This won't be the first time Cyril Rampahosa keeps his friends close, and his enemies closer

Business Insider SA

  • Cyril Ramaphosa has a long history of doing what is necessary to get the job done.
  • He was forced to keep people in cabinet he may have preferred to let go, but that's politics.
  • Ramaphosa's goal is creating jobs in a growth economy – but also to win the 2019 elections.

Soon after the 1993 assassination of Chris Hani, which brought South Africa to the brink of civil war, Roelf Meyer (then the National Party government's chief negotiator with his opposite number in the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa) settled into his armchair one night to watch the 8PM SABC news.

The bulletin featured then ANC president Nelson Mandela announcing that he was withdrawing from negotiations with the government and that trust between them broken down.

Meyer was stunned. He had thought his solid working relationship with Ramaphosa would at least have afforded him a heads-up that such an announcement was coming.

As he stared at the screen in disbelief, the phone rang. He would have had to get up from his chair and either turn down the sound or manually switch it off (there were no remotes) and walk to his landline phone (cellular technology was in its infancy), fully expecting it to be then President FW de Klerk, firing him for dropping the ball.

It was Ramaphosa.

Meyer recalls the conversation going something like this.

Meyer: “What the hell are you doing?”

Ramaphosa: “When can we meet?”

Meyer: “But your boss said talks were over.”

Ramaphosa: “Oh, don’t worry about that. He says you and I should continue talking.”

They did, and the resultant settlement led to the 1994 general election which saw the ANC sweep to power.

There can be no doubt that the cabinet appointed by Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night is not his A-team. He might have wanted to make other choices, but the nature of fractious politics did not allow that. While many might be bewildered by his decision to retain the services of Malusi Gigaba in home affairs (where he notoriously overruled his department to allow Gupta citizenship) or to keep Bathabile Dlamini (whose intransigence on social grants almost led to a failure of the lifeline upon whom some 12 million South Africans depend) he is playing a long game. A game in which he plans to keep critics within his own party at bay long enough to do the real work of transforming the South African economy.

What Ramaphosa did achieve was to regain control of the critical economic ministries. Nhlanhla Nene who just two weeks ago indicated to me that he had no intention of returning to the cut and thrust of high political office, found it impossible to resist the call to action. Pravin Gordhan, whose family is known to have dissuaded him from accepting the finance minister's job for a second time in December 2015, has the job of setting State Owned Companies (SOC’s) on a new path and is expected to retire on a ministerial pension at the next elections.

The appointment of Gwede Mantashe to replace the divisive Mosebenzi Zwane is a stroke of genius. Mantashe is tough and will negotiate an equally tough mining charter, but it will be a deal with which both sides can live.

The inclusion of kingmaker David Mabuza not only to cabinet but to the role of deputy President shows Ramaphosa unwilling to make the mistake Thabo Mbeki made in sacking Zuma and creating a new centre of power around which his detractors could congregate.

The next 12 months are bound to see substantial change as recommendations about the right-sizing of the civil service allows the likes of Dlamini and even Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, both currently attached as ministers in the Presidency, a more graceful exit from mainstream political office than he has afforded those most tainted by their overt Gupta connections.

In sacking Lynne Brown, David Mahlobo, Mosebenzi Zwane and the hapless Des van Rooyen, Ramaphosa has sent a strong anti-corruption message to appease fed-up ANC voters – while also effectively issuing an unwritten memo to his new team that they need to be on their best behaviour from here on in.

In as much as Ramaphosa has a constitutional duty to run the country to the best of his ability and to restore it to a jobs-rich growth path, he has the simultaneous responsibility of ensuring the ANC wins the 2019 general election.

What he has done is to rid cabinet of some of its most obviously compromised members and retain some of the old guard. 

It’s a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award winning financial journalist and broadcaster. He is a sought after public speaker on the political economy.

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