President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle on 5 August making much-needed changes and in a major move brought the state security portfolio under the ambit of the presidency. However, the President stopped short of the wholesale changes many were calling for.
The reshuffle was necessitated by growing public frustration with the government’s handling of the recent civil unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the Covid-19 pandemic, and the economy. In addition, the January death of the former minister in the presidency for performance monitoring and evaluation, Jackson Mthembu, and the expected resignation of Health Minister Zweli Mkhize earlier on 5 August, left two major vacancies in the cabinet.
In his reshuffle address, Ramaphosa announced that he had acquiesced to now former Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s request to be relieved of his duties. Mboweni had long been open about his desire to leave and was frustrated by the difficulties of the office and the resistance of his cabinet colleagues to his austerity policies. Ramaphosa has appointed Enoch Godongwana as the new Finance Minister. Godongwana has previously served as a deputy minister of both public enterprises and economic development. However, most significantly he is the head of the African National Congress (ANC) economic transformation committee and overseas economic policy development in the ruling party. His appointment will align the ruling party and the government on these matters, reducing tensions between the ANC and the Finance Ministry. Significantly, as the overseer of the development of the ANC’s economic policies at the ANC’s 2017 elective conference, Godongwana is ideally placed to push back against Ramaphosa’s enemies within the ANC – the so-called Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction – who have accused the president of failing to comply with the 2017 party resolutions. Godongwana has been an effective messenger within the ANC on clarifying these resolutions and easing investor concerns and is expected to amplify this role as Finance Minister.
That being said, Godongwana will likely usher in notable changes to the country’s finance and economic policy. He is by nature less of a neoliberal than Mboweni and is more likely to support stimulus policies to fuel economic growth than the austerity inclined Mboweni. This is an important philosophical change for the country as it seeks to recover from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdown. Godongwana should be able to implement these changes without causing too much concern. He is well respected in international financial circles and seen as a stable and reliable pair of hands. This was indicated by the largely positive reactions South Africa’s currency and stock markets had to his appointment.
However, the new Finance Minister is not without political baggage. Godongwana stepped down as deputy minister of economic development in 2012 due to his association with the Canyon Springs Investments scandal which resulted in the loss of R100 million from the SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) pension fund. Godongwana was never charged with any crime relating to this scandal and his reputation has recovered. However, the incident will likely be used against him by opposition parties.
The other major development in Ramaphosa’s reshuffle has been the downgrading of the State Security Department into a branch of the Presidency. This is in line with the recommendations of the 2018 Mufamadi High-Level Panel Report into the State Security Agency (SSA). In addition, Sydney Mufamadi has been appointed as the new National Security Advisor (NSA) and is clearly intended to oversee the implementation of his report’s recommendations. Erstwhile deputy minister of state security Zizi Kodwa will be appointed as deputy minister in the presidency responsible for state security. This is a significant step by Ramaphosa to bring the SSA to heel. The agency has been rocked by multiple allegations of corruption, infighting, and rogue operations. Its failure to anticipate and respond to the recent unrest appeared to be the final straw forcing Ramaphosa to take drastic action. The downgrading will diminish the agency’s official power and independence.
Although the incorporation of the state security portfolio into the presidency was recommended in the Mufamadi report and may be a prerequisite to reform, it also bolsters the power of the Presidency. The intelligence portfolio will now report to the President exclusively and cabinet will have limited oversight. The dangers this presents could, however, be somewhat offset if Mufamadi successfully implements the rest of his proposed reforms aimed at professionalising the intelligence services.
Despite public calls for a major overhaul, Ramaphosa actually only dismissed one minister from cabinet – Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. This was unavoidable given her ula’s abysmal response to the recent unrest and her open contradicting of the President’s claims that the unrest was fuelled by an attempted insurrection. Mapisa-Nqakula has been resistant to Ramaphosa’s leadership since 2018 and failed to implement the reforms in her sector or ensure that the country’s armed forces were up to their task. Ramaphosa has sent a clear message about the increased importance of the defence portfolio by appointing Speaker of Parliament Thandi Modise as the new Minister of Defence. Modise is an ANC power player, she is a former provincial premier, and as Speaker of Parliament was the third most powerful person in the South African state. The move indicates Ramaphosa’s intent to reform the portfolio and highlights the new importance he has placed on the armed forces. This follows the deployment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in Gauteng and KZN to prevent a resurgence of unrest as well as the deployment to combat the insurgency in Northern Mozambique.
