Naledi Ngqambela: Ramaphosa’s GNU cabinet could make or break South Africa

Naledi Ngqambela. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Naledi Ngqambela. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Published Jul 11, 2024


The South African general elections last month marked a historic reconfiguration in South Africa’s politics. With the African National Congress (ANC) ending the Apartheid regime, carrying the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and being a majority party since 1994, this year saw a sea change in its unchallenged centrality in South African politics.

The ANC’s historic base was no longer appeased enough to allow the party to win a clear majority of votes. The results of the elections indicate that voters did not have faith in the ANC alone to overcome the many challenges that the country is faced with 30 years later.

With the recent cabinet announcement, many citizens continue to ask if this will bring any significant changes to the prosperity of the country on critical matters – particularly on critical issues of economic growth and the job market.

A bloated cabinet

As I think about the effects of a bloated cabinet on the fiscus in South Africa, over the years the President has often mentioned his plans to reduce the size of cabinet. However, to accommodate the Government of National Unity (GNU) partners, the cabinet has grown to thirty two members in the new administration, up from 30 in the previous executive.

Often, it is unclear what the job of a deputy minister truly is, and now we have seven more of them, bringing us to a total of forty three. The big question is whether this expanded executive will make a meaningful difference in the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Particular focus will also be given to ministers who have retained their positions such as Ministers Mmamoloko Kubayi, in Human Settlement and Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in Small Business Development.

Sometimes continuity is good, but sometimes retaining ministers shows a stagnation and political accommodation, rather than indicating a vote of confidence in the individual or the ministry, and the shutting out of fresh ideas to solve major challenges.

The challenge will be for those who are party to the GNU to compromise and develop policies on priority issues as indicated in the statement of intent, including social development, sustainable economic growth and development, education, law enforcement and working with civil society organisations.

The new national executive needs to work together to forge a competent government, and reach fair compromises in various policies across the spectrum to settle differences between GNU partners in various portfolios, particularly those concerned with health, land, and job opportunities.

Will the new cabinet serve the people of South Africa as it should?

For decades, we have seen a strong opposition party in the DA playing its role in holding and ensuring some level of accountability and competence of the former ruling party.

The GNU presents a big opportunity for the DA to start practising what they preach and show how different they are from the ANC on issues of governance, well run administration, accountability, the use of public funds efficiently to benefit the public and most importantly, the fast implementation of policies especially for the portfolios they occupy for the next five years in public office.

The same should apply equally to other GNU partners.

So let’s take a look at a few of the appointments that caught my eye, and my initial thoughts on them.

Ministries of Finance and Employment and Labour

Our country faces the highest levels of poverty and unemployment. To fix this, it is important to have an economy that is growing to ensure that people are not only in the job market, but to also ensure that people remain absorbed and skilled according to the rapid changes and growth of the labour market.

Retaining the Finance Minister, Enoch Godongwana may have been good for the markets because of how well respected he is as a minister, despite his personal controversies. It would be interesting to see how he will manoeuvre around the many facets of the economy and its challenges.

While the Minister of Employment and Labour is fairly new in the role, employment challenges remain the same and continue to worsen. It would be critical for the new Minister to hit the ground running. Also, it would be interesting to see how Nomakhosazana Meth aims to tackle and address the stubborn rise of unemployment, especially for the youth of South Africa who have little hope of ever finding employment for a better life.

Ministry for Women, Children and Persons with disabilities:

South Africa is known to have one of the highest rates of gender-based violence – cause for concern, always. Appointing an LGBTQIA+ activist as deputy minister makes me feel optimistic about the strategic leadership and direction this department will take. It is a positive move and shows the level of commitment to transform stagnation in this department.

The nomination process of the National GBVF Council was abandoned in 2020 and I think it is critical for the ministers to resume that process. Much work needs to be done in this area; however, it would be interesting to see how the appointed minister and deputy form a partnership to tackle the scourge of gender-based violence.

Ministry of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs

Local government faces immense pressure and increasing challenges of governance, poor skilled and educated officials, mounting debt and many others. The appointment of IFP leader Hlabisa is a positive move because he provides a fresh perspective and ideas on ways to build a strong local government, fix the problems as well as manage the governance and inclusion of traditional leaders. It would be interesting to see how Hlabisa makes his stamp as part of the cabinet under the GNU.

Ministries of Basic and Higher Education

Minister Nobuhle Nkabane of the ANC and Siviwe Gwarube of the Democratic Alliance are both new in their respective roles. Education in South Africa is in deep crisis with deep administration and corruption challenges, particularly when it comes to NSFAS. The new ministers should prioritise solving administration, funding and governance challenges within the departments.

Although I think the President lost an opportunity to have a smaller cabinet, it is critical to have in mind the need for capable and competent leadership that will lead those ministries with integrity.

As South Africans, we look forward to seeing how the new leadership will create new ways of thinking and innovative strategies to create solutions and policies that will drive South Africa forward and grow its people to a better standard of living.

President Ramaphosa has staked his political legacy on the GNU delivering more to the majority of South Africans than it has before. It will not only be the making, or the breaking of his own political party, but also that of the ruling alliance, and indeed the common destiny of all South Africans.

* Naledi Ngqambela is a writer and a researcher.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.

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