/ 1 July 2024

Steenhuisen: South Africans created GNU, not politicians and political parties

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

The appointment of a new cabinet featuring signatories to the unity government paves the way for the ANC and the Democratic Alliance to start delivering for the people of South Africa, DA leader John Steenhuisen said on Monday.

Steenhuisen, who President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday as the new agriculture minister, said politicians and their parties had not created the government of national unity (GNU) but it rather reflected the electorate’s decision to take away the ANC’s outright majority while growing the DA’s position as the second-biggest party in the country. 

“The configuration we have managed to negotiate ensures that, alongside the ANC, the DA is the only other party that is now represented across every one of the clusters in government,” he told a media briefing.

“This means that, for the first time ever, the voices of DA voters will be heard in every sector and in every room where decisions are made about our country’s future.”

Steenhuisen said he had already told DA members in cabinet and deputy minister posts that “they carry an enormous responsibility on their shoulders”. 

“Most importantly, the responsibility these individuals bear reflects the will of the people who voted for the DA in 2024 to rescue South Africa.”

Ramaphosa’s long-awaited cabinet, announced on Sunday, comprises members of the ANC, the DA, as well as the Inkatha Freedom Party, Patriotic Alliance, Freedom Front Plus, the GOOD Party, Al Jama-ah and the United Democratic Movement.

Steenhuisen’s agriculture post was one of six portfolios that went to the DA. The party’s chief whip, Siviwe Gwarube, will become education minister, while its KwaZulu-Natal provincial chair, Dean Macpherson, was named minister of public works.

Leon Schreiber is the minister of home affairs, while Solly Malatsi takes the communications department and Dion George is the minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment. The party also secured deputy ministers in other portfolios.  

With the inclusion of all the other parties, and first and second deputy ministers, Ramaphosa’s government consists of 75 ministers and deputies, making it the largest since 1994. 

This is despite the DA’s past criticism of the size of the government and its drain on taxpayers’ money, as well as Ramaphosa’s previously stated commitment to cutting it.

ActionSA party leader Herman Mashaba, whose party refused to join the unity government, said the announcement of what he called a bloated and compromised cabinet created a bad first impression of the coalition and did not bode well for prospects of meaningful reform.

“Contrary to past commitments by both President Ramaphosa and the DA, the appointment of 32 ministers and [43] deputy ministers shows that, when they stand to benefit, their principles soon fall by the wayside,” Mashaba said.

Steenhuisen said the DA’s commitment was to painstakingly rebuild the government institutions under its custodianship and translate its “demonstrated track record of good governance and quality service delivery at municipal and provincial government into national government”.

“Throughout the election campaign, as well as during the negotiations that followed, I made it clear that the DA is guided by the pledges we made in our election manifesto,” he said.

“These include the urgent need to grow the economy and create jobs; to bring an end to the energy crisis; to combat corruption and maladministration and to improve the quality of services like education.”

In a statement on Sunday, the ANC said Ramaphosa’s cabinet announcement was an important step forward and testimony to the resilience of the country’s democracy. 

“The ANC will continue to exercise its leadership role by engaging with every party, including those who are not part of the GNU, in the interests of transformation, redress, national unity, peace and stability,” it said.