Ramaphosa Cements Control With South African Cabinet Revamp

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stamped his authority over the government with a cabinet revamp and sweeping changes to securities agencies, boosting his sway over economic policy.

Ramaphosa’s tiny winning margin to lead the ruling African National Congress in late 2017 left him in a power struggle with a party faction allied to his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and its Secretary-General Ace Magashule. That’s now shifted with Zuma jailed for contempt of court and Magashule suspended pending a graft trial.

Ramaphosa Cements Control With South African Cabinet Revamp

Freed of the burden of placating his opponents, the president brought in close allies in a Aug. 5 reshuffle that introduced four new ministers and reassigned six others. Enoch Godongwana comes in as finance minister in place of Tito Mboweni, who quit, Mondli Gungubele is the minister in the presidency and parliamentary Speaker Thandi Modise becomes defense minister.

Ramaphosa Cements Control With South African Cabinet Revamp

Ramaphosa also dissolved the intelligence ministry and moved the spy agency to direct control of the presidency. That change followed an outbreak of rioting last month that claimed 354 lives and saw thousands of businesses being looted -- violence that the security bodies weren’t prepared for.

“The composition of the executive is a political balancing act,” and Ramaphosa has used the shakeup to strengthen his position, said Susan Booysen, director of research at the Johannesburg-based Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection. “The security functions are increasingly under his control.”

The ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the end of 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. Retaining the post would ensure that he’ll be the ruling party’s presidential candidate in national elections scheduled for 2024.

Ramaphosa Cements Control With South African Cabinet Revamp

Ramaphosa, 68, is almost certain of winning, according to J.P. Landman, a political analyst whose clients include Nedbank Private Wealth.

“The ANC is not going to change horses mid-stream,” Landman told the Cape Town Press Club. “Ramaphosa’s leadership style has been vindicated. He strikes when he is sure he can win, and he wins.”

While the cabinet shakeup may have reinforced Ramaphosa’s political hold, it received a lukewarm reception from business groups and labor unions.

“We are disappointed that the president recycled the same old guard that has proven itself incapable of fixing our many problems,” the Congress of South African 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 that represents many of the country’s biggest companies, said that while a review of the executive was necessary, more needed to be done to make it more efficient and ensure that 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 is shot and the country is emerging from a third wave of coronavirus infections that was exacerbated by an initially tardy vaccine roll-out.

John Steenhuisen, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, described the changes as a missed opportunity, with some of the most compromised and worse-performing ministers retaining their posts.

“President Ramaphosa must realize that cabinet reshuffles alone cannot fix the fundamental underlying problem of his government, which is a seeming unwillingness to adopt any meaningful economic reforms,” he said.

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