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Plots, plans and scraps of old wood = a ‘gnu’ cabinet

President Cyril Ramaphosa kept South Africans up till way past bedtime on Sunday June 30 (a school night!) to end the long wait for a Government of National Unity (GNU) cabinet. What we got was a pretty bloated affair, especially at the deputy level. It was clearly the ANC’s way of appeasing its 10 coalition partners while not giving up anything at all.

It is widely believed that the ANC have been the class bullies from the start of the coalition talks, with their ‘take it or leave it’-style proposals throughout. Some say that this is not a government of national unity, but rather a very fragile coalition.

Independent political analyst Wayne Sussman was quoted as saying that “the ANC has retained the lion’s share (62.5%) of Cabinet positions excluding the President, Deputy President and deputy minister portfolios (76.7%). This is overweight against its showing of 40% in the elections”.

Enoch Godongwana

In terms of wins in this new Cabinet, it is a relief to see Enoch Godongwana stay on as Minister of Finance with David Masondo as deputy #1 alongside the Democratic Alliance’s Ashor Sarupen as deputy #2 (not in any particular order … we think).

Along with the earlier announcement that Lesetja Kganyago is to stay on for another term as Governor of the Reserve Bank, this means the key economic cluster remains intact (with potentially greater governance introduced by the DA). This was as the markets expected; the rand would really have felt it if anything different had been announced.

An excellent source tells me that one big win that doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of many is the centralising of more power in the Presidency, especially taking over public enterprises ministry.

“This will go a long way in pushing the tough reforms through with Transnet etc efficiently.” It will also help to ensure continued momentum of the solid reforms from Operation Vulindlela* (background on this project below).

Although, he warns, “it is extremely dangerous to have this concentration of power in the Presidency should Ramaphosa get axed by the party mid-term.” That doesn’t bear thinking about.

Having the DA in Home Affairs, in the form of Leon Schreiber, is also good news. We expect the DA will already have got cracking with fixing the crisis at the department, which seemed to careen from crisis to crisis under Aaron  Motsoaledi.

What we hope, although we know it is a huge job, is that Schreiber will be able to knock our immigration policy into shape to ensure critical skills and easy, smooth access for tourists. Many more South Africans (and Africans, in general) will hope that he finds a way forward on immigration from the rest of the continent that somehow balances our limited resources with basic human decency.

Auntie Pat de Lille stays at Tourism, which seems like a Good choice … or something. We haven’t been watching very carefully, but can’t help but like the lady.

Barbara Creecy at Transport is a great appointment. She is excellent and this is an important portfolio.

Ronald Lamola’s move to International Relations and Co-operation, where he replaced Naledi Pandor, has disappointed some who had great (as-yet-unfulfilled) hopes for him as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development. Still, maybe he will do great things in the foreign affairs ministry. Lord knows, we need some help there.

We are pleased to see Aaron Motsoaledi’s return to the health portfolio. He is a medical doctor, after all, and we remember him fondly from his time at the Health Ministry. Our source in Public Health (who happens to be embedded also with Correctional Services this week) says: “He really made a difference at the health department when he was there last time around, although this time I think he’s going to spend most of his time working the “free healthcare for all” story.

We also can’t help but wonder why John Steenhuisen, erstwhile Leader of the Opposition, has been appointed Minister of Agriculture. Even if he was a farm boy back in the day, surely his talents could be better put to use in a different portfolio. Some of these appointments make the casual observer worry that they are a bit random, that competency and record is not important.

Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus, with his real farmer vibes, is Minister of Correctional Services, though we can think of a few much more obvious candidates for this job.

As weird appointments go, Gayton McKenzie as Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture is surely the winner. I am winding my neck in on this one, though, since multi-award-winning South African theatre icon  Ismail Mahomed says on Facebook that he feels no rage and goes on to express hope that this gangster of a minister will be the clean broom the department needs after the past few decades.

Another source says: “I think McKenzie should have been Minister of Police/Corrections; the guy is a gangsta. He sounds like he means business.”

Former Minister of Police Bheki Cele

Senzo Mchunu replaces Bheki Cele as the Minister of Police. Cele has not been redeployed to another ministry and will not be missed by anyone that we know.

People are complaining about Mchunu’s move from Water and Sanitation, where he is said to have done very well. Really? How so? Last I heard there was sewage flowing into the sea all along the coast of SA and people in Joburg, among other places, going without piped water for weeks at a time. Maybe we just don’t understand how the Cabinet portfolios are split. Please feel free to correct us/comment in the boxes provided.

We have also finally split energy from mineral resources, which will go a long way in empowering Ramaphosa, via Kgosientso Ramokgopa, to continue fixing Eskom. It feels like we are almost there (now that most of us have solar … but here are no complaints from us since we are renting rather than having made a huge investment in solar).

Bloated governments are always awful, my source tells me, “but the market is going to welcome the news as it makes the fragile GNU more stable for the time being, gives Vulindlela momentum continuity and opens the door to more pro-growth policies, which is critical”.

He adds: “The reality is that the GNU may well become a lame duck with no real change and stalemates aplenty in Parliament (and all parties just jockeying for position in the next election). But even a lame duck government is better for the economy and markets than one that interferes counter-productively.

Cabinet as a trade school

When we had 30 ministers we complained that it was too many; now we have 32 ministers and SIX of them have TWO deputies each. So many new names but, hey, at least one organisation in SA is offering internships.  

There have been whisperings that things are looking pretty solid at a cabinet committee level, which is where much of the hard graft is done. We can only hope …

Some info about Vulindlela, from a column by JP Landman on June 21:

“Vulindlela, an initiative started by the presidency and National Treasury back when Tito Mboweni was still Minister of Finance, has scored some significant wins in the last few years. After a 10-year delay and numerous court challenges, spectrum release was done. Electricity reform is another big example. Recently, some visa reforms were announced. Vulindlela played a key role in opening up railways and ports to private sector investment and operations.

“The president has already, in his regular letter after the election, committed the 7th administration to the continued implementation of the Vulindlela programme, which is supported by the DA. That will be the main platform of action for this coalition government.

“I want to draw your attention to a research note published the week after the election by the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch (BER), which was approvingly quoted by the president. The researchers addressed how South Africa can move from a 1.5% growth economy to a 3.5% economy. BER concluded that we don’t need new initiatives or new policies – just implementation of the Vulindlela projects. At 1.5%, the economy is growing slower than the population – ie we are getting poorer. At 3.5%, we will grow the economy at almost twice the speed of the population. That is what happened in the first 20 years of democracy.”

Read the full column Elections – a historic shift to the middle

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