Bright lights in cabinet, never mind the compromises


Apart from people who have spent the past week or so in total seclusion, every South African knows, by now, who the cabinet ministers are who will lead the country into the sixth administration.Most political observers are aware that there were serious negotiations, bargaining and compromises made on the days before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced this cabinet last week.In general, compromises tend to be good for public relations, to create warm fuzzy feelings, and to “move on,” but they are not always just or fair.There is an argument to be made that this type of compromise, to “move on” without securing justice, is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission achieved.Still, for the most part, the cabinet appointments reflected some decisive changes that had to be made.The compromises included a careful blend of appointments of ANC, Cosatu, and South African Communist Party members, with Patricia de Lille of the Good Party being the notable inclusion.Let us set aside, for now, the enormity of the task to “fix the economy” and create jobs, and ignore the return or retention of people, such as Fikile Mbalula, Blade Nzimande, Ebrahim Patel, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane or Aaron Motsoaledi.Let us focus on some of the mildly technocratic appointments.Ronald Lamola, aged 36, is the new minister for justice, constitutional development and correctional services. Lamola has an LLB and two master’s degrees in law.This should help him negotiate the legal and technical aspects of his portfolio. David Masondo, aged 40, the new deputy finance minister, has a PhD from New York University.While Masondo is a Marxist, he has praised the achievements of capitalist countries like South Korea and Taiwan.So there seems to be none of the nostalgia for 19th-century ideological rigidities.This type of openness to new ideas, or those that may clash with one’s personal ideologies is usually a strength.Among the new crop of young-ish appointments, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, aged 42, stands out as especially skilled and immersed in the technical, day-to-day stuff of her portfolio.The new deputy minister of small business has an MBA from Bradford University in England.The clincher, though, is that she is a farmer who has extensive small-business experience. Her parents are small business owners.These young members of the executive face enormous technical tasks – from reviving dormant policies, refreshing others and implementing them – they would have to remain courageous and focused.They are, also, members of parliament, which means they will be held accountable, and probably not for the better, they will have to face the jealous wrath of the EFF, and the moral self-righteousness of the DA.The EFF and DA will make it difficult for them, but they need to know that the president, and their senior colleagues have their backs.While this may be part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary politics, greater challenges may come from within the departments of state that they preside over. Apart from the Treasury, all the new appointments may find departments that are in various states of disfunction and decline.When President Ramaphosa made the announcement of the new cabinet, he laid out the consolidated structures of government.He insisted, at the outset, that the consolidated new structures were just the start.This was a reference to impending moves to hasten the professionalising of the public service, which may include breaking the interface between politics and government; between the electoral cycle and appointments of deployments of public servants.A key point of the National Development Plan 2030 was that the public service needed “to be immersed in the development agenda, but insulated from undue political influence. . . staff at all levels must have the authority, experience and support they need to do their jobs”.All of this is capped off by clear lines of accountability.This creation of a “capable and developmental state,” where public servants do not require fealty to a political party - and over the past 25 years this party has been ANC-Cosatu-SACP Alliance – will make or break the new cabinet ministers and deputy ministers.A first order of business would, then, be for them to address public servants early, and lay out clearly what is expected.They have to stamp out, as a priority, the indolence, and disentangle the networks of cronyism and favouritism, while introducing, very swiftly, new guidelines for greater professionalism.Some public servants may need to cut from the herd – as a matter of principle and of cause. It has to be done early, so as to avoid complacency.To have any chance of achieving anything close to growth, job creation, closing inequality gaps across social and political economic and bringing more people out of poverty, the president has to close the umbilical links that Luthuli House seems to have with the state.If these cannot be achieved early, there is little chance that a capable and developmental state will emerge at any time during the sixth administration.With the public service there should be no political compromises.

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