So now we have a new Cabinet. Hurray! How did we get by with the old one?
Deputy President: Cyril Ramaphosa (Hugely unpopular corporate toady)
• Minister in the Presidency: Jeff Radebe; (Strong person in a useless job)
• Minister of Women in the Presidency: Susan Shabangu; (Strong person in a joke job)
• Minister of Justice and Correctional Services: Michael Masutha; (Weakling in important job)
• Minister of Public Service and Administration: Collins Chabane; (Formerly Zuma’s shoepolisher)
• Minister of Defence and Military Veterans: Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula; (Joke person in important job)
• Minister of Home Affairs: Malusi Gigaba; (Joke person in important job)
• Minister of Environmental Affairs: Edna Molewa; (Disaster waiting to happen)
• Minister of State Security: David Mahlobo; (Corrupt links with crooked ex-minister Nyanda)
• Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Service: Siyabonga Cwele; (Disaster waiting to happen)
• Minister of Police: Nkosinathi Nhleko; (Weakling in important job)
• Minister of Trade and Industry: Rob Davies; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Finance: Nhlanhla Nene; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: Senzeni Zokwana; (Deeply unpopular NUM boss, Zuma loyalist, weakling in important job)
• Minister of Water and Sanitation: Nomvula Mokonyane; (Ex-Gauteng premier, famed for her “dirty votes” faux pas in Bekkersdal)
• Minister of Basic Education: Angie Motshekga; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Health: Aaron Motsoaledi; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of International Relations and Co-operation: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform: Gugile Nkwinti; (Weakling in important job)
• Minister of Higher Education and Training: Blade Nzimande; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Economic Development: Ebrahim Patel; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Transport: Dipuo Peters; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Mineral Resources: Ngoako Ramathlodi; (Crook in a financially profitable job)
• Minister of Social Development: Bathabile Dlamini; (Weakling in an important job)
• Minister of Public Enterprises: Lynne Brown; (Disaster in an important job)
• Minister of Sport and Recreation: Fikile Mbalula; (Joke in a joke job)
• Minister of Labour: Mildred Oliphant; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Arts and Culture: Nathi Mthethwa; (Joke in a joke job)
• Minister of Public Works: Thulas Nxesi; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Small Business Development: Lindiwe Zulu; (Joke in a joke job)
• Minister of Energy: Tina Joemat-Pettersson; (Crook in a financially profitable job)
• Minister of Science and Technology: Naledi Pandor; (Preserving the disaster)
• Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs: Pravin Gordhan; (Disaster in an important job)
• Minister of Communications: Faith Muthambi (Weakling in a joke job)
• Minister of Human Settlements: Lindiwe Sisulu; (Disaster in an important job)
• Minister of Tourism: Derek Hanekom; (Give the whitey the whitey’s job)
That’s 35 ministers, plus 37 Deputy Ministers, mostly Zuma loyalists and hacks.
This isn’t a record — the Sri Lanka government has 65 Ministers, not counting President and Prime Minister. In contrast, the US Cabinet consists of 15 people; the Russian, around 30 (including a weird raft of Deputy Prime Ministers). The French Cabinet has around 21. The Indian Cabinet has around 38, to rule more than 20 times South Africa’s population. The size of the Cabinet might seem unimportant, but still on the whole, this looks rather bloated.
It also looks dodgy. On the face of it, the Minister of Women is unnecessary. Basic and Higher Education still shouldn’t be separated. On the other hand, Justice and Correctional Services should be separated. Finance and Economic Development are duplicates (Trade and Industry also isn’t as separate from them as it could be), and Small Business Development is unnecessary. Several other Ministries should probably be Deputy Ministers under a Minister (Human Settlements should arguably fall under Public Works, if only public housing weren’t being privatised).
Of course, if Zuma had a clear plan around what to do to sort out the country’s problems, then it might be sensible to have a big Cabinet capable of rolling up its sleeves and taking vigorous action, a sort of large gang of Trevor Manuels and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zumas with the President and Deputy President behind them. They might make huge stuff-ups, of course, but at least they would be getting something done. As it is, however, about the best thing one can say about the Cabinet is that the Minister of Arts and Culture is a man well experienced in fiction and in creating tableaux morts.
