Ramaphosa’s New Cabinet: A Whimper, Not a Bang

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If you were waiting with baited breath last night before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of his new Cabinet, you weren’t rewarded with the promise of a strong new mandate and indeed a New Dawn.

While the President cut the size of Cabinet from 36 to 28, he also gave many ministers two deputies. He also combined a few departments. But even if he cut down Cabinet to 10 ministers, the numbers should not act as a smokescreen for actual substance. It comes down to this: There has been no fundamental change in the philosophy of the South African government. The state will continue to grow, in various ways, and the presumption that we need the government to help and guide us, remains fundamentally in place. The rand has remained steady since the announcement, an indication that investors don’t expect any real change. This was not a New Dawn, but rather a continuation of the long night.

Minister of Health – Zweli Mkhize

While I was glad to hear that our former health czar, Aaron Motsoaledi, is no longer in charge at the Department of Health, he may yet tackle the problems at Home Affairs with the same authoritarian rigor he applied in his quest to cure us all of our unhealthy lifestyle choices. To grant him as much power as Ramaphosa has done, by placing him at the head of Home Affairs, is concerning.

The new man in charge of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, was Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and served as the Treasurer General of the African National Congress (ANC) between 2012 and 2017. Mkhize has been moving around the upper echelons of the ANC recently, and his appointment was probably part of Ramaphosa’s plan to have some ‘his people’ in Cabinet to counter the Zuma forces.

I’m unsure as to how deeply committed Mkhize is to the National Health Insurance (NHI) as an ideal. My thinking is that Motsoaledi already set things in motion. Those in charge of running the state believe that it is their duty to provide all South Africans with healthcare, and they will continue in this quest no matter what.

I am, despite myself, hopeful that the re-appointment of Tito Mboweni as finance minister indicates that Ramaphosa will, in some way, try to restrain spending. There is no money available to implement and run a scheme such as the NHI, but when it comes to politicians, ideology very often trumps reality and its restrictions on their grand plans. But again, we shouldn’t hold our breath. A mere restraint in spending won’t result in real, transformational change. Instead, how much of our tax money government spends needs to be dialed back significantly.

Minister of Public Enterprises – Pravin Gordhan

My biggest disappointment with the new Cabinet came with the news that Pravin Gordhan will remain Minister of Public Enterprises. Despite being hailed as a hero by many South Africans, those same people unfortunately don’t realise that Gordhan is philosophically committed to the concept of the developmental state, and the crucial role which state-owned enterprises (SOEs) ostensibly ought to play in our lives. Without South African Airlines and Eskom, how would we travel anywhere? Who would keep our lights on (or off)? I highly doubt that we will see any hint of privatisation around the SOEs with Gordhan still in charge, and with that, we have the sword still hanging over the country’s credit rating if any of the SOEs were to default on their debt.

Minister of Trade, Industry, and Economic Development – Ebrahim Patel

On the matter of trade, Ramaphosa simply replaced one anti-business crusader with another. Again I was happy that Rob Davies was out, but Ebrahim Patel is as committed to government interventionism as some of the ‘best’ socialists we’ve seen. When it comes to individual business freedom, he will always err on the side of more government involvement and regulations; the exact opposite of what we need in South Africa if we want to see truly transformative economic growth.

Minister of Police – Bheki Cele

General Bheki Cele remains in charge of law enforcement as Minister of Police. He is committed to the idea that citizens shouldn’t be armed. If they are to have any sort of personal self-defence, the government needs to be informed about it and there should be as many hurdles as possible to discourage people from even trying to obtain a firearm licence. We are all well aware of the police service’s shortcomings, and Cele definitely won’t bring any winds of change. Citizens will thus have to continue looking to themselves, their communities, and private companies when it comes to their everyday safety.

Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform – Thoko Didiza

South Africa’s biggest issue post-elections is the matter of expropriation without compensation (EWC). Ramaphosa has combined Agriculture with Rural Development and Land Reform, and appointed Thoko Didiza to head this new entity.

Didiza was Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs between 1999 and 2006. She has also been House Chairperson in the National Assembly. Crucially, she chaired the committee which looked at the need to amend section 25 of the Constitution to allow for EWC. While it is my view that she is ideologically committed to EWC, she has a track record of an ability to handle these difficult conversations and processes. We will definitely have some sort of amendment to section 25, sooner or later. All we can hope for now is that it is so diluted as to have no material impact on our individual property rights.

No real change

Lastly, on the President’s comments about women: It reminds me of Helen Zille’s words on the Democratic Alliance and transformation. To use her words for this particular context, it’s simply a matter of representation, not substantive diversity. It was as though Ramaphosa tried to use the shield of gender transformation and representation to hide from the fact that there wasn’t much substance to his appointments.

There is nothing revolutionary about the President’s new Cabinet. Of course, the new appointments could have been worse, but that does not take away from the actual problems of this cabinet.

Finally, remember not to make the mistake of blaming our woes on capitalism. Nothing about Ramaphosa’s new Cabinet indicates that we will see more economic freedom moving forward; indeed the opposite is likely to happen. We are slowly being suffocated by socialism in South Africa, and this ‘new’ Cabinet is only a continuation of that worldview. If this is indeed South Africa’s new dawn, it will take a few more years yet to break.

PS: Congratulations to Patricia de Lille. You are able to change your principles in a way that would make any pragmatist, even Donald Trump, blush. I tip my hat to you.

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