Ramaphosa shows his hand as cabinet changes consolidate his power

President Cyril Ramaphosa consolidated power as he made widespread cabinet changes on Thursday night.
Image: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has used his first cabinet reshuffle to consolidate power in his office, moving the political control of the state security agency into the presidency.

The move comes as many intelligence-related questions remain unanswered almost a month since the outbreak of violent looting and destruction of property in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

In June, Ramaphosa announced that the presidency had been realigned to “more effectively drive the transformation of our society and economy” and “strengthened to better equip” it to direct and co-ordinate government programmes.

“It is our firm conviction and intention that the presidency must become the heartbeat of a capable and developmental state,” he said

On Thursday, in his first cabinet reshuffle since May 2019 when he convened the new government after the general elections that year, Ramaphosa announced a slew of changes.

He finally let go of his finance minister Tito Mboweni, whose departure should not come as a surprise. Mboweni was appointed in October 2018 to fill a vacancy left by Nhlanhla Nene’s sudden departure.

The man has taken every opportunity to make it known that he took the position reluctantly and would rather be focusing on other things.

Only days ago, he posted on Twitter about how he feels like jumping off a cliff due to the many demands of his job amid dwindling and insufficient resources.

Ramaphosa acknowledged this.

“I have also accepted a long-standing request by minister Tito Mboweni to be excused from his position as minister of finance.

“He has effectively and ably steered National Treasury through extremely difficult economic times, providing stability and instilling confidence. I am grateful to minister Mboweni for responding to the call to serve our nation at its time of need,” said Ramaphosa on Thursday night.

The reaction from DA shadow minister of finance Geordin Hill-Lewis was: “Tito got one big thing right — he fought hard to hold the fiscal line. Didn’t always win, but always tried. He was also available and keen for a good debate. Say what you want, but I’ll miss him . Cheers and well done.”

The appointment of Mboweni’s successor, Enoch Godongwana, was likely to raise eyebrows in some quarters. While Godongwana is widely respected as the ANC’s economic policy guru, he left government under a dark cloud in January 2012.

Godongwana, then deputy minister of economic development, quit his position as outrage grew about his involvement in a company that allegedly defrauded clothing factory workers of R100m in their pension fund money.

Meanwhile, after multiple scandals over the years, the axe finally fell on defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Thursday.

But there’s already speculation that she may emerge in parliament as the new speaker of the National Assembly, effectively swapping positions with Thandi Modise, who has been appointed minister of defence.

Ramaphosa would only say that the outgoing minister “will be deployed to a new position”.

As a head of the executive, it would be improper for him to announce a head of another arm of the state.

For many people, including former finance minister Trevor Manuel, the promotion of Joe Phaahla to the cabinet was long overdue. Phaahla is a medical doctor and has been the deputy minister of health for seven years.

After Mkhize’s special leave announcement, Manuel moved to call for Phaahla’s promotion, saying the country needed a competent health minister who was au fait with the running of health systems.

Mkhize, who has been on special leave since June after allegations that his family and close associates benefited from the allegedly irregular Digital Vibes communications contract amounting to R150m, resigned earlier in the day, just hours before Ramaphosa announced the changes.

He left vowing to challenge the SIU report for being unfair and a result of a flawed investigation.

Ramaphosa thanked Mkhize for his service, and particularly for “the outstanding leadership” he provided in the face of the worst pandemic in over a century.

Ramaphosa appointed one of his most vocal allies, Mondli Gungubele, to the presidency to fill a vacancy left by Jackson Mthembu, who died of Covid-19 complications in January.

Zizi Kodwa will retain his position as deputy minister responsible for state security, but this time relocated under the presidency.

Ramaphosa also separated the ministry of human settlements from that of water and sanitation.

“At the beginning of this administration, we had brought these two portfolios together on the understanding that the provision of water is closely tied to the development of human settlements.

“However, the reality is that water is a far broader issue, impacting not only on human settlements, but also on agriculture, industry, mining and environmental management.

“Water is our country’s most critical natural resource. Water security is fundamental to the lives and health of our people, to the stability of our society and to the growth and sustainability of our economy,” he said.

Senzo Mchunu will head water and sanitation while Mmamoloko Kubayi moves to human settlements, her fifth portfolio in just over four years.

State security’s Ayanda Dlodlo returns to public service and administration, a portfolio she led for a few months in former president Jacob Zuma’s administration.

Communications and digital technologies’ Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams swapped positions with Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, the small business development minister, while Lindiwe Sisulu was moved to tourism.

By Andisiwe Makinana – TimesLIVE