President Ramaphosa's Cabinet Reshuffle The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

There’s nothing new under the sun… same s**t, different day…

Whatever cliché you feel like using to describe President Ramaphosa’s recent national executive reshuffle (his first since taking office three years ago), you’ll be right on the money.

With perhaps one or two exceptions, the “new” cabinet is not new. It’s simply recycled.

Despite changing over a third of his cabinet – there were 10 new ministerial appointments and 11 new deputy ministerial ones – the president is really just playing an elaborate game of Shuffleboard.

People with poor track records have simply been moved from one position to another, a play that has done little to reassure the majority of South Africans – and indeed the world – that our president is committed to making the sweeping changes needed to reform our economy.

To be fair, if our political track record is anything to go by, most South African cabinet reshuffles either disappoint immediately, or they disappoint a little later. But disappointment is always the end result.

If we look at the new appointments, and the reshuffling of those already in cabinet, nothing much has changed in terms of the government’s overall make-up.

Which indicates that we – and undoubtedly investors – should not expect too much to change in the coming months.

Various experts and analysts have been weighing in with their opinions on the changes, but they all end up saying pretty much the same thing:

The reshuffle shows little, if any, intent to take our country anywhere new.

Attard Montalto, head of SA research-led consulting house Capital Markets Research at Intellidex, summed it up neatly when he said, “It does somewhat have the flavour of a reshuffle designed to satisfy the condition of doing a reshuffle. The bar may well be low – in which case this reshuffle passed it – however, that still does not give the sense of a cabinet of intellectual thought leaders driving things forward.”

What is that oft-quoted definition of insanity? “…Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results…”

When Ministers with poor track records in their current positions are simply moved to other positions, why do we think they will perform any better?

Who’s to say, for example, that moving someone from communications to small business, or from public administration to water and sanitation will make any difference to the levels of competence, commitment, and work ethic with which they approach their new position?

Let’s not kid ourselves – these changes were not made to shift the balance of power and affect any real change in the way our country is run.

They merely seem to be a nod in the direction of the people complaining about certain ministries, without rocking any political boats at all.

I think we are being naïve if we think a happier political outcome can be achieved simply by replacing one minister with another.

Such activity always ends up being far less important than the hype which surrounds it, and believing anything else is just setting ourselves up for disappointment.

I did, however, mention that there were or two rays of hope in this most recent reshuffle.

One of these is our new Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, head of the ANC’s economic transformation subcommittee and chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa. He has previously served as deputy minister of public enterprises and deputy minister of economic development.

As disappointed as most of us were when former finance minister Tito Mboweni resigned, Enoch Godongwana appears to be a worthy replacement.

Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa and Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank, said Godongwana represents continuity and stability in treasury.

“He has been reasonably well-known to investors for some time,” she said. “Moreover, he will bring to the role key attributes that may strengthen the likelihood of reform in South Africa.”

From her lips to God’s ears.

Another popular appointment is that of our new Health Minister, Joe Phaahla, who replaces Zwelini Mkize.

Mr Phaahla is a qualified medical doctor and has been deputy minister of health since 2014. His appointment is thought to be one that will reassure the markets – if he can handle the pressures of the big job.

Analysts describe Phaahla as a “solid operator” who, despite lacking political capital is generally seen as “a good, safe, pair of hands.”

But apart from these two notable exceptions, President Ramaphosa appears not to have wowed anyone with his new-look cabinet.

His new ministers are:

  • The Presidency: Mondli Gungubele – He has previously served as Executive Mayor of the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, as Deputy Minister of Finance, and most recently as Chairperson of the Social Development Committee.
  • Communications and Digital Technologies: Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. She served as the municipal manager of Ba-Phalaborwa municipality in Limpopo, and was also a tourism manager for trade and investment in Limpopo. She is the 15th minister in the embattled role, but the first with any previous technology experience. She has worked as the chief information officer for the local government and housing departments in Limpopo, and chief operating officer at the State Information Technology Agency.
  • Defence and Military Veterans: Thandi Modise – previously the National Assembly Speaker, she is rumoured to be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leading candidate for the post of deputy president when the ANC elects new leaders next year.
  • Human Settlements: Mmamoloko Kubayi – Since 2017, she has held three previous ministerial positions – as minister of communications, minister of science and technolology and minister of tourism.
  • Public Service and Administration: Ayanda Dlodlo – Our former state security minister who is still under scrutiny following the devastating unrest that swept through KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng less than 2 months ago.
  • Small Business Development: Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams – her previous tenure as communications minister was characterised by delays in the rollout of broadband, continued financial losses and closure of the SA Post Office branches, and hundreds of retrenchments at the State broadcaster. She has been accused of not having strong credentials in the areas of stimulating and developing small business. Many feel she should have been fired, not reshuffled.
  • Tourism: Lindiwe Sisulu – previously headed up the water, sanitation and human settlements portfolio. She is a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and the daughter of African National Congress elders Walter and Albertina Sisulu. She was beset by troubles at her previous portfolio, and many question whether she takes tourism seriously.
  • Water and Sanitation: Senzo Mchunu – a former premier of KwaZulu Natal and, most recently, the Minister of Public Service and Administration. He faces a Herculean task – South Africa is rated the third driest country in the world.

At the end of the day, most new ministers have the same political loyalties as their predecessors.

Which means we probably don’t have much meaningful change to look forward to. Just more low or no economic growth, more unemployment, more blame and finger pointing, more taxes on the middle class and more crazy experiments like the government national savings scheme.

As the main opposition Democratic Alliance said in their response to the changes: “President Ramaphosa has disarmed parliament from ensuring accountability and transparency. It is an indictment on the ANC and highlights their determination to render parliament… toothless.”