Home Opinion and Features OPINION: Ramaphosa’s grip on state security machinery targets 2022 re-election

OPINION: Ramaphosa’s grip on state security machinery targets 2022 re-election

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President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement of sweeping changes to the Cabinet may have appeared radical but did little to dispel the notion that he is paralysed by a commitment to protracted consensus-seeking, writes Cyril Madlala.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. File picture

PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent announcement of sweeping changes to the Cabinet may have appeared radical but did little to dispel the notion that he is paralysed by a commitment to protracted consensus-seeking, to the point of indecision at critical moments.

Following the acknowledged failure of the state security machinery to anticipate and respond appropriately to the massive economic sabotage in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng three weeks ago, Ramaphosa was expected to seize the moment to act firmly against the responsible ministers.

Instead, but true to character, he informed the expectant nation: “As part of the critical measures we are undertaking to strengthen our security services and to prevent a recurrence of such events, I am appointing an expert panel to lead a thorough and critical review of our preparedness and the shortcomings in our response.”

Chaired by Professor Sandy Africa, the team includes advocate Mojanku Gumbi and Silumko Sokupa. The president said they would examine “all aspects of our security response and will make recommendations on strengthening our capabilities”.

Additionally, to improve support to the president and the National Security Council in the “strategic management of the country’s security”, Dr Sydney Mufamadi has been appointed as national security adviser. He replaces Charles Nqakula who resigned earlier in the year.

In 2018, Ramaphosa appointed Mufamadi to chair a panel to review the State Security Agency. It found that there had been “political mal-purposing and factionalisation” of the spooks for more than a decade and that had resulted in a disregard for the Constitution, policy, legislation and other prescripts.

Three years later, the intelligence services, under Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, were caught napping as an orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage unfolded, costing the country billions of rand. Last week, Ramaphosa shifted her to Public Service and Administration.

Minister Bheki Cele, who has also been criticised for the inadequate response of the police to the crisis, emerged unscathed while Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was the only one to be fired from the Cabinet.

In the reconfigured executive, Zizi Kodwa has been appointed as Deputy Minister in the Presidency responsible for state security, in a move that facilitates Ramaphosa’s firmer grip on the intelligence services.

The president has, however, been slow to implement the recommendations of the Mufamadi panel, despite evidence presented at the commission of inquiry into state capture suggesting that the crisis at the intelligence services should have been addressed as a matter of urgency.

Now, another panel will investigate why the security cluster has been found wanting.

It had been expected that, at some point, Ramaphosa would shake up his team because halfway through his term, he would have had ample opportunity to assess performance.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic was a global crisis. It presented Ramaphosa with an unprecedented opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of his government as some ministers rose as shining stars while others lurched from one blunder to another, clearly out of depth when the country needed to put its best foot forward.

It would have been expected that last week’s reshuffle would give South Africa a clearer sense yet of what Ramaphosa thinks about the performance of the team he has assembled.

Yet, considering the changes made, none of that seem to have been a factor. His hand could have been forced by the fact that it had become untenable to retain the services of Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. Mkhize tendered his resignation to challenge the report of the Special Investigation Unit probing the infamous Digital Vibes corruption scandal under his stewardship.

Similarly, the president could also no longer resist Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s wish to be relieved of his duties. In the case of both the ministers, Ramaphosa has had to let go of two key members of his crew while he, as president of both the country and ANC, steers the ship through stormy seas.

Ordinarily, purely on the basis of ability to perform extraordinarily well, Mboweni and Mkhize would have been the last persons to be fired. The personal circumstances of their exits have dictated otherwise.

It would have been interesting to see how Ramaphosa would have acted if the two did not have to go and Minister Jackson Mthembu and Deputy Minister Bavelile Hlongwa had not passed on. He had been stalling to replace them since last year, but it was the looting frenzy three weeks ago that gave the impetus for a response this time.

However, the reshuffle does not signal that Ramaphosa has decided to take firm control of his government as he heads for the last two years of his tenure. He consults extensively, as he did again this week with the alliance partners ahead of the announcement. He remains committed to the survival of the historic partnership with the Cosatu, the SACP and the South African National Civic Organisation.

But it is the balancing act to reconcile the interests of the warring factions of the ANC that militates against cleansing his Cabinet of the deadwood that is obvious for everybody else to see without a need for perennial consultation and consensus-seeking.

* Cyril Madlala is the former editor of Independent on Saturday and a political commentator.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the DFA and Independent Media.

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