20/02/2018 09:29 SAST | Updated 20/02/2018 13:58 SAST

Ramaphosa Will Sink With This Lot In Cabinet

The country's executive is a tragic tale of ineptitude, patronage and pettiness. The president will have to make sweeping changes, and soon.

Jeffrey Abrahams
Does grinning mean winning? President Cyril Ramaphosa in the National Assembly on Monday.

Monday's abbreviated debate on the state of the nation address (its normally held over two days) was as unremarkable as the transition from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa was remarkable.

Mmusi Maimane (DA), the leader of the opposition, struck a better chord than he did last Thursday after Ramaphosa's election when he offered congratulations and help while listing a litany of issues government has to deal with. Julius Malema, EFF leader, challenged Ramaphosa on land, rejecting the caveats the president added when agreeing to expropriation without compensation. And Mangosuthu Buthelezi (IFP leader), aside from his usual name-dropping (Albert Luthuli et al), went in to bat for the Zulu king and traditional land.

Jeffrey Abrahams
A keeper in Cabinet? Bathabile Dlamini, minister of social development, in the National Assembly on Monday.

It has been years since a real, constructive debate has been heard in the cavernous chamber that houses the National Assembly: on the outside Italian Renaissance style but inside a 1980s combination of granite-leather cubism. And a major part of the reason for this was on Monday to be found on the government benches. Our national executive is a tragic tale of patronage, ineptitude and pettiness.

Ramaphosa is going to make zero progress if he doesn't soon make sweeping and determined changes to his Cabinet. During his state of the nation address, he made clear some of the initiatives he wants to tackle, including summits and consultations, as well as reforms of institutions like the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Revenue Service (Sars). There's no way he'll be able to do that with the amount of deadwood in Cabinet.

Jeffrey Abrahams
Shrill...Lindiwe Sisulu, minister of human settlements in the National Assembly on Monday.

Ministers are political appointments. They are selected because they ascribe to their party's policy and ideology and, importantly, because they are able to execute on the mandate given to them by the president. Sitting in the press gallery on Monday and looking down at them, it was very hard to pick ministers who should continue in their positions based on performance and a proven track-record.

The Zuma government had become insipid and wayward, embroiled in factional battles and the preservation of patronage. The tone was of course set by former president Jacob Zuma, who, according to Mondli Makhanya in City Press at the weekend, often never read Cabinet memoranda.

Beyond that, the current crop of ministers – bar some like Naledi Pandor – struggle to look beyond party parochialism, even taking into account normal parliamentary heckling and sniping. For years and years ministers viciously sprang to Zuma's defence, accusing the opposition of politicking. And now that Zuma has been removed by the ANC because of state capture, it seems they're continuing on the same track, rejecting criticism on the basis of politics.

Jeffrey Abrahams
Mmusi Maimane, DA leader, addressing the National Assembly on Monday. He struck a better note than his remarks after President Cyril Ramaphosa's election last Thursday.

Lindiwe Sisulu, minister of human settlements and an apparent favourite to be appointed deputy president, was a case in point. She started off her response with an outburst about the opposition's derision of certain ministers – including Mosebenzi Zwane (mineral resources), Bathabile Dlamini (social development) and Lynne Brown (public enterprises) – and asked the speaker to determine whether it is parliamentary. She then continued to deliver a tribute to Zuma, thanking him for his contribution and calling him "a president and leader of the ANC", which he was – but surely her approach is not in keeping with the zeitgeist?

The Zuma-Ramaphosa budget will be tabled by the Zupta minister of finance Malusi Gigaba on Wednesday. It will be awkward...

Her outburst, however, is nothing new. Sisulu, along with Lindiwe Zulu, has one of the sharpest tongues in Parliament and is known for her short temper and dismissive attitude in debates. She is a party (wo)man through and through and her will to defend the ANC at any cost is what drives her. There's no middle-ground.

It wasn't only Sisulu though: there was a general absence among ANC speakers to take aboard criticism. And for a party that brought South Africans state capture and the Zuptas, the lack of reflection was quite astonishing.

The Zuma-Ramaphosa budget will be tabled by the Zupta minister of finance Malusi Gigaba on Wednesday. It will be awkward because it's not Ramaphosa's government yet and because he's ploughing ahead with someone else's mules. He'll have to cut them loose, and soon.