Johannesburg - Appointing cabinets is the most daunting assignment facing leaders in parliamentary systems.
They have to bring together and balance such diverse elements – not to mention that ministerial appointment for most politicians signifies the fulfilment of their political careers.
In 2007, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown did something quite unheard of.
He appointed seven ministers from outside Parliament.
In fact, they had no experience whatsoever of Parliament, which led to a very lively debate as to the pros and cons of such appointments.
The main arguments in the debate were published in a report under the imaginative heading: “Putting Goats amongst the Wolves: Appointing Ministers from Outside Parliament.”
There are no goats in President Zuma’s cabinet – a cabinet which, like the curate’s egg, is in parts both good and bad and to which, no doubt, Gwede Mantashe made a significant contribution.
To get some of the negatives out of the way.
From an institutional point of view, the cabinet is obviously too big and too costly for the country – particularly in our present fraught financial situation; and certainly questions may be asked about some of the appointments.
We could have done without Rob Davies for one, whose drive to centralise executive power and control has produced some damaging legislation which has negatively affected domestic and international investors (just ask the Germans); and moving Tina Joemat-Pettersson from fisheries where, to put it kindly, she underperformed, to the exacting and strategic energy ministry doesn’t make sense.
South African mining, for decades the country’s main drawcard for foreign investments and job creation but now flat on its back, urgently needed a replacement.
At the last mining indaba in February, Susan Shabangu gave a presentation on the sector which was thoroughly embarrassing.
She had to go, but whether Ngoako Ramatlhodi will make much of a difference, given the labour-stricken nature of the sector, remains to be seen.
The ANC’s short-sighted and foolish attitude towards agriculture is reflected in the appointment of a minister and a deputy, neither of whom has any connection to farming and food production.
A decade or so ago South Africa was a food exporter.
Today, we are a food importer with an increasingly despairing and neglected farming community.
Turning to the more redeeming aspects of this cabinet, understandably the first reaction to Pravin Gordhan’s move from finance to co-operative governance and traditional affairs was one of shock.
But once it was understood what the new portfolio included, the Cape Times front page headline got it right: “It’s Gordhan for delivery”.
Local government, though the least glamorous tier of government, is where government decisions and policy interface with people and their essential needs.
The daily “service protests” all around the country forcibly brings this home to a department that is presently ill-equipped to handle these issues.
Last year, only 40 percent of senior municipal officials were properly qualified.
In 2013, only 13 municipalities had clean audits, with as many as 155 out of the total of 283 receiving qualified audits.
The man to turn this around is Gordhan. He has demonstrated administrative skills, the financial understanding to stop over-runs, wasted expenditure, and corruption.
No easy task, in fact some would say impossible.
But he is the man to undertake this.
What is also pleasing is that Gordhan’s successor Nhlanhla Nene, who shadowed him for five years, is of the same temperament and fibre.
He, too, is perfectly capable of laying down the law to ministers on, for example, curbing departmental expenses.
The financial ministry ought to be at the heart of any administration, and usually is.
But what reinforces this in the new administration is the acceptance of the National Development Plan (NDP) as the lodestar of economic and social policy.
This highlights not just the central role of finance but also highlights the linkages between other relevant departments with strong financial implications, such as industrial relations, economic policy and now small business.
As regular Insight readers will know, we welcomed Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to return to public life and argued the case for his much earlier entry to politics.
Ramaphosa has the brains; the clout within the ANC as his election as vice-president clearly showed; the international business connections; the confidence of local business; and although there are some doubts after his intervention in the Marikana disaster, as the founder of the National Union of Mineworkers he knows all about unions.
And with Trevor Manuel, he supervised the formulation of the NDP, which is now central to government’s economic and social policy.
We believe what many South Africans want to see what was originally suggested by Mantashe almost immediately after election as vice-president, namely that Zuma be a ceremonial president and head of state, with Ramaphosa in effect the prime minister with responsibility for the actual governing of the country.
The Constitution does not provide for this so it would result from an internal arrangement of responsibilities.
I have no doubt that most people in the country would be happy with this, including many ANC members.
Of course, this may not be what President Zuma wants.
As we have pointed out in recent Insights, Zuma could have personal reasons beyond political ambition for wanting to stay in the presidency.
If this is the case, Ramaphosa will then have to wait his turn, which will come at the very least in 2019, which doesn’t present an attractive scenario. The reason?
Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in policy with regard to labour, the establishment of a more friendly business environment; a significant reduction in government spending; and a dramatic decrease in corruption, all things which would encourage domestic and foreign investors and, therefore, create jobs, there won’t be much of an economy for Ramaphosa or anybody else to inherit.
One further thought, as we wish this new administration and its members the best of good fortune.
We will not as a government or a people come to grips with the challenges we face without a sense of vision – a clear, consistent, communicable, sustainable and inspirational vision.
We know President Zuma doesn’t have it in him.
Does Ramaphosa? We hope so, because as the wise sage of Proverbs warns us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Dr Denis Worrall is the chairman of Omega Investment Research