The liberals and the comrades in one cabinet?


The liberals and the comrades in one cabinet?

The DA will have to choreograph a fine dance to make the GNU's new executive work without being overshadowed, writes MAX DU PREEZ.

THE establishment of the executive authority of the government of national unity (GNU), complex as it was, is a minor challenge compared to the problem of getting ANC and DA cabinet members to operate as a unit.

Can staunch ideologues such as Gwede Mantashe and Blade Nzimande and liberal bantam cocks like Leon Schreiber and Dean Macpherson work together in peace and comradeship?

Can President Cyril Ramaphosa manage Cosatu strongly enough so that it does not make departments of ministers such as Siviwe Gwarube (basic education) and Pieter Groenewald (correctional services) ungovernable?

And then there is Ramaphosa's curve ball: the PAC's Mzwanele Nyhontso as minister of land reform and rural development. The PAC has been built on the principle of “Africa for the Africans" and the return of land to black citizens since 1959. But Nyhontso's neighbour in the cabinet is John Steenhuisen, minister of agriculture.

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Stripped of nice words, the GNU is a coalition between the Ramaphosa ANC and the DA to marginalise the MK Party and the EFF. And in my opinion, it is a noble act. Now the task of building a strong and effective state can begin.

But the subtext, as we saw this week in Gauteng, is to let the ANC continue to dominate — to make the party with its 40% support look like a 60% party and the DA with its 21% like a 10% party.

In this, Ramaphosa has been quite successful. The ANC has 22 ministers in most of the important portfolios, the DA six, the IFP two, and the Patriotic Alliance, Freedom Front Plus, PAC and Good one each.

The ANC also has the president, the deputy president and the speaker positions. The DA did not know beforehand that Ramaphosa would appoint such a large cabinet.

The DA is, of course, anything but a withered wallflower and understands well that it would be fatal if the impressionis created  among voters that it, like Marthinus “Kortbroek" van Schalkwyk's New National Party in 2005, is being swallowed by the ANC.

After all, the local government elections are only two years away.

The DA will have to choreograph a fine dance.

The ANC has shown in the past two weeks that it interprets the signed declaration of intent on which the GNU is built, and the concept of “sufficient consensus", much more loosely than the DA.

The DA's controversial iron lady, Helen Zille, was wise to give Premier Panyaza Lesufi the middle finger with the appointment of a government in Gauteng. Lesufi, who is now running a minority government, is likely to regret his arrogance.

The question now is: did Ramaphosa and his secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, bow to pressure from the Paul Mashatile/Lesufi bloc, which is strongly against cooperation with the DA, or was their attitude that this faction should be allowed to cut a rod for its own back?

Now the DA and the ANC in Gauteng are going to fight like cats and dogs while Steenhuisen and company must be buddy-buddy with the ANC in the national cabinet.

The chances that Steenhuisen can build a close trust relationship with Ramaphosa to ensure the cabinet functions smoothly and projects an image of unity are, in my opinion, somewhat slim. Ramaphosa is too Machiavellian for that, and I doubt he sees Steenhuisen as a man of gravitas, as an equal.

Cabinet decisions are collective and are made by consensus — again the c-word that is interpreted so differently. If there is a serious disagreement that cannot be resolved even by the GNU's consultation council created in the declaration of intent, Ramaphosa and Steenhuisen together should have the final say.

It would not be ideal for the DA to constantly threaten to walk out of the cabinet.

Fortunately, the broad policy directions of the ANC and DA, especially regarding the economy, are not far from each other. The National Health Insurance Act is far from implementation, and a compromise is reportedly already under consideration.

With Ronald Lamola as the new foreign minister, serious differences can probably also be managed, at least temporarily.

The GNU's biggest challenge is not so much policy as implementation. And with that, the DA is excellent.

The big difference between the old ANC administration and the new GNU is that the cabinet is no longer the dog being wagged by the tail of the ANC national executive committee.

Much of the potential friction can be avoided if ministers from the different political parties quickly get to know each other well and get along on a personal level.

But what are the chances that people like the prickly Macpherson (public works and infrastructure), the hardegat Schreiber (home affairs), and the dour Dion George (forestry, fisheries and environment) will become close friends with ministers like Nyhontso, Nzimande (science, technology and innovation) and Mmamoloko Kubayi (human settlements)?

The attitudes and public statements of the cabinet members can also make a big difference. In the ANC, especially, there is great sensitivity about the DA boasting that it is going to “save" the government and implement its own manifesto.

Zille may need to keep her combative nature, especially on social media, under control.

The fights in the cabinet must stay within the cabinet.

For one of the most promising new parliamentarians, Songezo Zibi of Rise Mzansi, also a member of the GNU, there was no place in the  cabinet, even though Rise got more support (0.42%) than the PAC (0.23%) and Good (0.18%) combined. (Rise did get an MEC position in Gauteng, the equally talented Vuyiswa Ramokgopa at agriculture. But Gauteng is not exactly the country's breadbasket.)

There are good appointments in the cabinet. Like the minister of electricity and energy, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, Parks Tau at trade, industry and competition, Lamola at foreign affairs, Velenkosini Hlabisa of the IFP at cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Barbara Creecy at transport, and of course Enoch Godongwana at finance.

Siviwe Gwarube of the DA (basic education) is talented and energetic but the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union is likely to try to make her life hell.

The chances are good that Steenhuisen will make a success of agriculture. He will be assisted by organised agriculture and may just make a big difference in the establishment of and assistance to emerging black farmers.

Schreiber (35) is smart and determined, as are George and Solly Malatsi (communications and digital technology). Patricia de Lille of Good was not too bad with tourism and has that portfolio again. Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus (correctional services) is a competent man who does not take nonsense (his deputy minister, Lindiwe Ntshalintshali, is a member of the SA Communist Party).

Many jokes are made about Gayton McKenzie as minister of sport, arts and culture, but he might surprise us with his earthiness (though maybe not with art).

Strange appointments are Angie Motshekga at defence and the move of Senzo Mchunu from water affairs, where he did well, to police, with the somewhat lightweight Pemmy Majodina now overseeing water.

At least we are rid of Bheki Cele, Ebrahim Patel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Unfortunately not of Mantashe (mineral affairs and petroleum resources) and Deputy President Mashatile.

♦ VWB ♦

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