There isn’t anything particularly interesting about this Cabinet, on the face of it. Conceivably a couple of the new, junior people might turn out, surprisingly, to be competent, but none of them is in a central position. All the really important positions are held by people who have already failed, either mildly or disastrously, in Zuma’s earlier Cabinets. Most of the middle-level positions are also held by failures, sometimes spectacular ones, sometimes consistently so. There is, thus, no real possibility of a startling success which will salvage the situation. The most which can be anticipated is that someone will unexpectedly do better than anticipated in a field of little or no significance, which will enable the media to praise them in comparison to their competitors. Even this is rather unlikely, for with Ramaphosa standing by to crack the whip there will be powerful incentives to do nothing surprising or interesting and thus challenging to the corporatist status quo.
A reasonable assumption, then, is that Zuma doesn’t have any intention of pursuing any radical alternatives to the bland subordination of his first term. Nothing else should have been expected from someone of Zuma’s calibre, but still it remains depressing because Zuma’s first term was such a disastrous failure that one might have hoped that he would at least want some kind of legacy before he departs, some accomplishment which might lead his successor to say, look, he was a shit, but at least he was a shit of substance, let’s not go ahead with prosecuting him just yet. The only way that Zuma will be able to avoid prosecution, assuming that his second term ends in the kind of slow-motion train-smash that his first term ended with, will be if he either organises a coup d’etat or else is able to install such a corrupt successor that he can threaten to bring them down if they act against him. Maybe that’s why he wants Ramaphosa in the position. (However, Ramaphosa has the big mining companies behind him who can ensure that any corruption prosecutions are blocked as effectively as the prosecutions of Zuma were blocked.)
No plan, but also no obvious conspiracy. Nothing actually interesting — just cronies and time-servers. Zuma packed his first Cabinet with similar people, but back then it was possible to claim (although impossible to believe) that the crooks, shysters and bunglers he appointed, who had mostly been sacked after failing or being caught, were all victims of Mbeki’s malice. It rapidly became obvious that this was not the case; that Mbeki had quite rightly got rid of all of them, just as he had been quite right to get rid of Zuma — and thereafter the media was placed in the mildly embarrassing position of having to denounce the people whom they had previously defended as more sinned against than sinning, or at least as victims of the evil Voldemort.
Now we just have people whom we already know to be worthless. If the general administration of the country were efficient then stuffing the Cabinet with thugs, fixers and fascists might not matter so much, but it isn’t. If we weren’t facing an economic crisis (currently being blamed on the platinum strike as if this were the only thing preventing us from soaring like a dodo into the economic skies) and a social crisis, this wouldn’t matter as much as it does. But we do face these things, and therefore bad leadership at the tier below the bad leadership of the President — bad leadership of the kind which fudges, avoids and conceals — is a remarkably bad thing. The Minister of Minerals has already put his stamp on affairs by setting up an Inter-Ministerial Task Team to discuss what might be done about the platinum strike. Sorted! That is, his responsibility is sorted, and now he can concentrate on schmoozing with CEOs and especially CFOs.
Of course, the whole Cabinet is neoliberal. There is an understandable attempt by the corporate press to gin up imaginary differences between Nene, Davies and Patel, pretending that because the latter come from the SACP and COSATU whereas the former is a bloodless and support-free technocrat, there is liable to be ideological conflict. But this is not a left-right divide, since they are all right-wingers; it simply means that Davies and Patel will do what they can to undermine Nene in order to further their private fantasies and possibly serve the interests of their political bosses — meaning that yes, there will be conflict, but it will be conflict within the context of the preposterous National Development Plan which everybody familiar with it — and not immediately benefiting from the corruption which it furthers — detests.
Therefore, neoliberalism does not mean unity. Nor does it mean coherence; different ministers will apply neoliberalism in conflicting ways which will almost certainly make for dissonance. Basically, because Zuma has appointed people without regard for appropriate skills or competence, the result will indeed be a disaster, and probably a much bigger one than the disaster of his first term of office because a much bigger economic crisis is impending and the social crisis has grown much more severe. In other words, the snap judgement of Julius Malema (which he probably made without even seeing the names on the Cabinet list, because he could have anticipated the kind of appointments even if not the specifics) is correct, as usual, and the woolly and over-optimistic fantasies of both reactionaries and liberals have been dashed.
The only thing to look forward to is the hope that we can somehow take advantage of the five-year disaster which is impending before us; having predicted it, when it happens, the EFF and everybody concerned with good governance must be there to point it out and point out that with remotely competent and honest politicians in the places of Zuma’s rubbery minions, none of this would have to happen.