Nwabisa Makunga | The good, the bad, the ugly

The formation of the cabinet was Ramaphosa’s first real test of power and influence in the ANC.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa stepped up to announce his cabinet on Monday evening, he looked somewhat depleted, like a man who had just emerged from a bruising battle.

It would soon be clear that the frantic behindthe-scenes talks at the Union Buildings were certainly no walk in the park.

The formation of the cabinet was Ramaphosa’s first real test of power and influence in the ANC.

While he has exclusive constitutional prerogative to hire and fire ministers, the reality is that with a thin mandate from the Nasrec conference, it may have been unwise for the president to act in complete disregard of the political dynamics of his party.

Therefore, his team must be seen as a direct reflection of those dynamics.

More important is how they will play out and influence every step of his presidency.

This cabinet is a melting pot of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Most welcome is perhaps the return of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and Pravin Gordhan as the minister in charge of our state enterprises. Both men were unceremoniously fired by Jacob Zuma because they stood in the way of the Gupta network to which the former president was so central.

The two epitomise the firm and prudent hand needed to rebuild our broken enterprises and to, hopefully, steer our economy on the right path.

Their appointment lands credence to Ramaphosa’s message that South Africa is open to business.

For similar reasons Naledi Pandor’s designation to the higher education portfolio is most welcome.

Love or hate him, those who know ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe will tell you that his move to the mining industry is certainly no surprise.

His history and intricate knowledge of the sector was perhaps best captured by the Chamber of Mines’ endorsement of his appointment yesterday.

However, Ramaphosa’s cabinet is anything but picture perfect.

It raises many important questions about the commitment to the rule of law versus political expediency.

The appointment of Bheki Cele as minister of police is one such.

Cele has been a useful campaigner for Ramaphosa’s ANC presidency.
For that, it seems, he has been rewarded with a portfolio so crucial to our social stability.

The move has been widely celebrated by those who believe that Cele’s firm, no-nonsense stance against crime when he was police chief is exactly what we need to deal with thugs running amok.

There are two challenges with this.

First, Cele was fired by Zuma after he was found guilty by the public protector of misconduct and maladministration for his part in the dodgy police property deal.

This alone should disqualify him from being appointed to cabinet.

Regardless of Cele’s version, if we are committed to the principle of constitutionalism as a basis for clean governance, we must then agree that there is no moral justification to overlook such a finding by a chapter 9 institution.

Second, many of those elated by Cele’s appointment argue that during his tenure as police chief crime was down and there are statistics to show for it.

While this may be, the other part of this story is equally important.

Cele presided over a system which militarised our police service.

During his tenure, there were almost 6 000 complaints lodged against police.

Almost half of them were for various kinds of police brutality, torture and even rape.

No matter how desperate we are to rid our communities of crime, we must also agree that creating an environment which allows police to be a law unto themselves is equally dangerous.

Further, the biggest problem with law enforcement in this country is not fat cops who can’t run after violent criminals.

The biggest problem with our police system is corruption at its highest echelons, a culture which has poisoned the very body of the service and at times eroded its ability to function at its most basic level.

Nonetheless, the appointment of the cabinet must be a reality check, especially against the so-called “Ramaphoria”.

Indeed, it was easier for the president to flush out Gupta lieutenants such as Mosebenzi Zwane and Des van Rooyen. They were useful pawns in a corrupt parallel state.

But in the bigger scheme of things they were nobodies with no meaningful constituency.

The appointment of David Mabuza as deputy president of the republic and the retention of ghastly characters like Bathabile Dlamini exposes the limitations of Ramaphosa’s power. He certainly has no blank cheque to lead. His tenure will be defined by how he picks his battles in his aim to ultimately win the war.