It’s been a week of mixed emotions for South Africans. Following days of waiting for the country’s new National Executive and mixed messages about who would deputise President Cyril Ramaphosa, the truth finally came out on Wednesday night.

While it was infuriating to some and a breath of fresh air to others – history was undoubtedly made. For the first-time ever in democratic South Africa, the country’s cabinet has a 50/50 gender representation.

Ramaphosa revealed his new look cabinet after days of horse-trading with the national leadership structures of the ANC and its alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). The announcement came four days after the President took his oath of office, a clear sign of the pressure Ramaphosa was under to find a gender, age and politically balanced team.

It was also a day after his deputy David Mabuza took his oath of office as a Member of Parliament. Although the Presidency has not confirmed this – it was suspected that Ramaphosa delayed the announcement to give Mabuza time to appear before the ANC’s Integrity Commission to answer to claims that he’s brought the governing party into disrepute.

Over the years, Mabuza has been accused of corruption and being behind political killings that once rocked Mpumalanga ANC. In August 2018, he opened a defamation case against his fellow comrade, Bishop Hangwi Maumela who had referred to him as a “murderer”. He also claimed that Premier Refilwe Mtshweni was Mabuza’s girlfriend.

A man of action

The National Executive is Ramaphosa’s first since occupying the country’s highest office after having inherited the previous one from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma after the former President was unceremoniously forced out of office by the governing ANC. He, nonetheless, did tweak it on 26 February 2018, showing several ministers the door, including the Ministers of Public Enterprises, Mineral Resources and Public Service and Administration. 

Ramaphosa kept his word about reducing the size of the national executive in a bid to deal with the bloated public service bill. He’s cut it from 75 to 64 members.  It has 28 ministers, compared to Zuma’s 35.

While the move has been widely well received – some weren’t that impressed. The Democratic Alliance (DA) felt he could have done more. The opposition party also dismissed the cabinet as a matter of having the same script with a different cast.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the African Transformation Movement (ATM) are on the other hand  hoping mad over Pravin Gordhan’s re-appointment as Public Enterprises Minister. Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina also didn’t take the news well.

The group wanted Gordhan left out of the cabinet following a damning Public Protector report against him. Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found the Public Enterprises Minister to have violated the Constitution for approving former SARS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay’s pension pay out and early retirement. However, legal experts say there was nothing untoward with the President appointing Gordhan as the report is up for review. The Minister has filed papers in the North Gauteng High, asking for it to be set aside.

Surprises in the appointment 

There were a few surprises with the country’s longest serving minister, Jeff Radebe not returning to cabinet. Good Party leader, Patricia de Lille was a pleasant surprise to many South Africans, with some hailing it as good strategic move by the President. However, others are concerned the corruption buster could be neutralised. De Lille, on the other hand, is optimistic about her new role and has promised to continue her fight for justice.

The injection of young blood like former ANC Youth League leader, Ronald Lamola, was also well received. The 35-year-old Lamola is the youngest member of Ramaphosa’s cabinet. He has taken over the Justice and Correctional Services portfolio from Michael Masutha. The accomplished lawyer is also part of a Presidential appointed panel that’s looking into land expropriation without compensation.

South Africans, who had been glued to their television screen awaiting a delayed announcement, were thrilled to see some of the high ranking ANC officials, who they felt were too compromised to continue holding public office, left out of the new National Executive. Former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini is one such.

Majority of the minister are in their 60, while most deputy ministers are in their 50s. Only four deputy ministers are in their 30s and seven in their 40s.

Looking at the Mandela era

The anticipation for Ramaphosa’s cabinet was almost as high as it was during Nelson Mandela’s. In both instances – the country was coming from bruising eras. In 1994, Black South Africans were reeling from years of oppression. Everyone was now free to rewrite history and correct past injustices. The country was also grappling with a stagnant economy and a high poverty rate among the majority of South Africans.  The Ramaphosa era is also dealing with the same issues, however this time with both Black and White South Africans jaded over the rising unemployment rate, self-seeking leaders and corruption.

Mandela announced his cabinet a day after he was inaugurated on May 11, 1994. He had 27 ministers and his national executive included the ANC’s erstwhile political rivals, the National Party (NP) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). This was part of the ANC’s government of National Unity – aimed at healing the wounds of apartheid and forging a non-racial South Africa.

A national executive is responsible for developing and implementing national policy as well as coordinating the functions of state departments and administration.  Mandela’s team was credited with having laid the foundation for a long-term democratic country through the adoption of the 1996 Constitution. It is hoped that Ramaphosa’s national executive will also become a powerful and effective decision-making body that will set South Africa on a path of economic recovery and clean governance. An expectation Ramaphosa also expressed while revealing his cabinet to the nation.

Watch national executive members being sworn in: