As President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his Cabinet on Tuesday night, there was incredulity at some of the ministers who survived his cull. In particular, the retention of former Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini who is also the ANC Women's League president raised many questions.
In addition, former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba returned to his former perch at home affairs, less than a week after the High Court found he had lied in his evidence related to a skirmish over the licensing of a private airport when he previously served in that role. The private luxury aviation haven at the OR Tambo airport was the subject of a voluble squabble between the old oligarch family, the Oppenheimers, and the new oligarchs, the Guptas.
And, eyebrows were raised when the president announced that former Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane was put in charge of the crucially important communications portfolio.
What happened here? Did Ramaphosa pull back from his reform agenda? Did he lose his nerve? How did he retain these ministers?
Politics happened, that's what.
Cabinets are always highly political affairs and Ramaphosa governs with a slim majority of support in his political party. This means his first cabinet was always going to be a compromise cabinet –- the three ministers who flirted with and skirted crony networks are the biggest examples of the political compromise.
Dlamini could not be fired because she is president of the Women's League – a powerful position in the governing party. She has been taken out of social development and put in the women's ministry in the presidency. She can't make much trouble in a ministry that is, sadly, underfunded and ineffective.
Susan Shabangu has been deployed to social development (from the women's ministry) to fix the grant payments debacle, which must be done by April 1. It's unlikely that the women's ministry will survive Ramaphosa's axe when he cuts the high number of Cabinet portfolios he inherited from Zuma.
Mokonyane has, by all accounts, quickly changed her march to support Ramaphosa. She checks in regularly with the president and her changed stripes earned her a huge promotion. It is not the wisest appointment as the communications ministry requires a strong technocrat to finally help South Africa make the jump into the digital universe that six ANC ministers have failed to achieve.
Gigaba is well liked by Ramaphosa and the dynamic young minister with the gift of the gab was always going to be retained in the Cabinet but moved away from Treasury. Since being appointed finance minister in April 2017, he has distanced himself from the crony networks led by the Gupta family, but he lacked credibility in the role of finance minister because he got knocked by revelation after revelation of his proximity to the troublesome clan.
Gigaba was a good home affairs minister, but revelations in the past year have shown that he favoured the patronage networks by smoothing the way to permits and passports for the family.
Ramaphosa cut as deep as he could, but compromise required he keep some people on. This is Ramaphosa's first Cabinet but it is not the last he will appoint. Right now, he does not have a lot of room to move to bring in the technocratic skills he needs to drive his agenda of good governance and reform.
He has done the best he could under the circumstances but it is a Cabinet dictated to by the requirements of the ANC's apparatchiks and not by the broader ANC membership or, indeed, the requirements of the South African people.