South Africa’s new cabinet balances ethnicity, gender and political ideology

By Hopewell Radebe – SANF 04 no 35
President Thabo Mbeki has appointed a core group of ministers to deal with poverty and unemployment, carefully mixing experience with the need to balance representation along the country’s ethnic, gender and political spectrum.

While the ruling African National Congress (ANC) refuses to acknowledge the presence of ethnic and racial sentiments, Mbeki’s cabinet has been hailed as reflecting such sensitivities, albeit understated.

Leaders from three losing political parties have been selected to serve in Mbeki’s cabinet, described as a continuation of the ANC’s broader policy of establishing Government of National Unity, almost eight years after this constitutional provision was repealed.

The new constitution of 1996 does not oblige the winning party to include the opposition parties in its cabinet and Mbeki has only involved three out of 12 represented in parliament. The leader of the Azanian People’s Organisation, Mosibudi Mangena, one of the nation’s acclaimed intellectuals, was appointed Science and Technology Minister.

The erstwhile leader of the apartheid regime ruling party, Marthinus van Schalkwyk was appointed the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, largely as a result of a working agreement he signed with the ANC to co-govern the Western Cape province after the latter failed to gain its control in the second national elections in 1999.

Both parties also agreed to cooperate in the post April 2004 elections. While the ANC won the 45 percent majority in the Western Cape, it is still not enough for it to form the government. Thus the coalition agreement with Van Schalkwyk’s party has to continue.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Minister of Home Affairs for the past ten years, was sacked. This is attributed to his inability to turn around the department known to have retained corruption since the apartheid era. Buthelezi also fought with the cabinet on the nature of immigration laws suitable for the country’s economic development.

Instead, President Mbeki had appointed two IFP executive members as deputy ministers, IFP’s national spokesman Musa Zondi as the new deputy minister of public works while legislator Vincent Ngema was to be deputy minister of sport. The two did not take up the offers arguing that the political chasm between their party and the ANC needs to be closed before they can serve in Mbeki’s cabinet.

In line with the ANC’s objective of ensuring gender balance, the President has appointed 12 women out of 28 ministers in his Cabinet. Of the 19 deputy ministers, he appointed 10 women. This has made South Africa a leading African state with 46,8 percent women representation in the executive. Mbeki has also appointed four women out of eight new premiers.

Mbazima Shilowa, the Gauteng premier whose economic recovery for the country’s most populous and economically viable province has impressed the local and international business sector, has been retained.

Mbeki has however, also brought in “new blood” in the form of the ANC Youth League president, Malusi Gigaba, as deputy minister of Home Affairs. This was to thank the youth for registering in large numbers and dispelling perception that they were the worst in voter apathy.

As expected, he also brought in Jabu Moleketi as deputy finance minister, following his success in handling the provincial finances in Gauteng.

Mbeki has kept ministers whose reputations as hard workers have come to represent the president’s character as “Mr. Delivery”. Among these is Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, who as Minister of Public Services in the last government started a high profile roll-out of services to communities, including innovative approaches to e-governance.

He has also elevated some deputy ministers into senior ministerial positions in order to fast-track development.

These include former deputy finance minister Mandisi Mpahlwa who now heads Trade and Industry. This is the ministry expected to increase its relations and network with African states.

Members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have challenged South Africa to facilitate and allow their business sectors to establish tangible trade agreements that will stimulate economic growth in their countries. The former Public Enterprise Minister, Jeff Radebe, who had the task of restructuring and selling off state enterprises such as Telkom, South African Airways and ports, has been given a new task to turn around the transport department.

Replacing him is the Former Trade and Industry minister Alec Erwin, who has fought hard with the European Union for local business to get access to its large market. Since Erwin has a trade union background, he is expected to negotiate with and convince the labour movement, which is opposed to government’s privatisation plans.

With this team, Mbeki is hoping to leave a legacy as one of the country’s most effective presidents, dedicated to national unity and nation building and bold enough to have changed the patriarchal society by advancing women. (SARDC)

Hopewell Radebe is Deputy Political Editor of Business Day, South Africa