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17 May 2019 00:00
Good bet: Finance Minister Tito Mboweni (right) will probably retain his post in the new Cabinet. (Sumaya Hisham/Reuters)
President Cyril Ramaphosa needs a fighting Cabinet. One that works, is effective, credible and has what it takes to get the economy and the country working again.
His survival — and that of his party — depends on it.
Although there may be a queue of potential ministers lining up outside his office, Ramaphosa would risk much if he allowed political considerations, such as ANC factional battles or patronage, to cloud his judgment.
The 2019 elections results have stripped away the ANC’s pastime: that of allowing key decisions to be watered down by factional politics.
The elections results showed that the ANC has one last shot to turn things around or risk losing power.
Although lists are circulating and speculation is swirling about the make-up of the executive in the sixth administration, there is still a long way to go before the final Cabinet is announced after the presidential inauguration next week.
Ramaphosa has yet to consult the ANC’s top six.
What we do know is that Ramaphosa will appoint a Cabinet to get the economy moving — as he said this week during a meeting with investors.
This was just after Statistics South Africa announced that unemployment climbed to 27.6% in the first quarter of 2019. The economy shed another 237 000 jobs during this period. For the ANC, which has run the country, this is a big liability and one that the party has to tackle. Opposition parties are waiting with promises to do better.
We know that Ramaphosa will reconfigure his Cabinet to tighten economic policy formulation and implementation. Business Day reported this week that the president will reinstate an Mbeki-era policy advisory unit to oversee the design and implementation of economic investment policies.
It is also widely expected that the trade and industry department will be combined with the economic development department to form a super economic ministry.
The treasury will probably remain a standalone department — and the post of minister of finance will be watched keenly. Tito Mboweni is likely to remain in the post, despite speculation that he would not. He has already signed his nomination as an MP and is set to return to Parliament.
Who would deputise for him, should he remain in that post, is critical. A frontrunner is likely to be former Gauteng treasury boss Barbara Creecy, who is a dynamic, competent and credible option. ANC young gun and astute thinker David Masondo could be another option for deputy.
Ramaphosa’s Cabinet is expected to usher in young, energetic and potent ministers, including a member of its economic transformation subcommittee, Ronald Lamola.
Ramaphosa can select two individuals who are not MPs to include in his Cabinet. Although Ebrahim Patel is not on the list of MPs, and nor is Andries Nel, both still could be appointed.
The security cluster is also critical to ensure that the criminal justice system and the rule of law are strengthened.
Tainted MPs on the ANC’s list, such as Malusi Gigaba and Nomvula Mokonyane, are not expected to return to the Cabinet. But there is a chance that ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini may yet make the cut.
There is no room for patronage or compromise — such as that recently reached with the women’s league in the provinces — for Ramaphosa. The ANC is facing the local government polls in just two years’ time. He cannot take any chances, because in 2016 the party failed to win any of the three metros in Gauteng outright.
With time, citizens could become accustomed to the party not being in power and could discard it once again. That possibility then opens up the ANC to losing Gauteng in the 2024 elections — the 2019 election results show it could already be on course to losing the economic hub.
Once Gauteng is lost, it is over for the ANC. The province has the largest number of registered voters, contributes about 35% to the country’s gross domestic product and is the financial and manufacturing nerve centre of the country. The loss of Gauteng, coupled with the Democratic Alliance controlling the Western Cape, would mean that two of the largest economic centres in the country would be in opposition hands.
With such high stakes, the time for sweet-talking and factional considerations has to be over.
The steel character that ANC leaders say lies beneath Ramaphosa’s polite, diplomatic surface has to emerge in the appointment of his Cabinet.
If he fails, he will not have a second chance — and neither will the ANC.
Natasha Marrian is Mail & Guardian's politics editor. Read more from Natasha Marrian
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