Demotion and removal from the Cabinet are an expression of the president’s political displeasure. Both send a clear message of his preparedness to crack the proverbial whip, writes Professor Sipho Seepe.
THE CABINET reshuffle should be about building confidence in the performance of an administration and in the country’s economy. It is a prerogative assigned to the president under Section 92 of the Constitution.
Ideally, it should be about bringing fresh ideas to the Cabinet. Moving ministers from one portfolio to the next will not increase the Cabinet’s innovative and collective thinking. The same individuals who failed to turn around the socio-economic misfortunes of the country in the past three years cannot be expected to take the country out of the brink of collapse it finds itself in.
Notwithstanding the above, there is little doubt that the optics of President Ramaphosa’s first Cabinet reshuffle are compelling. In terms of numbers, 20 ministers and deputy ministers are affected. The filling of critical vacancies occasioned by the passing of the Minister in the Presidency Mr Jackson Mthembu, and the subsequent resignation of Dr Zweli Mkhize was the easiest part.
There are no surprises regarding the security cluster. Changes were excepted, given the manner in which the cluster mismanaged the worst social unrest since 1994. This failure resulted in the loss of life and destruction of major economic assets.
The above were evidently uppermost in the president’s mind.
“Firstly, we are working to accelerate our vaccination programme to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic. Secondly, we are working to ensure peace and stability in the wake of the recent outbreak of violence and destruction in parts of the country.”
In this regard, it could be argued that the president had the wind of expectation at his back.
The difficult part of the reshuffle related to who to shift, demote and give the boot. Demotion and removal from the Cabinet are an expression of the president’s political displeasure. Both sends a clear message of his preparedness to crack the proverbial whip.
In exercising his constitutional prerogative to reshuffle his Cabinet, the president must bear in mind how such a decision would affect the stability and performance of his administration.
Factored into this decision are the president’s own political fortunes. The retention of Minister Cele in the Ministry of the SAPS can be seen as an expression of the president’s confidence in him and a reward for his loyalty. This is a calculated move, as removing Minister Cele would have resulted in losing two ministers from KwaZulu-Natal. Arguably, Minister Cele could have been shifted to another position.
Ideally, the removal and demotion of ministers should be informed by demonstrable non-performance. In the political space, however, removal and demotion is done to send a message to those the president considers to be his political obstacles. In other words, a reshuffle of a Cabinet is more than a managerial exercise.
Loyalists and those considered to be hard working have either been retained or promoted. The likes of Mondli Gungubele, Senzo Mchunu, Ayanda Dlodlo, Mmamoloko Kubayi, Khumbuzo Ntshaveni, Enoch Godongwana and Thandi Modise are cases in point.
The most rational decision in the reshuffle is the president’s decision to reconfigure the Department of Human Settlement, Water and Sanitation. As the president correctly observes that at “the beginning of this administration, we had brought these two portfolios together on the understanding that the provision of water is closely tied to the development of human settlements.
However, the reality is that water is a far broader issue, impacting not only on human settlements, but also on agriculture, industry, mining and environmental management. Water is our country’s most critical natural resource”.
The delinking of water and sanitation from human settlement “will enable a dedicated focus on ensuring that all South Africans have access to a secure and sustainable supply of this precious resource”.
The decision to move the Department of State Security is probably the most contentious. While it may signal the president’s concern and prioritisation of the portfolio, it carries the risk of taking us down the path of a paranoid Presidency. Sooner rather than later, people’s expression of their right to freedom of expression will be seen as a threat to national security. Categorising the recent violent protest, arising out of and fuelled by persistent and degrading levels of poverty, as “a failed insurrection” should be enough to raise eyebrows.
The replacement of Tito Mboweni by Enoch Godongwana has placed Ramaphosa in a political quandary. On the one hand, having chaired the ANC’s economic cluster for about a decade, Godongwana is no stranger to the politics and debates around the economy. His appointment has received endorsement from influential structures such as the Banking Association of South Africa. He also enjoys support from the ANC Alliance partners.
On the other hand, Godongwana’s past may haunt Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption campaign. In 2012, Godongwana was forced to quit his post as deputy minister of economic development after facing a barrage of criticism regarding “his involvement in a company that allegedly defrauded clothing factory workers of R100 million of their pension fund money”. President Ramaphosa would soon have explain how Godongwana’s appointment can be justified given this history.
Finally, a Cabinet reshuffle should be more than shifting the deckchairs in a sinking ship.
* Professor Sipho P Seepe is deputy vice-chancellor, Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the DFA and Independent Media.