On 22 May, Cyril Ramaphosa will be elected by the National Assembly as President of democratic South Africa, with his inauguration on May 25. According to available information, the Cabinet will be announced on 27 May.
It is therefore too early to speculate on exactly who will be included in the Cabinet and who not. The lists currently doing the rounds have probably been released by various factions to determine which way the wind is blowing - and perhaps influence the wind’s direction.
However, it is indeed necessary - and useful - to look at what we already know about the composition of the Cabinet.
According to section 91 of the Constitution, it is the President’s duty and prerogative to appoint and dismiss the Cabinet. In the past, this prerogative was rarely exercised unilaterally, except by Jacob Zuma. However, there is an agreement that President Ramaphosa will consult the other top five. This is an internal ANC agreement, and does not appear in the Constitution. What does appear in the Constitution and in legislation, are the two forms of consultation: “after consultation” means the President is discussing his plans with the top five, but none of them have a veto right. “In consultation” means that the top five must agree with him about the composition of the Cabinet and they have in fact, a veto right. The reality of what will happen with the Cabinet appointments lies somewhere between the two. Especially with Ace Magashule (and to a lesser extent, Jessie Duarte) in the top six, there will probably be strong convictions - something that President Ramaphosa will have to deal with, tactfully but firmly. The point is: the President does not have completely free rein to decide on the Cabinet appointments.
This is not only true of the recent past. Even in the days of the National Party, the Prime Minister had to maintain a delicate balance between, for example, the four provinces and the strength of the party in each.
The composition of any Cabinet therefore involves the balancing of a matrix of interests. In the case of the ANC, it is even more complex than the erstwhile National Party. The interests to be balanced include the alliance partners (SACP and COSATU), the provincial ANCs (and especially KwaZulu-Natal with no representative in the top six), the Women's League and the Youth League; and lastly, racial minorities, namely white, Coloured and Indian South Africans. In addition, there is the ANC’s rule calling for 50% representation of women in government. All these factors make the appointment process very complex.
President Ramaphosa’s decision (supported by the ANC) that the Cabinet should be reduced, further complicates matters. Instead of the current 34 ministers, there might only be 25 posts to “distribute”. Instead of the current 35 deputy ministers, only 13 to 15 will probably remain. This leaves Ramaphosa with little room to manoeuvre. He has already made quite strong statements that State capturers, accused persons and the questionable should not be in government, thereby creating a certain climate for his appointments. But against the backdrop of the Women’s League (read Bathabile Dlamini) and the influence of other Zumaites, the chances that the Cabinet will be a 100% “Ramaphosa Cabinet”, are rather slim. One should rather expect that Ramaphosa will be forced to make compromises, and, at most, 80% will be his first choices.
Another factor that might play a role is that there may be a surprise or two from outside Parliament, or even outside the ANC. According to section 91(3)(c), the President “may select no more than two Ministers from outside the Assembly”. These appointments may come from the private sector, given the necessity for leaders who can manage the economy well. Ramaphosa may even surprise (like Zuma did with Pieter Mulder) by offering one of the smaller opposition parties a Cabinet post. However, the chance (as speculated) for a government of national unity is slim - especially given the mood of the ANC and the lower number of votes still a fresh memory.
All this forms the backdrop to the possibilities for the Cabinet’s composition. Ramaphosa has a mandate from his party and 57% of South Africa’s voters to carry out his plans related to State capture, corruption, clean governance and economic growth. This mandate is reinforced by the fact that it is generally accepted (with the exception of Ace Magashule) that Ramaphosa’s persona played a significant role in ensuring victory for the ANC. He is no longer an ANC president who won by 179 votes in Nasrec, but a President of country who was elected by nearly 10 million voters. He is also no longer an interim President (as Kgalema Motlanthe was to Zuma).
In addition, since his election as President in 2018, he has laid solid foundations for his reforms. The many commissions, the appointment of a new National Director of Public Prosecutions and her new investigative unit are but a few of these. From the recent NEC meeting’s discussion of and decision on the ANC’s Premier candidates, the above-mentioned 80% principle is clear: five of the seven Premiers were “his” candidates (with the North West province still outstanding). This is a good indication of what could possibly happen with the Cabinet.
If you take Ramaphosa’s plans for the economy seriously (and there is no reason not to), it is quite obvious that, in addition to the National Development Plan (which he co-authored) as a broad guideline and sound economic policies, good implementation of policies and good management of the economy is essential. Reports that he wants to take control of the economic group of portfolios are therefore good news. But the appointment of good managers, rather than mere policymakers, is of the utmost importance. And here, Ramaphosa might surprise with a private sector appointment or two. Even if he doesn’t, the need for new senior public service appointments, of people who can manage the economy, is cardinally important. Ramaphosa needs a mixture of voices (not just ANC loyalists) in the economic environment to take the economy and the country forward.
Against this backdrop, there is more than a 60% chance that President Ramaphosa will be able to appoint a fairly good and balanced Cabinet, despite pressure from the former Zumaites. He should have the resolve to push back just as hard. Hopefully he will also have the wisdom and common sense to appoint people (both inside and outside the Cabinet) that will be able to implement policy effectively.
It is important that the enthusiasm following the elections and the political stability that came with it, with the middle ground that drew 80% of the vote, now be translated into action. President Ramaphosa, we are (still) keeping a close eye on you…
By Dr Theuns Eloff: Executive Director, FW de Klerk Foundation
20 May 2019