South Africa slashes cabinet size, appoints 50% women

  • 29 May 2019

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa cut cabinet ministers from 36 to 28 to tackle "bloated" government and improve efficiency while appointing more women in cabinet to achieve gender diversity.

President of South Africa's governing African National Congress Cyril Ramaphosa waves to his supporters, as he arrives for the party's final rally at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa on May 5, 2019. ( Reuters )

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday cut the number of cabinet ministers from 36 to 28, in a move he said would tackle the country's "bloated" government and improve efficiency.

"The people who I am appointing to day must realise that the expectations of the South African people have never been greater and that they will shoulder a great responsibility," Ramaphosa said in a national address that stressed the need for an "ethical" government.

President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement followed similar moves by Ethiopia and Rwanda last year.

Gender diversity

Half the new ministers are women, making South Africa one of the world's few gender-balanced governments.

Ramaphosa announced the new line-up after he led the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to victory in elections earlier this month.

He took office last year after the ousting of graft-tainted Jacob Zuma, who had expanded the number of ministerial posts in an alleged attempt to strengthen his patronage network.

Fighting the corruption and mismanagement that has consumed billions of rand is the major issue facing the ruling African National Congress, whose election win this month was the weakest in its 25 years in power amid public frustration.

The ANC leadership still contains some Zuma allies, complicating Ramaphosa's efforts at reforms aimed at restoring investor confidence in the economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.

Creating jobs is another immense challenge in a country where unemployment is over 25%, and where a growing youth population that never knew the harsh racial system of apartheid that ended in 1994 is restless for a better future.

"To promote greater coherence, better coordination and improved efficiency, we (are) reducing the number of ministers from 36 to 28," Ramaphosa said in televised address to the nation.

Heavy criticism

"This is a significant move of downscaling our state. Many people believed our government... was bloated and this was agreed right across the board."

In another dig at his predecessor, Ramaphosa said that the ANC had been re-elected with a mandate to end "state capture" -- the term used to describe government corruption under Zuma.

"All South Africans are acutely aware of the great economic difficulties our country has been experiencing," Ramaphosa said.

"It is therefore imperative... we place priority on revitalising our economy while exercising the greatest care in the use of public funds."

"For the first time in the history of our country, half of all ministers are women," he added.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance also criticised the president for keeping Mabuza in what it called the first real test of Ramaphosa's tough stance on corruption.
"Unfortunately, Ramaphosa placed the internal factional interests of the ANC ahead of the interests of the people of South Africa," the DA said in a statement.

Ramaphosa also included younger leaders in his Cabinet, notably former ANC Youth League deputy president Ronald Lamola as the minister of justice and correctional services. Another youth leader, Njabulo Nzuza, was appointed as deputy minister of home affairs.

One notable appointee in a Cabinet that Ramaphosa said was meant to reflect diversity was that of Patricia De Lille, a leader of the recently created opposition party GOOD, who will be public works and infrastructure minister.

Balance of factions

Naming his new slimline cabinet, Ramaphosa kept internationally-respected Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in place, as well as his controversial Deputy President David Mabuza.

Mabuza is seen as a pro-Zuma figure whose name has come up in media reports on alleged corruption and political killings when he was premier of the eastern province of Mpumalanga.

"The retention of Tito Mboweni as finance minister... will appease markets and result in a positive perception of cabinet," said a briefing note from Peregrine Treasury Solutions, a South African investment company.

It added that keeping Mabuza as deputy president "indicated that President Ramaphosa had to compromise to appease the Zuma faction within the ANC."

Ramaphosa's close ally Pravin Gordhan was kept on as public enterprises minister, a key role as debt-laden state companies were at the centre of alleged graft schemes under Zuma.

"The cabinet announcement largely rewards the President's supporters and seems a conservative selection without the injection of real fresh blood from the outside," said analyst Daniel Silke on Twitter.

Ramaphosa, 66, an anti-apartheid activist who became a wealthy businessman, faces a tough battle to drive through reforms in a country suffering from chronic unemployment, racial tension and crime.

The ANC won the May 8 election with 57.5 percent of the vote, its smallest majority since it led the fight against the apartheid regime that was replaced by multi-racial democracy in 1994.

The party's celebrated reputation was badly sullied under Zuma's 2009-2018 rule as it was confronted by multiple corruption allegations and public anger over the failure to tackle post-apartheid inequality.

South Africa's economy grew just 0.8 percent in 2018 and unemployment hovers at over 27 percent -- soaring to over 50 percent among young people.

Political concessions

South Africa's new Cabinet retains Deputy President David Mabuza, who also has faced graft allegations but has denied wrongdoing. Also remaining are Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and public enterprises minster and former finance minister Pravin Gordhan. Both have been well-regarded.
It was a rare instance of an opposition figure appointed as minister in South Africa.

A notable exclusion from the new Cabinet was former women's minister Bathabile Dlamini, seen as a strong ally of former president Zuma.

On the sensitive issue of land reform to help address long-standing inequality, Ramaphosa grouped departments dealing with land and agriculture under one ministry to be led by respected former parliamentary chairwoman Thoko Didiza.