April 22, 2021

Africa

SOUTH AFRICA: Cabinet reshuffle likely delayed by factional politics

BY Anne Frühauf

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Report Contents

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( 5 mins)
  • Notwithstanding growing media speculation, President Cyril Ramaphosa may hold off on reshuffling his cabinet until next month as factional battles within the ruling ANC play out.
  • ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule’s exit from office seems increasingly inevitable; this should remove a major thorn in Ramaphosa’s side even if it will hardly end ANC factionalism and dysfunction.
  • The eventual cabinet reshuffle could be minimalist, leaving key portfolios untouched, some for better, others for worse.

Removing the SG

The battle to force ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule to step aside within 30 days is probably the main political dynamic delaying the cabinet reshuffle. As part of his expected fightback, Magashule has sought to mobilize support within the ANC. In his capacity as secretary-general, he has not only lobbied (the usual) National Executive Committee (NEC) members to support him, but has asked provincial ANC secretaries to name all those who will have to vacate their positions, not only those “who have been charged with corruption or other serious crimes” (as the NEC resolution prescribes) but also those who merely face corruption allegations. Casting the net wider than required is a clear attempt to broaden the ‘coalition of the wounded’ to oppose Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption fight. The goal is certainly to peddle allegations against provincial players and all the way up to the president, Deputy President David Mabuza and ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe in the hope that it will render the resolution unimplementable. However, the current balance of power within the ANC NEC and provincial executives does not favor Magashule.

While the deadline for the ‘step aside’ process is reported as 30 April, the timeline itself will likely be heavily contested – as will be every step of the removal process. If Magashule refuses to step aside (as is expected), the ANC will need to initiate a suspension process. The next NEC meeting scheduled for 7 May will be considered the key signal.

Magashule’s exit would remove the biggest thorn in Ramaphosa’s side from the nerve center of ANC organizational matters. This would give the impression that the ANC is at least beginning to tackle corruption matters ahead of the municipal elections, which have just been set for 27 October. Dealing with Magashule also matters from an organizational and membership perspective ahead of upcoming ANC conferences: the pandemic-delayed ANC National General Council (NGC) and the elective national conference in late 2022, which will decide whether Ramaphosa will be a one- or two-term president. Together with looming legal sanctions facing ex-president Jacob Zuma for his failure to appear before the ‘state capture’ commission, the ANC’s so-called Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction may suffer a big blow in the coming weeks, strengthening Ramaphosa.

Yet, Ramaphosa’s victory will hardly signal an end to broader ANC dysfunction or corruption. If Magashule vacates his office in Luthuli House, precedent suggests that Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte would take over his role until a new secretary-general is elected at the next national conference. Duarte was elected from the ‘Zuma slate’ back in 2017. She has since aligned herself with the Ramaphosa camp but is by no means a reliable ally and is known for her outbursts, not least against the judiciary. Indeed, ahead of 2022, new factions will begin to form, including among the ANC’s top leaders. For example, Mabuza (an erstwhile Zuma ally who swapped sides at the 2017 conference), ANC Treasurer Paul Mashatile (a Ramaphosa ally in 2017) and NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu, could begin to reposition themselves as the succession race heats up.

Eventual cabinet reshuffle – minimalist approach or clean sweep?

While media speculation has contemplated sweeping cabinet changes, the eventual reshuffle could be more minimalist. The only change Ramaphosa will be obliged to make is to fill the vacancy left by the passing of former minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu.

Key ministers – including Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel – may well remain in their posts, some for better, others for worse. Mboweni, whose fate will represent the biggest market signal, is unlikely to be removed for now. In fact, he appears to be applying himself more to his job on the back of his consolidation-focused February budget. What was once expected to be a stop-gap appointment could thus turn into a longer arrangement, not least amid a dearth of credible alternative contenders.

On the other hand, it is not clear whether Ramphosa will weed out underperforming ministers, for example, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, and thus improve confidence in reforms. It is not even clear whether he might use his seemingly imminent victory against Magashule to weed out cabinet members associated with the party’s RET faction.

In the wider economics cluster, there could be little change, though even ministers themselves seem nervous about the reshuffle. Neither Gordhan nor Mantashe have covered themselves in glory at departments that increasingly lack institutional capacity. One rumor is that oversight of ailing power utility Eskom (and other public enterprises such as Denel) could be shifted from Gordhan’s Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) to Mantashe’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE). This would streamline oversight on paper (since the DMRE formulates energy policy), but in practice could further complicate the relationship between the government shareholder and Eskom at a time when the utility’s protracted financial and operational crisis remains unresolved. On balance, Eskom reporting to the DPE probably is still preferable, since Gordhan appears to have a good working relationship with Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, while Mantashe’s commitment to South Africa’s renewable energy push appears to be ambivalent at best. Finally, at the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic), Patel could broaden his mandate to incorporate the portfolio of Small Business Development. His statist leanings will not make the reform push of Mboweni any easier.

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