Cyril watches his back with a soft shoe cabinet shuffle

CAPE TOWN — Keep your immediate expectations pragmatically low, your enemies close enough for them to realise that defection to your ranks means survival – and bide your time. That seems be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s key strategy in his mini cabinet reshuffle this week. The Zuptoids are still imbedded as a hangover from Zuma’s interrupted State Capture, but once Cyril has the democratic validation he needs at the May polls for his own hard-won tenure, all indications are that the impressive changes he’s already made will quickly become wide-sweeping. Should the ANC maintain or improve its’ voter status there’s hardly anyone or anything else to put that down to but Cyril, the party’s Redemption Man. The key question is whether voters interpret the ANC’s performance since Jacob Zuma came to power as intrinsic and ongoing party failure needing the remedy of wholesale change. It’s easy for Ramaphosa’s political opponents to publicly say he’s just missed a golden opportunity to get rid of the serial miscreants in his cabinet or that this shows weakness – but they’ll probably admit over a whiskey that he currently has little wriggle room. Highly-regarded veteran journalist, Ferial Haffajee gives us her take on the cabinet reshuffle. The article was first published on the Daily Maverick. – Chris Bateman

By Ferial Haffajee

Cyril Ramaphosa’s aides have always said that the President will not appoint his dream team until after next year’s election, which he hopes to win with a banging majority to give him the political space to make the changes to the government he wants and to appoint a Cabinet that reflects his governing imperatives.

Director-General in the Presidency Cassius Lubisi is spearheading a reorganisation of government which is likely to bring down the size of the 36-member Cabinet. That will only happen after the national and provincial elections set for May.

The present Cabinet is a creature that reflects not only the bloat of former President Jacob Zuma’s era, but is a compromise.

This is because Ramaphosa governs with a fragile majority. He is still completing Zuma’s term after the former president was recalled by the governing ANC, and he only won the position of ANC president by a reed-slim victory of 179 votes. In this intervening period, his style of preference is to govern with a big tent — and it means ensuring that the faction which lost at the party’s conference in Nasrec last December remains well-represented in the Cabinet.

Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
Newly-elected Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

The best news is that the vibrant young minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is now Minister of Communications. Ramaphosa has collapsed the Communications Department and Posts & Telecommunications into one.

They had been separated as part of former President Jacob Zuma’s patronage state in order to expand the size of his Cabinet and also to extract different rents through each department.

In a rapidly converging digital space, it makes no sense to separate communications from telecommunications. Ndabeni-Abrahams was previously deputy minister of communications to previous incumbent Faith Muthambi.

Muthambi was the worst of a series of communications ministers who could not cope with overseeing regulation of the SABC, the private sector (largely MultiChoice) and with ensuring a seamless migration from analogue to digital.

Ndabeni-Abrahams clashed publicly with Muthambi, whom she accused of treating her like a PA, and was moved to become deputy to former Posts & Telecommunications minister Siyabonga Cwele.

He, in turn, is now Minister of Home Affairs. Ndabeni-Abrahams is interested in communications and impressed industry stakeholders when she was the deputy. In addition, she is young, signalling that Ramaphosa will bring in a new generation to lead. In Rwanda, Ghana and Zimbabwe, newly inaugurated Cabinets have featured large numbers of young people.

Ndabeni-Abrahams will now be responsible for a number of areas that Ramaphosa has signalled as priorities. These include spectrum auction and allocation to bring down data costs; digital migration; readying the country for a fourth industrial revolution and working with Post Office CEO Mark Barnes to ensure that the state-owned postal and banking service can efficiently carry the grants payment system.

In Cwele and Mokonyane, Ramaphosa appears to be rewarding loyalty. Both were firmly in Zuma’s camp, but swapped loyalties quickly and convincingly, say aides. Mokonyane is a winner on the stumps and a good campaigner for the ANC, but she left such a mess at the big-budget Water and Sanitation department that the move to the Department of Environmental Affairs (where she has replaced the popular Edna Molewa, who died recently) probably has more to do with its relatively low-risk rental extraction possibilities than her knowledge of rhino conservation or climate change policy.

The only other possible reason for appointing Cwele to Home Affairs is his experience as State Security minister. Home Affairs is regarded as a strategy and security portfolio.

The biggest question asked after the mini-reshuffle is why the president did not use the opportunity to deck Minister of Women Bathabile Dlamini, who was so bad at her previous job as Social Development minister that the courts found her guilty of perjury.

There is no answer other than that Ramaphosa may be channelling his inner Machiavelli by ensuring that he keeps his friends close and his enemies even closer. DM