Richard Calland’s all-female Cabinet dream for SA

Halfway through Women's Month and it's hard not to ask: Is the political establishment really listening? Does the political leadership – well, the dominant male part of it, that is – really take gender equality and gender-based violence seriously enough? The facts speak for themselves: South Africa faces an emergency. So, what if we were to declare it as such and appoint an emergency government of national unity, headed by an all-female Cabinet, with a female president at the helm? Perhaps that would make the difference in tackling the grave social crisis that women confront on a daily basis.

It is a large Cabinet in terms of numbers – just like the real-life one – and far larger than many others around the world. Arguably, it makes decision-making cumbersome and diffuses accountability, and would make it harder for the president to assert herself across such a wide range of portfolios. It is also expensive. Accordingly, in this "fantasy" government there are no deputy ministers. The buck stops with the minister and the minister alone.

Although it contains an ANC majority, it has representatives from other parties and also draws from a net wider than current politicians to catch some of the "talents" from fields such as business and civil society.

It's a strong team: better balanced, I think, than the current real Cabinet and with no obviously weak links.

President: Mamphela Ramphele

Although my book The Zuma Years casts doubts on the wisdom and prospects of her move into party politics with the formation of Agang, soaring above day-to-day politics and the partisanship of party political leadership, I have little doubt that Ramphele would provide the clarity of vision and leadership that South Africa needs to restore its reputation in the world, while grasping the big nettles in the domestic arena.

Deputy President: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
With a non-ANC president, the ANC has to have the deputy presidency, and I have "recalled" the African Union president on the grounds that it is a national emergency and her country needs her. As deputy president, she would lead the national campaign to end gender-based violence – I can't think of anyone stronger to head such a daunting initiative.

Finance: Gill Marcus
It's time to bring Marcus back into government after several years away, first in academia at the Gordon Institute of Business Science and latterly as a much-respected, independent-minded governor of the Reserve Bank.

International Relations and Co-operation: Lindiwe Zulu
Her various apprenticeships complete, this hard-working, ambitious woman, a key adviser in the Zuma presidency and as smooth as she is smart, is ready for a top job in government. She would be the perfect person to reboot South Africa's foreign policy vision and drive its stake in Brics – the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa grouping.

Defence: Sue Rabkin
Out of the shadows please, Sue. South Africa's longest-serving special adviser, she has held the position to all four of the ministers who have held this A-list portfolio since 1994, and knows more about the inner workings of the defence force than just about anyone. Not sure I can see her in a general's uniform, though.

National Planning in the Presidency: Sheila Barsel
This one comes from left field, literally. The veteran South African Communist Party (SACP) activist and thinker, who serves on its politburo and is one of the brains behind the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, gets a chance to apply a fresh approach to national development planning. She will also ensure that Ramphele gets a run for her money on key long-term strategic decisions about the future direction of the country.

Performance Monitoring and Evaluation and Standards in Public Life (new title) in the Presidency: Thuli Madonsela
The courageous, forthright public protector gets a chance to set new standards in public life from the very heart of government, with an emphasis on ethics rather than management-speak.

Public Service and Administration: Lindiwe Sisulu
At the time of writing, she was just hitting her stride in this vital portfolio. She has the toughness required to handle the public-sector unions and to drive corruption out of the public service.

Basic Education: Helen Zille
The Democratic Alliance (DA) leader needs a top position in this emergency coalition Cabinet, and what could be more important than sorting out the national emergency in schools?

Further Education: Naledi Pandor
She's an open-minded, essentially progressive politician with a natural inclination towards thinking and learning.

Intelligence Services: Thenjiwe Mtintso
Time to sort out the spooks. A former ambassador to Cuba and long-standing SACP politburo member, Mtintso has the experience, the toughness and the savvy to do the job. A good all-round addition to the Cabinet.

Public Enterprises: Maria Ramos
As a former director general of finance and chief executive of Transnet, she knows the government and its state-owned enterprises like the back of her hand. After a few years in the private sector as chief executive of Absa, Ramos is now even better equipped to lead this vital portfolio and gets the nod just ahead of Cheryl Carolus.

Trade and Industry: Cheryl Carolus
After a varied and largely successful career outside of wnational government as high commissioner to the United Kingdom, head of South Africa's tourism agency and, latterly, as chair of the South African Airways board, Carolus is well placed to take over this significant portfolio.

Health: Barbara Hogan
Hogan was brought into government in 2008 by her close friend, Kgalema Motlanthe, and had an immediate remedial impact on the health department, after years of madness under Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Zuma moved her to public enterprises in 2009, but her good work was continued by the admirable Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. Now that his gender disbars him, it's time for the incorruptible Hogan to resume her reforming role.