While Modise’s appointment is a boon to the Defence Department it is a loss to Parliament. A new Speaker will need to be elected. This election will also indicate the balance of power within the ANC. If Ramaphosa is willing to bring Modise into cabinet, he must be confident that he has enough control of the ANC caucus to ensure the election of his preferred candidate as Speaker. At present, the frontrunners to replace Modise are long-timer Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli and ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina.
Another major development in the reshuffle was the appointment of former deputy minister of finance and stalwart Ramaphosa ally Mondli Gungubele as the new Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation. Gungubele is a natural fit for this role given his loyalty to Ramaphosa and influence and experience within the ANC. Gungubele will be tasked with ensuring that the cabinet falls in line and quelling any resistance to Ramaphosa within the government itself.
This will include dealing with rebellious ministers and deputy ministers in cabinet many of which remain loyal to former president Jacob Zuma and the RET faction; or oppositional to Ramaphosa’s continued tenure; or keen to replace him. A key example of this latter group is Lindiwe Sisulu who has been demoted from the Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation portfolio to be the new Minister of Tourism. Sisulu performed poorly and was due for a demotion, but this was likely accelerated by her recent insubordination by ignoring lockdown protocols and attending a pro-Zuma rally at the former president’s home in Nkandla during which Ramaphosa was loudly criticised. This was a direct affront to Ramaphosa.
The fact that Ramaphosa did not fire Sisulu also underscores his limited options when reshuffling. Ramaphosa is more powerful than he was in 2017 but he still needs to project the illusion of party unity and is unable to purge all his opponents from cabinet. This also explains the presence of stalwart Zuma supporters such as Minister of Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoane-Mashabane and Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation David Mahlobo. This problem is compounded by the fact that cabinet members must be selected from members of parliament and the current ANC parliamentary caucus was heavily influenced by currently suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, an arch-rival of Ramaphosa’s. As such the caucus is light on both reliable Ramaphosa allies and highly competent individuals.
Hence, Ramaphosa needs to retain some political enemies in his cabinet and also is unable to fire poor-performing allies. This explains why Police Minister Bheki Cele was retained despite the continued infighting with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the police’s abysmal response to the July unrest. Cele is a key ally of Ramaphosa’s and is importantly one of few influential politicians in KZN who back the President. This need to keep allies on board is also why Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was only demoted from the Communications Department to be the new Minister of Small Business instead of being dismissed after repeated poor performance, failing to act on spectrum rollout, and publicly ignoring lockdown regulations.
The reshuffle has also given insight into rising stars within cabinet who Ramaphosa has clearly earmarked for a greater role in his government. Key among these are Khumbudzo Ntshavheni who replaced Ndabeni-Abrahams as Communications Minister, and Mmamoloko Kubayi who was made minister of the newly created Human Settlements Department. This new department was created by dividing the Human Settlements, Water, and Sanitation Department. Ramaphosa has highlighted these as key areas of focus by appointing reliable allies to run the two new ministries. Accordingly, Senzo Mchunu, close political ally, has been shifted from Public Service and Administration and will oversee the Department of Water and Sanitation
This new cabinet leaves Ramaphosa in a stronger position with greater control over the government. The President has made it clear he is personally set on bringing the security cluster into line and finally sorting out the country’s intelligence services. The new appointments also make it evident that Ramaphosa is desperate for improved service delivery and economic growth policies. Yet, the ANC is clearly still a divided beast which Ramaphosa is yet to fully control. As long as the President is forced to include rivals and opponents in his cabinet his ability to manoeuvre will be limited. However, the introduction of ANC heavy-hitters and Ramaphosa allies such as Modise and Godongwana will help bring these resistant elements in line and should help bolster Ramaphosa’s ability to enact his reform agenda.