Cyril, Emery have tricky kickoffs

Thursday.

I could be doing with a bit of a lie-in, given President Cyril Ramaphosa’s somewhat delayed announcement of his Cabinet and Arsenal’s late night capitulation to Chelsea in the Europa League final, but, as usual, I’m up way before the sun.

The president didn’t do the Midnight Shuffle his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, loved so much, but he certainly kept the nation waiting while he tweaked his squad ahead of going public with it.

I’m saddened. Another season of Thursday Night Football lies ahead, a poor second to the more glamorous — and lucrative — Tuesday and Wednesday night games of the Europa Champions League. Coach Unai Emery steadied things in his first season, but until he gets to spend some proper money and starts winning more away games, Thursdays it is. Until then, we’re stuck in the same rut.

I guess Ramaphosa, in choosing his Cabinet for the next five years, has similar problems to Emery going into the new season.

The president also has no money — or latitude to bring in new personnel — so he has had to work with a squad that is half his and half his predecessor’s.

Emery has his fair share of overpaid underperformers — chiefly Mesut Özil. Looking at the top end of the ANC’s parliamentary list, the pool of players Ramaphosa had to choose from, there’s more than one Özil, that’s for sure.

The similarities don’t end there. Ramaphosa and Emery both came in at the end of a decade-long slump in performance, replacing predecessors who were once popular but who lost the plot.

Granted, Arsène Wenger was a lot more successful as Arsenal coach than Zuma was as president — Wenger didn’t raid the till, for a start, and he gave us the glory days of the Invincibles, rather than the Guptas and state capture. But Msholozi did look like a title winner, at least for a short while — in the heady days of 2009.

Emery and Ramaphosa have another common problem — both have to meet enormous expectations from a loyal but disillusioned support base without the money or the team to do it. Another season of ice skating uphill awaits.

Some of Ramaphosa’s choices have been brave. Firing his brother-in-law, Cabinet ancestor Jeff Radebe, was one of those. One imagines thatfamily dinners at the Motsepe household may be a little strained for a while.

“So how was your week, Tham-sanqa?” and that sort of thing.

Just a little awkward.

Some of them seem to be aimed at reversing time, a stab at turning back the clock to the pre-Zuma era — such as bringing back Thoko Didiza to oversee land reform and deploying Lindiwe Sisulu back to the human settlements department.

The dropping of the worst liabilities of the Zuma era — the Granit Xhakas and Pascal Cygans of South African politics, such as Bathabile Dlamini and Malusi Gigaba — also looks like a move by Rampahosa to go back to the days when Cabinet ministers weren’t red-card or own-goal specialists, more likely to cost the team three points than win anything.

I’m not too impressed by the movement of Blade Nzimande back to the higher education department though. It’s not just the fact that nobody will be able to understand what Blade’s saying. The Sector and Education Training Authorities still haven’t recovered from his first term in charge of higher education — neither have the universities, for that matter. And whatever progress was made under Naledi Pandor just went out of the window.

The appointment of Patricia de Lille, the leader of the Good party, as public works minister, was a slick move on Ramaphosa’s part. Aunty Pat is good people and public works needs somebody with a keen eye and a hard head to help cut the fat that was built in to feed the tenderpreneurs attached to the governing party, so choosing somebody from outside the governing party is a top move.

It’s also a great way to illustrate the joys of life outside the Democratic Alliance for people from the Western Cape, with a local government election just around the corner.

But either Ramaphosa can’t count, which is unlikely for a cat who made so much money in business, or his understanding of a serious downsizing of Cabinet is flawed. Cutting the number of ministers and then increasing the number of deputies means that the real difference in numbers is 10 people. Nothing particularly lean and mean about that.

It wasn’t that surprising to see The Cat, as David Mabuza is known, being announced as Ramaphosa’s number two on Wednesday night, despite the delay in his swearing-in to accommodate his appearance before the ANC’s integrity commission.

Perhaps the delay was just another diversion. Perhaps The Cat, like myself, simply doesn’t like Cape Town. Perhaps The Cat wanted to save the state the airfare to and from Pretoria — an austere kick-off to his term.

Perhaps.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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