President Cyril Ramaphosa sealed his authority over the government with a cabinet revamp and radical changes in the securities agencies, boosting his influence over economic policy.
Ramaphosa’s small margin of victory to lead the ruling African National Congress in late 2017 left him in a power struggle with a faction of the party allied with his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and his general secretary Ace Magashule. That now changed with Zuma jailed for contempt of court and Magashule suspended pending a corruption trial.
Released from the burden of placating his opponents, the president brought in close allies in an Aug. 5 shakeup that introduced four new ministers and reassigned six more. Enoch Godongwana enters as Finance Minister in place of Tito Mboweni, who resigned, Mondli Gungubele is Minister of the Presidency and Speaker of Parliament Thandi Modise becomes Minister of Defense.
Ramaphosa also dissolved the intelligence ministry and transferred the spy agency to the direct control of the presidency. That change followed an outbreak of riots last month that claimed 354 lives and saw thousands of businesses looted, violence that law enforcement agencies were unprepared for.
“The composition of the executive is a political balancing act,” and Ramaphosa has used the reorganization to strengthen his position, said Susan Booysen, research director at the Johannesburg-based Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection. “Security functions are increasingly under his control.”
The ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the end of the white minority rule in 1994, is due to hold internal elections late next year and Ramaphosa is expected to seek another five-year term as leader. Keeping the post would ensure that he will be the ruling party’s presidential candidate in the national elections scheduled for 2024.
“The ANC is not going to change horses midway,” Landman told the Cape Town Press Club. “Ramaphosa’s leadership style has been vindicated. He attacks when he is sure he can win, and he wins ”.
While the cabinet reshuffle may have strengthened Ramaphosa’s political control, it received a lukewarm reception from business groups and unions.
“We are disappointed that the president has retrained the same old guard that has proven incapable of solving our many problems,” the South African Congress of Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor group and a member of the ruling coalition, said in a statement.
Business Unity South Africa, a lobby group representing many of the country’s largest companies, said that while an executive review was needed, more needed to be done to make it more efficient and ensure policies were implemented.
The dire state of Africa’s most industrialized economy is indicative of the government’s shortcomings. Almost a third of the workforce is unemployed, business confidence has exploded, and the country is emerging from the third wave of coronavirus infections that was exacerbated by an initially late launch of vaccines.
John Steenhuisen, leader of the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, described the changes as a missed opportunity, and some of the most committed and worst-performing ministers retained their positions.
“President Ramaphosa must realize that cabinet shakeup alone cannot solve the fundamental underlying problem of his government, which is an apparent unwillingness to adopt meaningful economic reforms,” he said.