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Freelance journalist, Ivo Vegter, discusses the delay in the announcement of Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle in South Africa. Vegter is critical of Ramaphosa’s lack of respect for the people of South Africa, as he delayed the announcement by several days and then started late. Further, Ramaphosa’s decision to appoint 22 ministerial and deputy ministerial appointments to fill only two or three vacancies is also criticised, suggesting that it is a sign of a bloated cabinet. This article is particularly critical of the decision to add two new entire ministries, which will potentially make the Presidency more bloated than ever. Find this opinion piece below.
Our feckless president and his bloated, self-serving cabinet
By Ivo Vegter
It was clear last year, after part one of the ANC’s disorganised elective conference, that Cyril Ramaphosa would have to fill vacant positions in his cabinet. But a cattle farmer is not a man to be rushed. He kept South Africa waiting.
While the State of the Nation Address (SONA) came and went on 9 February, without a hint of a cabinet reshuffle, we waited.
While Ramaphosa told gobsmacked opposition members of Parliament that, ‘Anyone can see we’ve done well,’ we waited.
On Wednesday, when deputy president David Mabuza’s resignation was finally accepted, we were told the president was ‘applying his mind’.
Two days later, Squirrel calls in sick. Happens to the best of us. Turns out he wasn’t sick, but had some urgent farm business to attend to. After all, our president is a working man. Who doesn’t hold down a second job while expertly steering a whole country into the African Century? Gala dinners at cattle auctions don’t just host themselves, you know.
Sunday. He’ll announce the new cabinet on Sunday.
On Sunday, we’re told it’ll be Monday, at 7pm. On Monday at 6:30pm, we’re told it will be 8pm instead. Now I’m hanging in there, ignoring my wife and family and draining the battery on my mobile phone because I’m halfway into being loadshat for four hours.
Starting on time
By 8pm, we’ve been told it will be 8:30pm, and Andisiwe Makinana, political correspondent at the Sunday Times, reminded us of something St. Cyril had said when he became president back in 2018 (I told you it was a bad idea, didn’t I?):
‘Starting on time for us in the ANC is a big thing, because one of the bad tendencies that had seeped in was for meetings to start at any time, much later than the time that had been determined. That is a bad practice we have to rid our movement of.
‘[I] learnt that from two sources; one was Nelson Mandela. He was a stickler for things starting on time. He always said ‘when you arrive late at any function or occasion, you are demonstrating disrespect for those people that you are going to meet.
‘I want us to inculcate this culture and this practice and not only in the ANC but in our country. People always say, in Africa people start things on African time. There should never be any African time, things should start at the right time.
‘It is when we adhere to a discipline like time-keeping that we are able to begin to do things properly. We are able to adhere to best practice, adhere to the rule of law and able to do things properly.’
This is the kind of bloviating he used to baffle people with at first, causing an embarrassing outbreak of Ramaphoria among the commentariat.
We stared at an empty podium until 8:45pm or so, which really is indecently late. By his own admission, he was ‘demonstrating disrespect’ to the people of South Africa.
Eventually, he began with that monotonous drone we’ve all come to resent, and the smile-like grimace that he wears when he’s about to announce bad news. He only ever announces bad news, doesn’t he? And he’s never had the balls to allow questions from the press.
First, he blamed unspecified ‘processes’ for the lengthy delays, as if that would satisfy anyone who was concerned about or inconvenienced by the delays. Streamline your processes, then!
Then he said the purpose of this announcement was not to ‘overhaul’ the cabinet, but to ‘fill vacancies’. To fill the two or three vacancies, he didn’t just appoint two or three people, but announced 22 ministerial and deputy ministerial appointments.
He assured us they’re working hard on a ‘proposal to rationalise government departments, entities and programmes to ensure greater efficiency’, ‘which will result in the reduction of the number of Ministries’.
To kickstart this reduction, Ramaphosa announced he would expand the cabinet by adding two more entire ministries and several deputy ministries.
He sounded like a drunk in a bar, promising to go home, but only after having one last blast, or two, in this case.
As expected, Paul Mashatile, newly elected deputy president of the ANC was installed in Mabuza’s place as deputy president of South Africa, since the ANC cannot tolerate a distinction between party and state for very long.
