What’s Behind South Africa’s Largest Cabinet Yet?

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There is a misplaced assessment of South Africa as not very African, but they are. The bulged cabinet that broke all the records since multiparty in 1994 brings into question whether a government of national unity is appropriate in the South African situation. President Cyril Ramaphosa has indicated he is a believer in a small cabinet but after failing to secure a majority of MPs in the Parliament principles of good governance have been replaced with pragmatism: ingratiating everybody in the government to move the government agenda in the Augusta House seamlessly.

All this is achieved through increasing operational costs depriving the social agenda of the resources badly needed to cool off social tensions that have been growing over time. This article interviews the ramifications of a bloated cabinet, and whether it will be able to marshal the resolve to spearhead the development agenda.

The ANC just like Robert Mugabe’s ZANU- PF despises sharing power despite underperforming in the elections. Both the ANC and ZANU-PF ensured keeping the most powerful Ministries to their party loyalists. In Zimbabwe’s case, the leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai was appeased with a Prime Minister slot that later was found to be toothless.

In Kenya, the tug of war between former Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga and former President Mwai Kibaki was well documented with the former main complaint decisions being made without his involvement. Raila felt he was being sidelined contrary to the GNU’s objectives – Government of National Unity.

In Kenya’s situation, it was a bungled election, followed by election violence that brought political rivals to the negotiating table. The AU too put pressure through a recommended list of instigators of election violence. Koffi Anan produced his list of ICC’s indictments that look like a delicate political balancing act.

Also, read: BRICS Founders India and South Africa See Ruling Parties’ Power Erode

Second in command, William Samuoi Ruto of the political party, ODM, and the PNU that incorporated KANU that was being led by Uhuru Kenyatta was on that list too. There is an unending debate about whether Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta could have formed a coalition that would rout Raila’s ODM in the following elections without being threatened by the ICC criminal indictments.

In Zimbabwe’s case, the ruling party had fared poorly in the elections, and there was a general feeling that the ZANU-PF rigged her way to power through election violence and illegally flipping the electoral result. The Zimbabwe GNU did not solve economic problems but more Zimbabweans left the country for South Africa in search of green pastures with damning consequences.

South African circumstances are similar to most African countries that experimented with the politics of association under the GNU. One unique feature is the former ruling parties’ attempts to successfully keep top ministries to themselves. There is a tendency to view the GNU government as a leeway to prolong the ruling party’s stay in power regardless of the election verdicts.

President Cyril Ramaphosa had for years promised to shrink the size of government — partly because of demands by the public and political opponents. But with his party, the African National Congress, having failed in the recent election to secure an absolute majority in Parliament for the first time since the end of apartheid 30 years ago, he has had to incorporate a broad coalition of parties in his executive.

After being humiliated in the ballot box, Ramaphosa opted for pragmatism and sacrificed principles of governance. Like all African countries, positions in the government are designed to keep a moribund of politicians in check, and happy. The bread becomes a weapon to discipline errant politicians to support government policies or risk losing the bread.

He increased the number of cabinet Ministers to 32 from 30, and the number of Deputy Ministers to 43 from 36. The combined 75 Ministers and Deputy Ministers are the most in any administration since the first democratic election in 1994. Now comes the challenge of bringing together this diverse array of politicians to form a coherent policy agenda for a nation struggling with high unemployment, entrenched poverty and the shoddy delivery of basic services.

Now South Africa has edged out Uganda as the government with the largest number of cabinet ministers and their deputies. At 71 members strong, Uganda used to have the third largest cabinet in the world after North Korea and Kenya before the enactment of a new constitution that scrapped the posts of deputy ministers.

However, under political pressure former president Uhuru Kenyatta found a loophole to reinstate them by calling those positions a different name: CAS (Cabinet Administrative Secretaries). President Ruto is yet to appoint CAS given the dire economic harsh realities facing Kenya. This is in circumstances where the global average of ministers is 30.

Read: South Africa Faces an Uncertain Future as the ANC Now Struggles to Maintain Power

The average for Sub-Saharan Kenya, the average in the East African community is 30 as Tanzania has 34, Rwanda 27 and Burundi 29. Even among Africa’s oil-producing countries, Uganda retains the gold medal – only Nigeria comes close with 54 cabinet ministers. The rest of the oil-producing countries have ministers in the mid-40s.

Tanzanian cabinet has erroneously reassured a small cabinet of 31 ministers because the number of Deputy Ministers is excluded. When all that is added to the food chain, the number of ministers exceeds 60. In all these permutations is to attempt to pacify political allies and defer dissent as far as the regime can.

When permanent Secretaries and their deputies are woven into the equation together with Regional commissioners, District commissioners, and Regional and District administrative secretaries clearly Tanzania shoulders a huge burden to appease this kleptomaniac class. Each District has an Executive Director (DED). Tanzanian topmost executives are more than 150, raising disturbing questions about who is a beneficiary of the lop-sided public hierarchical structure inherited from the colonial system of governance.

Kenyan President William Samuoi Ruto has been very critical of Burkina Faso. The current head of state of Burkina Faso is Interim President Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, who took power during a coup d’état on 30 September 2022. regime founded through military putsch but has been dishing out tractors to empower his people to produce more in the agricultural sector.

Burkina Faso’s interim president handed over 400 tractors, 239 motorcycles and 710 motor pumps to the agri sector. The Tanzanian government is wallowing in purchasing SUVs for her political acolytes but not empowering agricultural investors with the means of production. The Ministry of Agriculture opted to undermine the agricultural sector through price controls, export permits and subsidised artificial fertilizers choking the production capacity in the process.

Whether it is a government of national unity or a one-party ruled one, the common denominator in the African context is not to bail out the production sectors. Looks more and more as if poverty is a currency in circulation to keep happy those in the government but not to expand production capacity.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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