Cabinet GNU: The strengths, the weaknesses — Ray Hartley

There are some big surprises and disappointments in the first Cabinet of South Africa’s new Government of National Unity (GNU). In this interview with BizNews, Ray Hartley of The Brenthurst Foundation looks at how well matched the new Cabinet is to deal with the country’s priorities over the next five years. He says it is “clearly not a proportional cabinet” – and it “does weaken things a little bit” and “makes it less difficult” for the Democratic Alliance (DA) should the day come when they have to leave”. He points out that it is “quite clear that the ANC is not letting go of the Economic Cluster”. And he is concerned that South Africa “may have an underperforming Cabinet” – and that the necessary reforms “may not occur swiftly enough to actually get to deal with these big logistical problems that are holding up economic growth”. However, he stresses that “it could have been a lot worse” – and that the outcome has shown that it is possible “to reach across some big divides in the interests of pragmatic progress”.

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Summary of the interview

In an interview with BizNews, Ray Hartley of The Brenthurst Foundation discusses the surprises and disappointments in South Africa’s new Government of National Unity (GNU) Cabinet. He notes that the Cabinet isn’t proportional, potentially weakening it and complicating matters for the Democratic Alliance (DA). Hartley is concerned about the ANC’s grip on the Economic Cluster and the potential for underperformance, but acknowledges the progress in bridging divides for pragmatic progress.

Extended transcript of the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Chris Steyn (00:00.239)

What can be read into the cabinet appointments made by President Cyril Ramaphosa late last night. Let us ask Ray Hartley of The Brenthurst Foundation. Welcome Ray.

Ray Hartley (00:12.604)

Hi Chris. Yeah, so it was quite an interesting announcement. I think that the expanded Cabinet was interesting. So rather than avoid, you know, getting rid of some people, I think more portfolios were created so that there’d be fewer ANC ministers out in the cold. And that was quite an interesting strategic move. I’m not sure it was entirely known by the other participants in the GNU. From what I can make out, it was a bit of a surprise because obviously proportionately it doesn’t really match the numbers of the participants, the electoral numbers. But be that as it may, an interesting announcement. I think that the first reaction is it could have been a lot worse, which is always not a great reaction, but there certainly does seem to be some effort to give some senior ministries to the opposition. So for example, I think Home Affairs, which has gone to Leon Schreiber, is quite a big one. Agriculture is actually also a fairly big ministry if you look at its contribution to GDP economically and so on, but quite clear that the ANC is not letting go the economic cluster. So, yeah, there’s some deputy ministers there.

Ray Hartley (01:55.076)

So just a couple of deputy ministers there.

Chris Steyn (02:00.559)

Yes, because the DA was fighting, as far as I know, for positions in the Economic Cluster.

Ray Hartley (02:08.828)

Yeah. So I mean, I think if you look at the Cabinet, I mean, a good way to look at it is, okay, what does government need to do over the next five years? And I think the urgency is economic reform. So to roll out infrastructure, to raise capital, to fix the big SOEs in transport, in electricity, and to implement the reform agenda that Cyril Ramaphosa has had for some time which would see private involvement in energy generation, concessioning of some of the rail lines to sort out rail, and concessioning of some of the harbour ports to ensure that there’s capital investment and that we can actually get the logistics going. So I think that’s a major thing. And then I think a second major thing would be employment to create employment on a large scale. 

If I look at the first…I don’t see a lot of momentum. I mean, it’s interesting that electricity is now wholly the province of Kgosiento Ramokgopa who is Minister of Electricity, and Gwede Mantashe is no longer Minister of Minerals and Energy. So energy is taken away from Gwede Mantashe. So that does give some hope that there’ll be reform in the energy sector without the heavy weight of Gwede stopping everything and slowing everything down, not granting permits and so on. So that’s fairly positive. 

I think Parks Tau in the DTI Ministry, Trade and Industry and Competition. Yeah, I’m not sure we’ll have to see how he goes about it. He’s not at least he’s not a big sort of ideologue the way the previous minister was. So let’s see if he’s more pragmatic. I think that could be quite good. 

I think that those are the main things. I mean, employment creation is going to come in South Africa from manufacturing, tourism and from agriculture. So I think there’s an opportunity for Steenhuisen to get agriculture going. It’s already a big performer in the GDP figures. 

There’s an opportunity for De Lille to do the same in Tourism. And I hope that she will bring something to the sector, which has been showing great potential with growth in tourist numbers and so on, but way below what it could be. 

So agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, I think DTIs is critical to that.

There’s some hope, it’s not a very convincing slate of ministers, but it could have been a lot worse.

Chris Steyn (05:15.986)

Which appointment was the biggest surprise to you?

Ray Hartley (05:21.756)

Gee, I think that John Steenhuisen is in Agriculture was probably a surprise because, you know, you would have thought that he would have been one of the ministers to do Trade and Industry. I think that’s certainly what they had their eyes on or somewhere in the Economic Cluster. So that was, that was a surprise.

I think the Freedom Front Plus doing Correctional Services. That was quite interesting. It’s quite an interesting role that Corrections…and Gayton Mackenzie in sport. Yeah. Wow. Just strange Arts and Culture. Interesting. But I think that says more about how seriously these ministries are viewed by the ANC.

Ray Hartley (06:17.02)

Correctional Services is an interesting ministry because that’s the ministry that always gets the ANC guys off the hook when they get jailed and they go and they apply for medical parole that goes through that ministry. So that could be quite a big change if any of these cases that are going along get convictions. 

