At 22h00 on 26 February 2018, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his first cabinet reshuffle since taking office on 15 February 2018. This new cabinet is the first major show of Ramaphosa’s political security and his commitment to addressing South Africa’s many challenges. The new cabinet appointments are as follows:
- Deputy President: David Mabuza
- Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs: Zweli Mkhize (replacing Des van Rooyen who was fired)
- Finance: Nhlanhla Nene (replacing Malusi Gigaba)
- Communications: Nomvula Mokonyane (replacing Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane who was fired)
- Energy: Jeff Radebe (replacing David Mahlobo who was fired)
- Higher Education and Training: Naledi Pandor (replacing the fired Hlengiwe Mkhize)
- Home Affairs: Malusi Gigaba (replacing Ayanda Dlodlo)
- Human Settlements: Nomaindia Mfeketo (replacing Lindiwe Sisulu)
- International Relations and Co-operation: Lindiwe Sisulu (replacing Maite Nkoana-Mashabane)
- Mineral Resources: Gwede Mantashe (replacing the fired Mosebenzi Zwane)
- Police: Bheki Cele (replacing Fikile Mbalula who was fired)
- Public Enterprises: Pravin Gordhan (replacing the fired Lynn Brown)
- Public Service and Administration: Ayanda Dlodlo (replacing Faith Muthambi)
- Public Works: Thulas Nxesi (replacing Nathi Nhleko)
- Rural Development and Land Reform: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (replacing Gugile Nkwinti)
- Science and Technology: Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane (replacing Naledi Pandor)
- Social Development: Susan Shabangu (replacing Bathabile Dlamini)
- Sport and Recreation: Tokozile Xasa (replacing Thulas Nxesi)
- State Security: Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba (replacing Bongani Bongo who was fired)
- The Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (replacing Jeff Radebe)
- The Presidency: Women: Bathabile Dlamini (replacing Susan Shabangu)
- Tourism: Derek Hanekom (replacing Tokozile Xasa)
- Transport: Blade Nzimande (replacing Ben Martins who was fired)
- Water and Sanitation: Gugile Nkwinti (replacing Nomvula Mokonyane)
As expected, the cabinet rewards several Ramaphosa loyalists but also strives to bolster unity and counter factionalism in the African National Congress (ANC) by retaining several ministers from Jacob Zuma’s faction. This underscores concern that Ramaphosa does not yet have complete political control of the ANC or, by extension, government.
However, Ramaphosa did remove arguably the most compromised ministers, such as Mosebenzi Zwane, Lynn Brown, Des van Rooyen, and David Mahlobo ― former ministers of Mineral Resources, State Enterprises, Cooperative Governance and Energy respectively. All four are believed to have deep links to controversial Zuma benefactors, the Gupta family, and are seen as key players in the state capture project that Ramaphosa aims to undo.
Exemplifying Ramaphosa’s relative political strength and resolve to improve governance functioning and integrity, were the appointments of the highly respected Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Public Enterprises, and Nhlanhla Nene’s return as Minister of Finance after he was fired by Zuma in 2015, effectively for refusing to take orders from the Guptas. His reappointment signals Ramaphosa’s determination to return South Africa to a sound fiscal regime while underlining the end of the Zuma era ― a both political and pragmatic move. Similarly, Gordhan’s posting at Public Enterprises affirms how seriously Ramaphosa is taking public sector reform and should boost his plans to ensure state-owned companies contribute to, rather than drain, the public purse. Ratings agencies should perceive both appointments as a positive sign.
Lindiwe Sisulu’s appointment to head International Relations and Co-operation implies Ramaphosa could be planning a more ambitious foreign policy that will help South Africa regain lost global prestige. Sisulu has a high local political profile and comes from a prominent political family. She is generally viewed as capable and ambitious and will likely seek to grow her new ministry’s prominence.
Ramaphosa rewarded Derek Hanekom for consistent support by returning him to his old portfolio of Tourism after he was fired in 2017 for pushing for a vote of no confidence against Zuma in an ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting. Likewise, Thulas Nxesi was sent back to Public Works in a move likely designed to appease ANC alliance partner the South African Communist Party (SACP), which has been locked out of other major ministries. The SACP was highly irked by Zuma’s axing of former higher education minister and SACP leader Blade Nzimande and his appointment to the Transport Ministry alone would not have been enough to smooth relations. Meanwhile, Naledi Pandor’s appointment to Higher Education should help reset relations between government and students.
One of the most notable moves could be ANC Chairperson Gwede Mantashe’s inclusion in government to replace the heavily tainted Mosebenzi Zwane as Minister of Mineral Resources. Under Zwane’s watch, relations between the government and mining sector have hit all-time lows and expectations of Mantashe will be high. Compared to the corrupt and pliable Zwane, who was widely deemed to be acting on behalf of the Guptas, Mantashe is a respected ANC leader and also previously headed up the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). As such, he has a good knowledge of the industry and its issues and will likely seek an optimal compromise solution for all sides in the mining sector. He is also unlikely to veer from Ramaphosa’s agenda and a new mining charter could well be negotiated. However, he may face some resistance from some sectors of labour, especially in the platinum mining sector, due to his acrimonious history with Joseph Mathunjwa, founder of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the largest union in the platinum industry. Mantashe was a key figure in having Mathunjwa expelled from NUM.
A further indicator of Ramaphosa’s relative strength lies in his appointment of erstwhile presidential power contender and perceived Zuma proxy, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring, and Evaluation. It was generally expected that she would be included in the cabinet given her seniority in the party and to bolster “unity”, but the portfolio has a considerably lower profile than she, who formerly held the Health, Foreign Affairs, and Home Affairs portfolios, and served as African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson, might expect. This could suggest that Ramaphosa is not feeling overly beholden to his political opponents and those pushing for a unity government.
However, the reshuffle also illustrated the limitations of Ramaphosa’s political capital as seen in the retention of former minister of social development Bathabile Dlamini despite widespread calls for her to be sacked for her severe mismanagement of a social grants crisis. Instead, she was shifted to the Ministry in the Presidency for Women with her survival ascribed largely to the fact that she is the head of the ANC Women’s League and as such has significant support within the party. Firing her at this point may have proved politically difficult for Ramaphosa, especially since his new cabinet doesn’t meet the ANC’s self-imposed 50/50 gender equity target.
Possibly more concerning is the appointment of ANC Deputy President David Mabuza as Deputy President of the Republic. While this was anticipated, it is a definitive reminder that Ramaphosa faces constraints in eradicating corruption and related controversy. Mabuza has been accused, but not convicted, of a plethora of crimes from fraud to ordering assassinations and is a generally dubious figure in South African politics. However, his support is thought to have been decisive in Ramaphosa’s election as ANC President and the real test of his influence and political strength will be in the roles he assumes as SA Deputy President. This will be defined largely by Ramaphosa and will, therefore, be a parallel indicator of his trust in his deputy.
On a whole the new cabinet composition will likely be received positively by citizens and the private sector with Ramaphosa’s announcement also stressing that a review of the configuration of cabinet is still underway. This is widely expected to see follow-up moves to reduce the number of ministries in government either before or even after 2019 elections, depending on the extent to which Ramaphosa can consolidate his support in the ANC.