Ramphosa’s new Cabinet: A marriage of inconvenience to fortify the durability of GNU

Professor Sipho Seepe. Picture: Jennifer Bruce / Independent Newspapers.

Professor Sipho Seepe. Picture: Jennifer Bruce / Independent Newspapers.

Published Jul 1, 2024


Prof. Sipho Seepe

After promising to deliver to announce his cabinet at 9pm on Sunday, the country had to wait another hour.

For Ramaphosa it was an underwhelming start.

Unlike the triumphalist posture of 2018, Ramaphosa had to maneuver carefully to safeguard his position

Cabinet's announcement ends the tiring and unnecessary mudslinging between the main protagonists of the so-called government of national unity.

With the dust settling from the unseemly spectacle of recriminations, certain realities have since emerged.

It has become crystal clear that we are witnessing a marriage of inconvenience with no honeymoon immediately in sight.

The ANC comes into the marriage, weak and wounded after it was snubbed by its traditional constituency. It started to negotiate from a position of weakness. The days of calling the shots, without seeking concurrence and endorsement, from other parties are long over.

The DA enters the marriage knowing it has the full backing of its constituency.

The DA does not only want to diminish the hegemony of the ANC.

It wants the ANC dead.

Regarding this, Zille is single-mindedly clear.

“Because the ANC doesn't know what it stands for anymore, because it can't revert to principles because it hasn't got any. Believe me, in my lifetime, I will see that party die.”

For now, the GNU is all about tolerating easy accommodation with strange bedfellows.

The DA intends to use its influence and access to power to finish what has become a mere political ragtag.

The success of the newly minted executive would depend on Ramaphosa - a man described by his erstwhile funder Rob Hersov as “a disgrace.…an absolute embarrassment... a useless, spineless failure”.

In his recent column, The president’s prerogative? Not so much (30/06/2024) Peter Bruce provides a glimpse into the character of Ramaphosa.

He narrated an incident in 1986 when Ramaphosa had squared up with Harry Oppenheimer in a debate.

“Oppenheimer had anticipated a relaxed and civil conversation…But Ramaphosa brought along a crowd of chanting miners and launched a fierce attack on him.”

Ramaphosa reportedly told Oppenheimer. “The difference between you and me is that you like gold and I like gold miners”.

Bruce concludes the story that Oppenheimer, who had kept his cool, “would go on to make Ramaphosa fabulously rich.”

Bruce couldn’t bring himself to state that Ramaphosa has metamorphosed into a man who likes the gold and dislikes the gold miners.

For many, including those in his party, Ramaphosa is not only up for sale, but he would have no qualms about selling his own.

The DA is clear about what it stands for and hopes to achieve.

The ANC is clueless. Its commitment is to stay in power by any means possible.

The divisions within the ANC have never been greater. Accusations and counter accusations are the order of the day.

For some, especially those who fought valiantly for political and economic emancipation in South Africa, a GNU comprising the DA is nothing short of a betrayal of the struggle.

With the Phala Phala scandal hanging over his head, the renewal project is almost dead.

Ramaphosa was generous in dishing out ministerial positions to smaller parties.

This provides him with a strong fortress and a wide band of support, for the hard times and challenges he may face, both politically and legally, from irate opposition parties.

Some of the ministerial positions that he handed out to small players would have gone to his own ANC members.

But this awarding of positions is a clever, albeit sneaky way of ensuring the durability of his government.

It is as close to a government of national unity as it could get under the circumstances and with the composition of parties at play.

He has shrewdly ensured that there are enough strong voices to neutralise the DA.

Rewarding PAC with a ministerial position, especially in a portfolio as important as land, was unexpected.

So was the appointment of Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front+ as Minister of Correctional Services.

Groenewald is a strong personality and does not suffer fools gladly. He speaks his mind and gives credit where it is due. He is not the unnecessarily antagonistic kind.

He is a strong advocate for Afrikaners' rights.

The likes of Gayton McKenzie and Bantu Holomisa are a great balancing act. These are individuals that one can count on in a battle, should it be necessary. Ramaphosa will expect nothing less than for them to honour their part of the bargain.

While Ramaphosa gave the DA some key portfolios he ensured that the party was kept out of those that are politically sensitive, such as trade & industry, defence, international relations, justice, health, employment, and labour. All these portfolios went to ANC ministers.

There were some big losers.

Amongst these were the loquacious Mondli Gungubele and Joe Phaahla. Zikalala's demotion came as a surprise. Angie Motshekga is a survivor. Defence may not be her forte. Fortunately, it needs someone who is not unnecessarily meddlesome.

Bantu Holomisa will make a good deputy. This is a familiar territory. He had also served as deputy chair of the Defense Service Commission. It is telling that he was not entrusted with a ministerial position. One can only assume that his past military exploits, including launching a coup, did count against him.

A first glance reading of appointments shows the promotion of some young people to ministerial positions, and a reasonable gender and geographic spread. The surprise of the day perhaps was the promotion of gaffe-prone Pemmy Majodima. She has been loud and uninspiring.

If one were to read the appointments carefully, it would reveal the fact that Ramaphosa has sought to fortify himself against external attacks. For someone facing multiple challenges, it is always a good move to enlist the services of others to fight your battles.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. We can expect fireworks. What Ramaphosa has done is to dilute the influence of the Democratic Alliance in the GNU. In inviting more black parties, he has also weakened what would have been a formidable and united force. Ramaphosa’s Cabinet selection provides him with a fortress of support for hard days to come.

What could have been a humiliation for the ANC has led to the reality of having to be humble (to eat humble pie) and to understand that everyone can play a part if given a chance rather than the arrogance of believing one has the monopoly of ideas. It was a masterstroke that sought to recognise potential and balance various voices and their voters.

* Professor Sipho P. Seepe is a Higher Education & Strategy Consultant.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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