‘Clean’ cabinet an honest call or a double-standard factional reward and punitive game-plan?

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Clyde Ramalaine

South Africa’s next cabinet will shortly be announced. We have heard diverse groups seeking to influence if not dictate what the next cabinet should look like.

The SA constitution is emphatically clear when it states the appointing of a cabinet is the prerogative of the elected president.  Notwithstanding the clear dictate of the constitution, South Africa is and remains a multiparty democracy meaning whoever becomes president arrive in that hallowed space privileged by his/her party, who have won the majority representation in the National Assembly.  It is this very aspect that makes the appointment of a cabinet much more political than what some in this season want to claim. 

While there is a generalised demand for a ‘clean’ cabinet, no one has yet defined what clean means in this instance. There is an uncritical assumption that there is a consensus on what it means. Is a clean cabinet, one constituted free from people who against allegations are levelled? Or is it a cabinet exempted from individuals that courts ruled against in guilty verdicts? Is it a clean cabinet because the media carried no allegations against any those who serve?  

Is a  clean cabinet not an oxymoron,  if allegations against the aggregate ANC politician is made to stand. It appears more a case of choice variations of what constitutes a ‘clean’ cabinet.   President Ramaphosa promised a clean cabinet meant a cabinet that will exclude those fingered in his pet-subject of ‘state capture’ and corruption as led before the State of Capture (these we must surmise include Gupta and Bosasa linked allegations) and the Public Investment Company (PIC) Commissions currently underway.

Ramaphosa’s ‘clean’ cabinet statements, noble for some, failed to provide a coherent and concise explanation of his interpretation of a clean? Was Ramaphosa allowed a free-pass by the super-friendly media to engage in double-speak on what this clean constitutes? Nowhere did any journalist challenge him to distinguish between allegations and court findings. Does he as former labour law practitioner pretend ignorance on what an allegation versus a court verdict constitutes? 

There is little doubt that if the president attempts following through on this promise, he is compelled to exclude some of his core supporters. For the record, if it is about clean cabinet allegations are levelled against Ramaphosa. Equally, so allegations are levelled against ANC Chairperson Gwede Mantashe, Deputy President David Mabuza, Jeff Radebe Zweli Mkhize, Bheki Cele, Thabang Makwetla, Pravin Gordhan, Zizi Kodwa and Fikile Mbalula and Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba. One could cite more names to emphasize the point of compromised individuals.

Are we to accept, if any of the aforementioned, make it onto cabinet the idea of a clean cabinet falls flat? Are these all clean if the principle of allegations and allegations only as made public in the media is made the yardstick? It cannot be that Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and Malusi Gigaba define a soiled cabinet as the media campaign leads.   

Listening to the discourse for a ‘clean’ cabinet, two positions emerge. The two distinct interpretations of a clean cabinet are laid bare when we hear Ramaphosa and Magashule speak. The cardinal difference between what Ramaphosa and Magashule respectively advance on compromised ANC politicians is important. On one hand, Ramaphosa appears to have uncritically and conveniently accepted the allegations against some as a final verdict on state capture. Let us not forget ‘state capture’ despite a central theme of Ramaphosa in campaigning and presidential statements is yet to be proven. Throughout his caretaker presidency role, he never missed an opportunity to tell South Africans about state capture as unearthed by the media.  

Ramaphosa’s threat of dealing with some proves interesting when he is resolute to exclude some based on the allegations made before the State of Capture commission, yet, he is willing to ignore similar allegations against some who are close to him. On the other hand, Secretary General of the ANC Ace Magashule advocates that allegations levelled against leaders must remain allegations until a court of law pronounces on them. For Magashule the universal principle in democratic societies of innocent until proven guilty must be upheld. Magashule by virtue of his position as secretary general must protect and defend the internal democratic processes of the ANC and also its leadership. Ramaphosa’s intermittent application of allegations is suspect since it attests a double standard morality.  The more sensible approach is to either treat allegations for what they are regardless to who is accused, alternatively, to exclude all against whom allegations were levelled. It cannot be that allegations are used as powerful means to deal with some politically when it is ignored against praise-singers.

Another dimension to this doublespeak of a clean cabinet lays in this that a Ramaphosa presidency proved willing to afford Nomvula Mokonyane to serve as Chair-of-Chairs in the National Assembly when he simultaneously would disqualify her to serve in the cabinet. Subsequent to her nomination, Mokonyane expressed a desire to temporarily reconsider her deployment citing family bereavement and other personal issues.

Mabuza’s postponement of installation is perceived to have lightened the burden on Ramaphosa. What we do know Mabuza has not withdrawn, but merely postponed being sworn in until such time he was granted opportunity to address the ANC Integrity Commission. This may mean he is still to be expected to show up in the cabinet in no less a position but as deputy president of SA. We may also assume this a long-term tactical move on his part which would set him up to eventually prove legible to succeed Ramaphosa. Will Ramaphosa therefore, go ahead and create two deputy presidents to deal with his ANC internal political challenge? It would not be wise since he promised to trim the cabinet.

What is becoming clearer is a clean cabinet notion is bound to prove a fallacy when any of those cited by the Integrity Commission or mentioned in the State of Capture and PIC commissions make it onto the cabinet.

In the final analysis, one is led to conclude the idea of a clean cabinet is less about a fight against corruption but a cynical attempt at using corruption, the convenient football, in some instances as a means to perpetuate factional ANC politics where the cabinet is used as means punish enemies.