Johannesburg – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday cut the number of cabinet ministers from 36 to 28, in a move he said would tackle the country’s “bloated” government and improve efficiency.
Half the new ministers are women, making South Africa one of the world’s few gender-balanced governments.
Ramaphosa announced the new line-up after he led the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party to victory in elections earlier this month.
He took office last year after the ousting of graft-tainted Jacob Zuma, who had expanded the number of ministerial posts in an alleged attempt to strengthen his patronage network.
“To promote greater coherence, better coordination and improved efficiency, we (are) reducing the number of ministers from 36 to 28,” Ramaphosa said in televised address to the nation.
“This is a significant move of downscaling our state. Many people believed our government… was bloated and this was agreed right across the board.”
In another dig at his predecessor, Ramaphosa said that the ANC had been re-elected with a mandate to end “state capture” — the term used to describe government corruption under Zuma.
“All South Africans are acutely aware of the great economic difficulties our country has been experiencing,” Ramaphosa said.
“It is therefore imperative… we place priority on revitalising our economy while exercising the greatest care in the use of public funds.”
“For the first time in the history of our country, half of all ministers are women,” he added.
– Balance of factions –
Naming his new slimline cabinet, Ramaphosa kept internationally-respected Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in place, as well as his controversial Deputy President David Mabuza.
Mabuza is seen as a pro-Zuma figure whose name has come up in media reports on alleged corruption and political killings when he was premier of the eastern province of Mpumalanga.
“The retention of Tito Mboweni as finance minister… will appease markets and result in a positive perception of cabinet,” said a briefing note from Peregrine Treasury Solutions, a South African investment company.
It added that keeping Mabuza as deputy president “indicated that President Ramaphosa had to compromise to appease the Zuma faction within the ANC.”
Ramaphosa’s close ally Pravin Gordhan was kept on as public enterprises minister, a key role as debt-laden state companies were at the centre of alleged graft schemes under Zuma.
“The cabinet announcement largely rewards the President’s supporters and seems a conservative selection without the injection of real fresh blood from the outside,” said analyst Daniel Silke on Twitter.
Ramaphosa, 66, an anti-apartheid activist who became a wealthy businessman, faces a tough battle to drive through reforms in a country suffering from chronic unemployment, racial tension and crime.
The ANC won the May 8 election with 57.5 percent of the vote, its smallest majority since it led the fight against the apartheid regime that was replaced by multi-racial democracy in 1994.
The party’s celebrated reputation was badly sullied under Zuma’s 2009-2018 rule as it was confronted by multiple corruption allegations and public anger over the failure to tackle post-apartheid inequality.
South Africa’s economy grew just 0.8 percent in 2018 and unemployment hovers at over 27 percent — soaring to over 50 percent among young people.