The biggest problem for President Cyril Ramaphosa has been David Mabuza, that toxic one-time champion of the Zuma axis, says the writer. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)

It is a reflection of the sad state of the nation that much of South Africa sat up on a chilly winter’s night, glued to the TV, to watch the announcement of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first team.

That’s an honour historically more readily accorded the Springbok rugby coach.

It’s an even sadder reflection of the already dismal state of what CR likes to refer to as the “Sixth Administration” that the Cabinet announcement was substantially delayed. The delays are indicative that behind the scenes the new broom was struggling to be rid of the stubborn stains of the Fifth Maladministration.

CR spearheaded an emphatic ANC victory on May 8 and normally one would expect the new class would be in place two days later. Instead, the birthing took a laborious three weeks, going to the wire of the legislated five-day limit after the swearing-in of MPs. Even the televised announcement was delayed for an hour.

The biggest problem for Ramaphosa has been David Mabuza, that toxic one-time champion of the Zuma axis.

Mabuza, when premier of Mpumalanga, presided over perhaps the most corrupt and, in terms of political assassinations, most dangerous province, according to an exposé by The New York Times last year. Mabuza tellingly never sued but told the media, after improbably surfing into the ANC’s and SA’s deputy-presidency 18-months ago, “There’s nothing to set straight”.

That was not the view of the ANC’s integrity commission. Mabuza was one of 23 whom the body wanted removed from the ANC electoral list because of “corruption, mismanagement and other acts of misconduct”.

That was no more than an irritation to Mabuza. And after being elected in May, he cheekily delayed taking the oath of office as MP, so as to set matters straight with the integrity commission.

It took Mabuza, it appears, no more than a couple of hours to sort out the commissioners, clearing the way to taking the oath of office. He is consequently just a heartbeat away from the presidency and SA is potentially just a failed heartbeat away from yet another decade of state capture.

One can scrutinise the entrails of CR’s Cabinet as much as one likes, but the real power sits in the hands of the ANC national executive, which operates beyond public scrutiny. For now, we can speculate as much as we like, but it is only after the passage of time that we will know whether there is a new sense of purpose in the Cabinet and whether they are capable of doing the job.

The motley crew chosen is the best that CR could do, given the divided nature of his party.

There are a few patently good people (Naledi Pandor at International Relations, Tito Mboweni at Finance, Pravin Gordhan at Public Enterprises, and Barbara Creecy at Environment), some uninspiring retreads (Fikile Mbalula at Transport, Ebrahim Patel at Trade and Industry, Blade Nzimande at Higher Education, Trade and Technology, and Angie Motshekga at Basic Education) and some potentially loose cannons (Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Patricia De Lille at Public Works and Infrastructure, Bheki Cele at Police and Gwede Mantashe at Mineral Resources and Energy).

Ramaphosa said the shrunk Cabinet followed public criticism over the size of its bloated predecessor. In reality, the downsizing was modest, from 35 ministers and 37 deputy-ministers under Zuma, to 28 ministers and 34 deputies. In comparison, as the DA loves pointing out, the United States manages with 15 Cabinet posts, Kenya with 18 and the UK with 21.

They should enjoy the fine fittings, the perks and privileges of their new gravy train while they can. Ramaphosa also made a point of saying that these appointments made up just a first blueprint for a long journey. With luck, we’ll see some of the less salubrious characters being ejected at the next station.

However, I think it is a much safer bet to put R1000 on the Springboks for the Rugby World Cup, at 8:1 odds, than wager on that happening.

* Follow WSM on Twitter: @TheJaundicedEye

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.