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The President without an axe

The President without an axe

I was in Swaziland the day South African president Jacob Zuma resigned. Last night, however, I was glued in front of the TV eagerly awaiting the new President’s first government reshuffle. And we were left waiting. Almost two hours behind schedule president Cyril Ramaphosa took to the podium. He looked quite solemn, not the usual jovial Ramaphosa.

It had clearly been a lot of bickering behind the scenes. In the end, the country ended up with a compromise government that would satisfy most factions in the ruling ANC.

Ramaphosa didn’t take out the big axe to cut back on the hugely over-sized cabinet. He didn’t rid the government of all the ministers implicated in various shady deals and corruption scandals. But he did bring back some of the most prominent names that former president Zuma had kicked out in the cold because they were openly opposed to the way he mishandled and mislead the office and the country.

Back in the government is the highly respected former Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan in a new role as Minister of Public Enterprises. I’m pretty sure the top brass of the ill-run and corrupt State Owned Enterprises such as Eskom (electricity), SAA (national airline) and Prasa (railways) are dreading what is to come.

Back is also former Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene who was sacked in 2015 by Zuma – a move that saw the rand tumbling to an all-time low. Nene is back on his old post and this should please investors and economic institutes around the world.

Staying with finance, the latest finance minister under Zuma’s regime, Malusi Gigaba was sent back to his old department of Home Affairs – many wish that he should have been sent packing all together. The same goes for Bathabile Dlamini, who was appointed Minister of Women in the Presidency, leaving the department of social development.

The new deputy president, David Mabuza, is a controversial figure with a heavy cloud of corruption allegations hanging over him.

Derek Hanekom who dared to speak out against Zuma (and was subsequently sacked) is back as Minister of Tourism. Gwede Mantashe, former secretary-general of the ANC and unionist, is the new Minister of Mineral Resources replacing Mosebenzi Zwane, who is implicated in one of the grand corruption scandals linked to the infamous Gupta-brothers.

In short: it is a mixed bag.

However, most analysts agree on one thing: Ramaphosa has made finance his priority, the rest of the cabinet is one big compromise – and we’ll see how it all pans out in the end.

If the ANC wins the coming elections in 2019, which it most likely will, Ramaphosa gets a new chance with the axe and maybe by then he will not be forced to the same balancing-act in a deeply divided party.

Görrel Espelund

Journalist, author and Africa guide. Read more about Görrel here.