This leaves Mabuza free to return to his reportedly extensive dealings in Mpumalanga, the province at the centre of recent allegations of crime syndicates preying on Eskom.
Both new ministries will fall within the Presidency, which is becoming as bloated as the rest of the cabinet outside it.
The first of these is the minister of electricity he announced in the SONA. That really is only a half-day job, because we don’t have electricity for the other half of the day.
The appointee, Kgosientso ‘Sputla’ Ramokgopa, is the former mayor of Tshwane and the nephew of Gwen Ramokgopa, the current treasurer-general of the ANC and former deputy health minister.
A civil engineer by training, specialising in transport engineering, it appears his only previous experience with electricity was an ill-fated but very expensive attempt to roll out smart electricity meters in Tshwane, against which he had been warned by none other than Pravin Gordhan. The meters were so smart they didn’t show consumers their electricity consumption, and the handful that were installed ended up costing something like R160 000 per unit, before the contract was cancelled.
Squirrel would have done better to appoint his fellow-billionaire Patrice Motsepe, who knows exactly what needs to be done to fix Eskom and Transnet.
Three things, he said, and I’ll quote his plan in full because it’s paywalled: ‘Step number one: employ the best people with the best skills and expertise, [that is] non-negotiable. Step number two: pay them well. Pay them as close as [what] they would get in the private sector… developing countries, including South Africa, should attract some of the best skills and expertise. And the last thing is absolute zero tolerance on corruption… don’t [just] talk about it. We should be seen to be taking the right steps that reflect zero tolerance of corruption. And if we do that over the short to medium term, both Transnet and Eskom should be globally competitive.’
Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? Why didn’t André de Ruyter think of that? Or Pravin Gordhan?
Ramaphosa paid lip service to ‘the important task of ensuring stability and continuity in the work of government’, but moved a whole lot of ministers around.
For example, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies gets a new minister every time there is a reshuffle. It has seen a long parade of short-lived and largely ill-qualifed ministers walk through its revolving doors.
In the 14 years since the death of long-serving Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri – whom I affectionately used to call Poison Ivy – in 2009, it has had 10 permanent ministers, not counting one acting minister and the short-lived minister of telecommunications and postal services.
It got its 11th post-Poison Ivy minister in the form of Mondli Gungubele. He used to be the Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, a job he obviously did not do very well, given the state of government in South Africa.
He’ll have to familiarise himself with a technically complex industry sector, and pick up the unfinished projects of Khumbudzo Ntshavheni’s 18-month spell in charge of the Department, such as completing the 12-year-overdue switchoff of analogue TV, auctioning off more freed spectrum, and appointing a new board for the SABC, which has been operating without a board for six months.
Likewise with Tourism, which has been blessed with the selfless dedication and wise leadership of none other than peripatetic Patricia de Lille.
Ntshavheni, for her part, is becoming a minister in the presidency without portfolio. Because who doesn’t need ministers without porfolio at their beck and call? Her ministry in the presidency is so important that she gets two – count them, two! – deputy ministers. Or perhaps one of them was supposed to be a deputy for Kgosientso Ramokgopa, Squirrel wasn’t quite clear.
On a positive note, Lindiwe Sisulu has been booted from the cabinet, and the petty tyrant, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zol, has been demoted to minister (in the presidency, of course) of women, youth and persons with disabilities. If you can’t ditch your enemies, keep them closer, I suppose.
And so it goes on, with appointments mostly designed to reward people who supported Ramaphosa in his ANC presidency re-election campaign, and neutralising those who opposed him.
If I had a research assistant, I would now dispatch them to research a snappy, original turn of phrase to replace ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic’. Everyone has used that cliché, and clichés are anathema to good writing. So here I am, not saying Squirrel was only rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but not notsaying it, either.
At the end of his speech, he informs us that he kept us waiting ‘for much longer than was necessary’ (my italics). Keeping us waiting for as long as necessary is one thing, but longer?
Thanks, Mr President. Having done nothing to improve anything other than your own political position, may your reign over the sunset of this country be long and glorious.
Do us all a favour. Go back to your farm and your overpriced cattle and your dollar-stuffed couch, and stay there. We don’t need a president for whom the job of governing South Africa comes a distant second to his personal and political interests.
Disclaimer: If I appeared to be complimenting anyone in this article, rest assured it was sarcasm.
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Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
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