Ramaphosa missed an opportunity with Cabinet reshuffle: Maimane
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Opinion - This week’s cabinet reshuffle by President Ramaphosa was a missed opportunity that could have boosted confidence in his government and placed South Africa on a new trajectory.
Whilst our former President made a grand total of 11 cabinet reshuffles, it took our current President more than 1 200 days of his presidency to implement his first.
Given the unrest in our country last month and the dire state of our economy amidst this pandemic, now more than ever was the time for President Ramaphosa to take decisive action and provide a pathway forward for reform, renewal and growth.
I would imagine the public had high hopes for this reshuffle: hopes that President Ramaphosa would appoint qualified, capable people to our Cabinet, that he had sufficient control of his own party to remove the Ministers shrouded in corruption allegations. After all, former President Jacob Zuma sits behind bars, and suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule finds himself isolated from his own party.
Like many, I want President Ramaphosa to succeed in his task, because that is a good thing for South Africa. But to succeed, he needs to actually lead. Therefore, it may have come as a surprise to some, then, that our President managed to change almost a third of his Cabinet and still retain most of the same faces. Instead of the overhaul of the National Executive that our country so desperately needs, President Ramaphosa has shuffled deck chairs and recycled a host of incompetent Ministers to consolidate his power over the government.
Whilst education will continue to be in a disarray, the economic cluster also remains largely untouched – just a few weeks after we heard that 2 out of every 3 youths in our country are currently unemployed. The faces of sheer incompetence in our government have simply been given new job titles: Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams will move from the demolition she has left behind in Communications and Digital Technology to ruin Small Business, while Lindiwe Sisulu will ensure that her legacy not only leaves our country without access to clean water, but also without any tourists. Perhaps worst of all, President Ramaphosa has shattered our hopes of cleaning out corruption in the government by appointing a Finance Minister who resigned from his role as Deputy Minister of Economic Development 9 years ago, amidst yet unresolved allegations of fraud.
President Ramaphosa has now blatantly confirmed what we all feared: that he is not the saving grace of the ANC – that he is not the one who will pull our ruling party out of its long-overdue implosion.
And whilst I can say I am disappointed; I am by no means surprised. There’s no saving grace for a broken ruling party, and there’s definitely no viable solution to be found within South Africa’s anachronistic electoral system. In a time of dire economic need in our country, and on the back of civil unrest that claimed more than 300 lives, our President was unable to navigate the internal party dynamics that will perpetually hinder meaningful change.
It is in this context that we need to diagnose a crucial issue: the pool of candidates from which President Ramaphosa can choose his Cabinet is severely limited. As per paragraph 91 of the Constitution, he is bound to choose his Ministers from amongst the members of Parliament. Clause 91(3)(c) dictates that the President may choose at maximum 2 Ministers from outside of the National Assembly. This presents a very immediate issue: the expertise from which our President can nominate the Executive of our country is confined to the realm of mediocre Parliamentarians.
This immediate issue needs an immediate solution: the President should be able to appoint the best of the best to the respective positions in Cabinet. Amongst our population are world-renowned experts in every field and ministry; it is these people who should be leading our government departments within their specialisations. I therefore make the urgent call to amend paragraph 91 of our Constitution, to increase the threshold of Ministers that may be selected from outside the National Assembly. In turn, the President will be able to expand his pool of candidates for Cabinet to the top experts in each facet of society.
But unfortunately, this is just a smaller solution to a much larger problem. Regardless of the pool of candidates that the President can choose from, we the citizens of South Africa are still faced with the reality that we did not choose the President himself. Nor did we choose the parliamentarians who occupy our National Assembly. Our current electoral system prevents us from electing these people directly; instead, we vote for the parties to which they belong, and the leadership of those parties in turn selects the party list that will occupy our Parliament and ultimately select our President.
Power needs to be given back to the citizens to choose the Parliamentarians who make these decisions on our behalf, and this is the electoral reform vision of the One South Africa Movement. We at OSA have presented a tangible alternative to the status quo: an election model that will see citizen-led governments elected into municipalities across South Africa in the upcoming Local Government Elections. More than that, we are championing a Direct Elections Bill through Parliament that will enable citizens to vote for independents in the 2024 National and Provincial Elections too.
Party politics is all we have ever known in South Africa, and Thursday’s Cabinet reshuffle has demonstrated more clearly than ever that we need direct elections. The system has shown us one too many times how fundamentally broken it is. At OSA, we are convinced we have found the solution.
Mmusi Maimane is Chief Activist of the One South Africa Movement