/ 25 June 2024

Democratic Alliance wants 12 cabinet posts or no GNU deal

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Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

As the country awaits President Cyril Ramaphosa’s imminent announcement of his cabinet, it has emerged that the Democratic Alliance (DA) wants more than twice the number of positions he is offering in the government of national unity (GNU), led by the ANC.

Leaked correspondence between the two parties shows how far apart they were Ramaphosa met DA leader John Steenhuisen on Monday, with the ANC offering six ministerial positions and the blue party demanding 12.

In a letter dated 22 June, ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula offered Steenhuisen six ministerial posts and seven deputy ministerial positions. But this offer was rejected by DA federal council chair Helen Zille in another list of the party’s demands, which was also clandestinely released into the public domain on the sideline of the talks between South Africa’s two largest parties.

In the letter to the DA, Mbalula emphasised the ANC’s commitment to forming a unity government based on “genuine inclusiveness” and “advancing the national interest” in line with the principles outlined in the statement of intent signed by the involved parties.

He said the offer of ministerial positions was based on “a fair and reasonable manner of determining the number of positions in cabinet that each party would be appointed” in line with clause 16 of the statement of intent.

“We hold the view that the representation of parties should be based on the electoral mandate that they received, reflected in the number of seats they hold in the entire National Assembly,” Mbalula said, adding that there were “still several critical positions in the leadership of parliament” which the DA should consider as part of the cooperation. 

“The offer of including certain NCOP [National Council of Provinces] posts as part of the GNU cooperation, including NCOP deputy chairperson and other portfolios, are therefore part of the proposals we would like to put forward for consideration, notwithstanding the ANC’s outright majority in the NCOP,” he said in the letter.

“We welcome the fact that the statement of intent has been signed by more political parties represented in the National Assembly. This development enhances the standing of the government of national unity. This speaks to the principles of national interest and inclusiveness which both of us support.”

He added that the ANC welcomed the shared understanding regarding the president’s prerogative to appoint members of the national executive in line with the constitution and noted that the DA’s approach to the representation of parties in the GNU was premised on the concept of strict proportionality based on the members of the unity government.

Mbalula’s letter to Steenhuisen said minister and deputy minister positions for the ANC, Inkatha Freedom Party and smaller parties would be determined after further consultations.

The ANC also proposes integrating positions within the National Council of Provinces as part of the GNU cooperation, reflecting the ANC’s majority in this body.

In response Zille outlined the party’s conditions for joining the GNU in a letter dated 23 June 2024, emphasising that the DA’s decision to join the GNU hinged on its ability to effect substantial change and not merely occupy positions of power.

Zille said the DA’s proposed distribution of cabinet seats was a clear and fair way to implement clause 16 of the statement of intent.

“It is obvious that the distribution of positions in the cabinet can only start with a consideration of the relative electoral size of the parties participating in government. Governments, by definition, are made up of parties participating in government. They are not made up of parties in opposition — that is what parliament is for,” she said.

Zille said it was “only fair and reasonable” for the DA to be represented across all cabinet clusters. This would include the ministries of mineral resources and energy, transport, and trade and industry. 

Zille said her party also sought to have its own preferred candidates as deputy ministers in the same ministries where it would have ministers, except in the finance ministry, where the DA wanted to have one of its own as a deputy minister to Enoch Godongwana.

Zille’s letter also requested that where DA ministers were appointed, existing directors general were shown the door on the grounds that the incumbents may not work well with the incoming DA officials.

In a statement on Monday, the ANC expressed concern over some parties making “outrageous demands for specific cabinet positions” through the media.

“Negotiating by leaking demands to the media is an act of bad faith, and this practice will not help any party’s cause,” it said, reiterating that the final decision on cabinet appointments rests with Ramaphosa and stressing that the unity government must not be “held to ransom by any single party.”

DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi could not be reached for comment.