail company Transnet and South African Airways (SAA).

His handling of SAA’s troubles – a business rescue followed by the selection of a strategic equity partner for the national carrier – and persistent noise surrounding the running of SOEs have dented his record of efficiency.

A two-time ANC general secretary and current chair of the governing party, Gwede Mantashe spent most of his early career in the trenches with mineworkers and as the eventual general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers.

That experience in mines – as a worker and union organiser – made Mantashe a popular choice to quell rising discontent with the government among South Africa’s mining houses.

Mantashe is also responsible for South Africa’s energy policy, which determines the country’s energy mix. A proponent of coal, he made waves at African Energy Week in 2021, when he called on the continent’s energy ministers to resist the fast-tracked phasing out of the fossil fuel in the region – despite his country’s own commitments towards transitioning away from coal.

Ebrahim Patel is the former general secretary of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union and was at the forefront of workers’ efforts to negotiate the International Labour Organisation’s 2008 Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation.

He is in charge of competition, industrial, and trade policy. Patel’s ministry also collaborates with Ramaphosa on the president’s Investment Conference.

Patel also has to work with his cabinet colleagues to ensure that South Africa derives maximum benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement. He chairs the AU ministers of trade structure and is at the forefront of negotiations on rules of origin for AfCFTA implementation.

Mondli Gungubele is a former mayor of metro Ekurhuleni, an industrial hub south of Johannesburg where OR Tambo International Airport is located. Gungubele vacated the position following the 2016 local government elections. He quickly became part of the inquiries into Eskom and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

Gungubele is another alumnus of the National Union of Mineworkers co-founded by Ramaphosa and a lifelong public servant. He has occupied positions in all three spheres of the state: local (municipal), provincial (legislature and executive), and national (legislature and executive).

The erstwhile deputy finance minister took over as minister in the presidency in August 2021 when Ramaphosa reshuffled his cabinet for the first time since becoming head of state in 2018. The position is reserved for trusted confidantes and became vacant after the January 2021 death of Jackson Mthembu, a beloved former ANC spokesperson and party chief whip in parliament.

Gungubele also chairs the National Planning Commission, the independent advisory body appointed by the president, and he is also in charge of the medium-term strategic framework, which determines the government’s priorities for its 2019-2024 term.

Since her appointment in August 2021, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has quietly unlocked two policy blockages: the auction of high-demand spectrum and the setting of a definitive date for South Africa to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Ntshavheni cut her teeth in youth politics and garnered administrative experience in local and provincial government before proceeding to the national stage.

However, her name looms large in the decline of state-owned arms manufacturer Denel, where she served as a non-executive director.

In his Zondo Commission report on state capture under former President Jacob Zuma, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has recommended that Ntshavheni and other former Denel board members be declared delinquent directors for their role in the collapse of the company. Ntshavheni has denied culpability.

Her ministry has executive oversight over the South African Broadcasting Corporation, another public entity that has been in a downward spiral because of mismanagement and boardroom instability.

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