ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa with Zweli Mkhize. Picture Ayanda Ndamane/African New agency/ANA
In a meritocracy, talent and competence are supposed to rise to the top. In this way, critical ministerial positions in government and other pivotal roles, such as the public protector, police commissioner and director of prosecutions, can be filled by the people best equipped for the job. Right?

Well, if only politics were as simple as that. The sad reality is that we don’t live in a meritocracy and positions in the cabinet have largely been filled by people rewarded more for their slavish loyalty to President Jacob Zuma and the ruling ANC than their competence.

In short, it’s not a matter of what you know, but who you know - and how far backward you’re prepared to bend over to protect the interests of the people who put you there.

Which is why I’ve decided to serve my country in a completely new role - that of a humble cabinet-maker.

No, not the artisan type involving tools, joints and veneers. Now that there’s been a change of guard in the ANC leadership, I’ve offered to help the incumbent, Cyril Ramaphosa, assemble a new cabinet to run the country when he takes over as president. But as any cabinet-maker worth his salt will tell you, the first task involves getting rid of dead wood which serve no useful purpose.

So, hitting the junk heap will be several ineffective and unproductive ministers - the usual suspects who can be instantly recognised from the captured look on their faces.

Task No 2 is streamlining what is today a rather wobbly, lopsided and bloated cabinet. So out go the deputies, with their fat-cat salaries, chauffeur-driven Benzes, free houses and all-expenses-paid travel.

And while we’re at it, realignment is crucial, which may involve collapsing one or two portfolios and amalgamating them with others.

Other questions that need answers are: Can a bipartisan cabinet work? Do we really need provincial structures or should we concentrate on a strong and efficient central government and metros with far greater powers and budgets?

Okay, now it’s time to slot the right people in the right positions so the country - and not political parties or self-serving politicians - prosper. Here’s my provisional list of wise men and women who I believe will do a better job rescuing our country from the ignominy and penury of junk status.

In compiling this list, I sought advice and suggestions from a wide range of opinion-makers, including prominent politicians, professionals and academics, some of whose direct quotes I have included randomly.

PRESIDENT: Cyril Ramaphosa, whose profile and reputation in business and politics will satisfy the demands of both white and black monopoly capital.

DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Two clear favourites emerge in Lindiwe Sisulu (“She’s got the balls and pedigree”) and Zweli Mkhize (“One of the few in the ANC with credibility and who would be welcomed by the KZN faction of the party”).

FINANCE: Although Pravin Gordhan appears a firm favourite, it may be his former deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, who gets the nod. “He’s a good and honest politician and is knowledgeable about finance. Besides, anyone who can turn down R600 million from the Guptas must be clean,” quipped one respondent.

While on the subject of finance, there were strong calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to drive the anti-corruption campaign over the next five years, and for white business leaders to play a more direct role in building a new South Africa.

PUBLIC ENTERPRISES: This is where Gordhan comes in, “sorting out the unholy mess".

JUSTICE: Among the strong suggestions were retired jurists Dikgang Moseneke and Bess Nkabinde, and sitting Judge Dunstan Mlambo.

EDUCATION: Contenders for higher education included former University of the Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen and Ahmed Bawa (chief executive of Unisa). For basic education, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi (“I’m impressed with how firm and decisive he’s been in tricky situations”) and Mary Metcalfe.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY: No obvious candidates: “Give the position to a centralist as all the left thinkers have failed.”

COMMUNICATION: While the general consensus was “anyone but Faith Muthambi”, there was a strong lobby for former minister Yunus Carrim. “He’s well-respected, incorruptible and intelligent enough to cope with the technical intricacies of our long-overdue digital migration. He’s held the position before and so can hit the ground running.”

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: No clear favourites, but Gordhan’s name cropped up again. “He’s the darling of the international community and can sell South Africa when its image is at a low.”

YOUTH MINISTRY: A new portfolio tailor-made for EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu. “Come on Floyd, your intellect has more value in the ANC than in opposition,” chirped an ANC stalwart.

PUBLIC PROTECTOR: Among the names mentioned were former UDF stalwart the Rev Frank Chikane; Judge Nathan Erasmus (Cape division), and advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.


HOME AFFAIRS: Gwede Mantashe. “He is obviously a good administrator after having successfully managed that mob at Luthuli House for that long. He may be up to the job.”

HEALTH: Most settled for Aaron Motsoaledi, who they say talks a lot but has his heart in the right place.

POLICE: The name of Francois Beukman, who once headed Ipid, came up.

NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Ronnie Kasrils, if age isn’t against him.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: For the sake of grant beneficiaries, anyone but Bathabile Dlamini. Professor Malegapuru Makgoba would make an ideal minister. What about Makhosi Khoza?

AGRICULTURE: A good job for Derek Hanekom, who could serve as a useful negotiator on land redistribution.

DEFENCE: To promote multiparty democracy, why not UDM leader Bantu Holomisa?

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Paul Mashatile - “As one of the ANC’s Top Six, he’d be a popular choice and it would please the Gauteng faction”.

SPORT: Wide open; significantly, no votes for Mr Bluster, Fikile Mbalula, nor enthusiasm for Safa boss Danny Jordaan or Sascoc head Tubby Reddy, who’ve been in the limelight recently for all the wrong reasons.

CULTURE: Who else but Evita Bezuidenhout?

* [email protected]