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Overcoming the trust deficit is key to a stable political centre

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The members of the seventh administration in the Government of National Unity. What is noticeable with the new Cabinet is that except many ministries have a minister from one political party and a deputy minister from another party, the writer says. – Picture: X/South African Government. 

By Bheki Mngomezulu

A month after the May 29, general elections, President Cyril Ramaphosa eventually succeeded in assembling the Cabinet on Sunday, June 30. In total, eleven political parties became signatories to the historic deal which formed the Government of National Unity (GNU).

Consequently, the president was able to appoint 32 ministers and 43 deputy ministers. Contrary to expectation that the Cabinet would be reduced from 30 which was the number in the sixth administration, two more ministries were added. Once again, there is a bloated Cabinet.

What is noticeable with the new Cabinet is that except for a few, most ministries have a minister from one political party and a deputy minister from another party.

This is the case with, for example, the departments of Agriculture, Basic Education, Defence, Electricity and Energy, Higher Education and Training, Home Affairs, International Relations and Co-operation, Justice, Public Works and Infrastructure, as well as Transport.

The GNU discussions were characterised by a trust deficit among politicians. Even the delay in reaching an agreement was occasioned by this lack of trust, coupled with political greed and failure to put the citizens first.

The DA made too many demands which resulted in the delay in clinching a deal. By listing more than 10 ministries which it wanted to run with its deputy ministers, the DA did not seem to understand how coalition governments in general work and how a GNU is constituted.

The same reason saw Premier Panyaza Lesufi struggling to assemble his provincial leadership team in Gauteng. The ANC found it difficult to accede to the DA’s demands. As time passed, it was forced to consider working with smaller parties to form a minority provincial government.

At the national level, for years, the DA has been critical of the ANC while occupying the position of the official opposition in the National Assembly. It has questioned the ANC’s many policies in various spheres of the government or in different departments.

This has been true for domestic and international policies where the ANC and the DA held diametrically opposed viewpoints. Recent cases include the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Israel’s invasion of Palestine.

On the domestic front, socio-economic policies such as Affirmative Action, BBBEE (broad-based black economic empowerment) and Employment Equity which were meant to uplift black people were frowned upon by the DA. The latter claimed that these policies were not progressive.

On the contrary, the DA interpreted these policies as perpetuating racial tension and racial discrimination. Even on the health front, the DA was vehemently opposed to the National Health Insurance (NHI).

Now that ANC and DA ministers and deputy ministers will be working side-by-side, it becomes unclear if these leaders will work together in harmony or if each of them will strive to frustrate his or her counterpart as the struggle for supremacy ensues. Should this happen, how will service delivery be affected?

This is the main question, especially because once elected to the executive, these politicians must cease to work for their individual political parties but work together to advance national interests.

Another issue that the DA constantly raised during the sixth administration when it was the opposition party, was the lack of performance by some ANC ministers in different portfolios.

Among the stated causal factors identified by the DA, were lack of monitoring and evaluation and the ANC’s cadre deployment policy. While there is nothing wrong with the policy itself, there were instances where the ANC used it incorrectly by deploying cadres without requisite skills and knowledge.

Consequently, the performance of the respective ministries was weak. In its diagnosis of the problem, the DA argued that the policy was the reason for the poor performance of various ministries. It concluded that as long as ministers did not perform at the expected level and were not forced to account for their inefficiencies, it was impossible to improve service delivery.

Now that the DA is part of the government, will it continue to raise these concerns? If the minister in a department is from the DA and the deputy minister is from either the ANC or any other political party, how will these leaders work side-by-side? If they fail to co-operate, will the GNU be sustained?

There are many such ministries which are headed by the DA with the ANC occupying the deputy ministers’ positions. These include the departments of Agriculture under Minister John Steenhuisen, Basic Education under Siviwe Gwarube, Communications and Digital Technologies headed by Solly Malatsi, Home Affairs under Leon Schreiber, and Public Works under Dean McPherson. Should these leaders not find one another effective, what will happen to the GNU?

In the same vein, other ministries are headed by the ANC with the DA serving as deputy ministers. Among these departments are Finance under Enoch Godongwana with Ashor Sarupen as one of the two deputy ministers with David Masondo, as well as Electricity and Energy headed by Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa with Samantha Graham as his deputy.

It will be interesting to see how this will unfold.

Another pertinent issue is how Helen Zille and John Steenhuisen project the DA. They are not a united force. They had been making conflicting statements even before the election. Their views about the sustainability of the GNU will determine the way forward.

Given these political dynamics, one wonders how Ramaphosa will handle a Cabinet reshuffle should a need arise. This will not be a smooth process.

* Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela University.

** The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of The African