Police: Thandi Modise
She had a difficult few years as ANC deputy secretary general and her time as premier of North West province has not added greatly to her reputation. Nonetheless, I have a high regard for Modise's integrity and commitment to human security. She is tough and streetwise, as she will need to be to sort out the police force.

Transport: Patricia de Lille
She chaired the parliamentary portfolio committee on transport for several years and has a good understanding of the sector, not least from her recent mayorship in Cape Town. She also has an instinctive grasp of the needs of the ordinary working-class people for whom public transport is a daily headache.

Home Affairs: Fatima Chohan

She was part of the team that turned this dismal department around as deputy minister and Chohan now deserves promotion to the top job. Despite her hackish performance on the Judicial Service Commission, I have full confidence in her intelligence and progressive values.

Economic Development: Neva Makgetla
One of South Africa's best progressive economists, she is currently deputy director general of economicpolicy in the economic development department. She worked at the National Labour and Economic Development Institute and Cosatu in the 1990s and early 2000s, before Thabo Mbeki appointed her to his policy "kitchen Cabinet" in 2006. She had previously been shunned for fear that she was too left wing.

Human Settlements: Janet Love
Currently a human rights commissioner and director of the Legal Resources Centre, she is well versed in the duties that the constitutional right of access to adequate housing places on government and now gets the chance to make progress in a challenging portfolio.

Water, Minerals, the Environment and Energy: Tasneem Essop
Currently a national planning commissioner and head of the World Wide Fund for Nature's global climate deal network initiative, Essop is well equipped to lead South Africa's negotiating team and to drive the green-economy agenda in government as the head of a new super-ministry that brings together water, energy, environment and minerals.

Science and Technology: Olive Shisana
The current head of the Human Sciences Research Council was director general of the health department in the 1990s during its pre-Manto days and led a number of important reforms, including the anti-smoking legislation that is widely regarded as a success. These days, she is a great enthusiast of the NHI scheme that is still struggling to gain traction inside government, given the uncertainty about its funding model and Brics. With her commitment to science and innovation, Shisana would be an ideal appointment to this portfolio.

Social Welfare and Development: Adila Hassim
The energetic activist-leader of Section27 gets a chance to serve the poor in government.

Disabled: Masingita Masunga
An award-winning activist for the rights of disabled people, Masunga gets the opportunity to implement some of her ideas for improving their lives.

Correctional Services: Jenny Schreiner
Schreiner is an experienced public servant and SACP central committee member who has held leadership positions related to prison reform.

Telecommunications: Nozipho January-Bardill
The cosmopolitan politician-turned-businesswoman and former diplomat would lead this portfolio into a new visionary phase, armed with her experience as head of group corporate affairs at MTN.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs: Nomboniso Gasa

This is a portfolio that needs urgent attention and the activist and former gender equality commissioner will bring a strong gender-rights approach to traditional leaders and some much-needed rigour into the national government's oversight of provincial and local spheres of government. This includes getting tough on the ANC factionalism that is corroding the probity of municipal governance.

Tourism: Lindiwe Mazibuko

The DA parliamentary leader gets a taste of national government in an important sector for job creation. Mazibuko will be a persuasive and passionate salesperson for South Africa abroad.

Justice and Constitutional Development: Yvonne Mokgoro
The former Constitutional Court judge has recently become something of a public administrator, working behind the scenes in the office of the chief justice. In this portfolio she can drive reform of the courts' administration and, with her human rights and constitutional credentials, there will be no concerns about executive interference in the independence of the judiciary.

Labour and Youth Employment and Training: Joyce Moloi-Moropa
The up-and-coming SACP treasurer will bring a pro-worker stance to a newly structured portfolio.

Public Works: Futhi Mtoba
It might look like an odd appointment to bring an accountant into this portfolio, but it's certainly one that needs a good audit and the chief executive of Deloitte is no stranger to prospering in a male-dominated arena. She will bring real-world business acumen into the Cabinet as well.

Land Affairs and Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Lynne Brown
This is an important portfolio that needs someone who can make land and economic development a strategic policy issue, not an emotive political one. Working with farmers and big companies such as Massmart/Walmart, the former Western Cape economic development minister has the drive and talent to make it happen in an enlarged portfolio.

Arts, Culture and Sport: Pregs Govender
The South African Human Rights Commission deputy chair and former ANC MP gets an opportunity to steer arts and culture in South Africa so that it can stimulate and serve a national strategic goal of equality, while balancing modernity with tradition. I've merged sport into arts and culture because I've always regarded sport as high culture and an art form in its own right (though I'm not entirely sure the new minister would necessarily see it in quite those terms).

This is an edited extract from Richard Calland's new book, The Zuma Years: The Changing Face of Power, published this week by Zebra Press

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Richard Calland
Richard Calland is an associate professor in public law at the University of Cape Town and a founding partner of the Paternoster Group.

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