/ 29 June 2024

Ramaphosa may make space in cabinet for smaller parties

On the fence: Cyril Ramaphosa says a state capture inquiry should simultaneously be broad and focused. Lulama Zenzile/Die Burger/Gallo
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Lulama Zenzile/Die Burger/Gallo)

President Cyril Ramaphosa could accommodate up to five coalition partners in his new executive, sources suggested on Saturday while the wait for a cabinet announcement continued.

That hinged in the main on a decision from the Democratic Alliance as to whether it would accept the president’s offer of six portfolios, plus four deputy ministries, after Ramaphosa revised the proposal this week to take the trade and industry ministry off the table.

Instead, he offered the DA the tourism ministry, which it regards as a lesser portfolio.

Tempers frayed and letters were leaked, and on Friday Ramaphosa and DA leader John Steenhuisen met privately to resolve the impasse and rescue the power-sharing agreement the parties reached two weeks ago.

Steenhuisen has to persuade the party’s federal executive, which had upped its initial demand to a dozen cabinet posts, and a commitment that its ministers would be allowed to appoint new directors-general.

A source close to the process said a decision was expected “soon”.

The meeting came after Ramaphosa in writing rejected the DA leadership’s demands as “offensive, condescending, and inconsistent with the constitution” and accused it of seemingly seeking to set up “a parallel government”, in violation of the spirit.

He cautioned that he regarded naming his executive as “quite urgent” and would in the meanwhile continue talks with other parties.

“I must advise that we are continuing to hold discussions with other parties over the portfolios they could occupy as we seek to finalise the agreement on the GNU.”

A source with insight into the process said Ramaphosa was likely to give a portfolio to the GOOD Party, despite its poor showing in the May elections. GOOD leader Patricia de Lille has served in cabinet since 2019, holding first the public works and then the tourism portfolio.

It is understood the president may also include the Patriotic Alliance and the United Democratic Movement. The latter agreed last weekend to join the so-called government of national unity, which now counts ten parties.

The UDM initially felt sidelined while the ANC focused on thrashing out an agreement with the DA and the Inkatha Freedom Party ahead of the first sitting of the National Assembly where Ramaphosa was re-elected for another term.

It nominated Julius Malema for the position because it was not prepared to vote along with the ANC without prior discussion on broader cooperation but fences were mended in a meeting last week between party leaders.

However, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa on Saturday said he was not aware of any decision to bring his party into the executive, and had made no demand in that regard.

The success of the future coalition depended not on considerations of power, he added, but on agreement to put in place “an effective public administration” that can implement government policy.

“We cannot afford to go backwards on that. This is not a coalition where we are far apart on ideology. Parties agree that we need to focus on poverty alleviation, job creation and so on. I think what we need to do would be to meet regularly as parties, to ensure we stay on the same page.”

IFP president Velinkosini Hlabisa has reiterated that his party was not putting a fine point on cabinet portfolios.

“On the part of the IFP, we are ready to serve. We accept the president’s ultimate prerogative to make his appointments as he sees fit,” he said in a statement on Friday.

“Obviously, in all our minds, certain ministries take precedence over others, on the basis of what we seek to achieve for South Africa. But there is no position more important than the good of the country as a whole.”

He stressed that it was time for parties to put their own interests aside and echoed Ramaphosa’s impatience in his letter to Steenhuisen where he warned that he would not allow the present “paralysis” to continue.

“Beyond ministries there is South Africa and its people who must not be at the stalemate for a longer time,” Hlabisa said.

“We understood that there will be necessary teething problems in the formation of a government of national unity. Now, however, like all South Africans, the IFP is growing concerned.

“Our concern is for a country that is eager to move forward. The work of governance must begin. We cannot remain in a holding pattern, when there is so much to be done.”

Build One South Africa on Saturday said it had met with a delegation from the ANC to “consider the modalities of a governing coalition at national level”.

It said it believed that it was urgent that a meeting of all 18 parties represented in parliament be convened to map a path towards the formation of a new government driven by shared values.

“We have committed to be constructive in all engagements and have agreed that once a plan of action is determined we can support the government on an issue by issue basis.”