New South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reshuffled his cabinet on Monday. Ramaphosa was sworn in earlier this month after former president Zuma resigned amongst allegations of corruption. Ramaphosa’s new cabinet reappointed some ministers that Zuma had fired, while keeping a number of Zuma’s supporters in power.
Cyril Ramaphosa has led a storied political career that was initially sparked from activism. His activities at the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and the Black People's Convention (BPC) resulted in him being detained in solitary confinement for eleven months in 1974. In the 1980s, Ramaphosa began to actively participate in the anti-apartheid movement.
In 1991, he became the head of the ANC team, negotiating the end of apartheid with the National Party government. Following the first fully democratic elections in 1994, Ramaphosa became a Member of Parliament. He was favoured by Nelson Mandela to be his successor as President for South Africa. Ramaphosa also built up the biggest and most powerful trade union in South Africa -the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
However, Ramaphosa’s ascent to power was not without its own set of controversies. Even though he was never indicted for corruption, his business dealings were often criticized. Controversial business dealings include acting as Chairperson for the MTN Group during the MTN Irancell scandal.
From 2014 to 2017, Ramaphosa served as the country’s Deputy President and second in command to President Jacob Zuma. In December 2017, Zuma was voted out of the leadership position at the ANC due to multiple scandals. Zuma was accused of improper dealings with Indian-born businessmen - the Gupta Brothers. It was these charges of corruption that led to a drawn out conflict between Zuma and the ANC leadership. After months of ignoring his party’s wishes, Zuma stepped down from the presidency in February 2018.
Consequently, Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as President. Ramaphosa has presented himself as a reformer and anti-corruption fighter. In a speech after being sworn in, he promised to tackle “issues to do with corruption, issues of how we can straighten out our state owned enterprises and how we deal with ‘state capture’”.
The ANC has won every election in South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994.
On Monday, Ramaphosa announced his cabinet. The new President’s cabinet reshuffle has gained attention primarily for his reappointment of Nhlanhla Nene, former finance minister who was fired by Zuma.
Nene was reportedly dismissed in 2015 for his attempts to check government spending, particularly on nuclear power. Zuma replaced Nene with Des van Rooyen, a relatively unknown figure in South African politics. This move resulted in the fall of the Rand against the Dollar. Van Rooyen was replaced four days later by Pravin Gordhan. Gordhan, who handled the public enterprises department, was also fired by Zuma in 2017.
Ramaphosa has reinstated Gordhan to his former position. The reappointment of these two important figures is likely an attempt to demonstrate Ramaphosa’s commitment to fighting corruption and rebuilding the South African economy. The country’s economy is currently stagnant. It faces a high unemployment rate of 30%. Low economic growth has resulted in a loss of investor interest in the region.
However, Ramaphosa’s new cabinet is a careful mixture of new and old. A number of Zuma’s loyal followers were demoted but kept in the cabinet. “In making these changes, I have been conscious of the need to balance continuity and stability with the need for renewal, economic recovery and accelerated transformation,” Ramaphosa explained.
Other important appointments include Lindiwe Sisulu as foreign affairs minister; David Mabuza as Deputy President; Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Zuma’s ex-wife) as minister to the presidency; and Malusi Gigaba as home affairs minister.
Ramaphosa’s appointment of the ANC deputy president David Mabuza as Deputy President of South Africa has been strongly criticized by the opposition. Mabuza was close to Zuma and is currently facing charges for corruption. After noting Mabuza’s appointment, opposition leader Mmusi Maimane implied that a number of members of the cabinet were guilty of corruption. “Ramaphosa’s new cabinet will serve the ANC, not South Africa,” Maimane said.
Experts have stated their belief that the market reaction to this cabinet will be largely positive, primarily due to the appointment of Nene and Gordhan.
Our assessment is that President Ramaphosa’s main focus will be on winning public opinion before the 2019 general elections. To do this, Ramaphosa will have to fulfil his promise to address corruption and the country’s weak economy. Analysts believe that the careful balance of Ramaphosa’s cabinet indicates that the ANC is still facing serious internal strife. Will disunity within the ANC compromise Ramaphosa’s promise of “a new dawn”?
Read more: Zuma out, Ramaphosa in