Chris Steyn (06:42.703)

So our prisons could become more overcrowded now.

Ray Hartley (06:46.237)

Yeah, I don’t think that Groenewald is going to be as open to signing off these medical paroles as his predecessors have been. But that’s just an aside. I don’t think it’s a portfolio that’s taken that seriously because it’s very much a procedural one and it’s like a management of these facilities. So yeah, and I think it’s a… Yeah.

Chris Steyn (07:09.871)

But if we look at, sorry, right, continue.

Ray Hartley (07:15.292)

Yeah, no, I just think that those would be the sort of most interesting, surprising appointments.

Chris Steyn (07:22.351)

And which would have been the most disappointing or which were the most disappointing to you?

Ray Hartley (07:28.636)

Well, I’ve got to say that Angie Motshekga as Defense Minister is just odd. I think that she doesn’t have a history in that territory. It’s just strange. I would never have picked her for a Defense Minister. But I think they had to move her out of Basic Education, which I think, again, is another pretty good appointment, Siviwe Gwaruba. She’s really quite good. I’ve been at several meetings and round tables and things where she’s been present and she is super sharp. But she’s going to have the tiger by the tail with the trade unions in Education. 

So, you know, I think, yeah, that was quite a disappointing appointment. I think they should have just gone all the way and given it to Bantu Holomisa, frankly. He is a former general. He ran a pretty good operation in Transkei back in the day. Why not make him minister? Perhaps this party didn’t get enough votes. But he’s deputy minister.

Chris Steyn (08:50.607)

Ray, to what extent do you think this Cabinet matches the priorities for South Africa?

Ray Hartley (08:59.74)

I think to some extent, I mean, I think that there are signs that the reform, the reform, economic reforms could move along. Not very convincing, but at least I would put that slightly in the positive column. 

So, yes, I think that moving Senzo Mchunu to Police is actually a very good move. He’s shown himself to be a very competent minister and you know the fact that I believe that the previous ministries that he’s been at he’s always been sorely missed when he’s left and he’s, you know he’s a slightly different figure to Bheki Cele, he’s not a pompous bombastic type of character and I think the police need a lot of organisational improvement to start dealing with crime and corruption. So not a bad choice, I would say, for Police.

Chris Steyn (10:04.847)

Ray, just looking at the negotiations that have been taking place to finalise the formation of the Government of National Unity, what has struck you?

Ray Hartley (10:18.524)

Yeah, so I think that the…You know, it’s kind of, it’s been an odd negotiation in a way because the principle of proportionality was agreed on, but it’s clearly not a proportional cabinet. If you look at the DA with six ministries and the ANC with I think 22 or so. So that’s a little bit, it strikes one as being a bit odd in terms of proportionality and it does weaken things a little bit. I mean it makes it less difficult for the DA should the day come when they have to leave. They’re not going to be abandoning the Finance Ministry or any of the big economic clusters. So it makes it slightly more fragile. 

And also I think a lot of the sort of continuity ANC ministers are not very inspiring. You know, the ministers in charge of Small Business and so on. 

So, yeah, it’s, the negotiation process was very odd because you had to have this agreement first on the Speaker and the President. And of course, once you’ve done that, you know, that is the big, thing, the Presidency. So you’ve voted in the President and now you’ve got to go and scramble and try and find ways to get other ministries out of this President who constitutionally can do whatever he likes with these appointments. So that process, I think in future, and we are likely to end up again, I think in this scenario of a hung Parliament in 2029. I think the parties will go in with their eyes much more open on that.

Chris Steyn (12:24.751)

What do you think the biggest lesson the country has learned from this election and the outcome?

Ray Hartley (12:34.748)

I think it’s possible to reach across some big divides in the interests of pragmatic progress. I think the single biggest lesson really is that the ANC pivoted towards the centre rather than towards the populist left. So in our scenarios that we did ahead of the election, that was the good scenario, pivoting towards the centre. And I’ve got to say when we initially did that back in September 2022 with our original scenarios and then with the book that came out last year. That wasn’t the most likely scenario. The view was always that the ANC would feel itself impelled to go for it, you know, to rebuild the old liberation movement out of the bits that have left it. So that was, I think, a very positive shift for South Africa to actually say the centre can hold and in fact despite some difficult personalities on all sides it did hold and it went all the way through to Cabinet.

Chris Steyn (13:50.351)

So you are optimistic for the next five years.

Ray Hartley (13:53.916)

Yeah, I’m optimistic. I’m certainly, I think it was the better outcome. I’m still worried that we may have an underperforming Cabinet and that these reforms may not occur swiftly enough to actually get to deal with these big logistical problems that are holding up economic growth. But at least the balance is on the right side of the equation.

I think if you were to look at what would have happened, for example, if the ANC had gone in with the EFF, where would we be today? You know, what would Julius Malema be minister of, Floyd Shivambo, et cetera, et cetera. You’ve got to sort of envisage that country to realise how far away we are from disaster that that could have been. Never mind the MK Party. So, yeah.

I think that relatively speaking very much a positive.

Chris Steyn (14:58.639)

Thank you. That was Ray Hartley of the Brenthurst Foundation speaking to BizNews after President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed the first Cabinet of the new Government of National Unity. I’m Chris Steyn. Thank you, Ray.

Ray Hartley (15:14.172)

Thank you.

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