President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new cabinet is a significant improvement over his predecessor's and will reassure domestic and international investors. Restoring confidence in South Africa’s government and economy is a crucial first step to achieving the higher rates of economic growth needed to reduce poverty among the black majority.
Notably, Nhlahna Nene, the erstwhile finance minister under Zuma has been reappointed to the post by Ramaphosa. Widely respected by the financial community, he was inexplicably fired by former president Jacob Zuma. Pravin Gordhan, another respected former finance minister and casualty of Zuma’s administration, has been appointed minister of public enterprises. He will be responsible for state-owned enterprises like South African Airways and the national electric company. Under Zuma, public enterprises were nests of corruption and inefficiency. Gordhan is seen as having the energy and ability to clean up the mess, and oversaw an ANC-led effort to combat corruption in Port Elizabeth. As the new minister for energy, Jeff Radebe is expected to end the Zuma administration’s ill-considered nuclear energy program. Gwede Mantashe will be in charge of mineral resources and therefore oversee the country’s mining sector, which remains a central part of South Africa’s economy. He comes out of the labor movement and served as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and has a reputation as a tough but trusted negotiator. The new minister of education, Naledi Pandor, is a close ally of Ramaphosa and will have to deal with an education system whose failures are partly to blame for the high levels of black unemployment.
There are holdovers in the cabinet from the Zuma administration. Most notably, Zuma’s ex-wife and his candidate to succeed him as party leader, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She is a former foreign minister, former minister of health, and former chairwoman of the African commission, but her new appointment as minister for planning and evaluation is far inferior in power and prestige. Among reformers, however, the greatest concern must be the appointment as deputy president of David Mabuza, governor of Mpumalanga. His shift of support from Dlamini-Zuma to Ramaphosa was crucial to the latter’s victory in the race for party leader. While he has a reputation for thuggery and corruption, Ramaphosa can fence Mabuza off from power and authority if he wishes to do so.
The new foreign minister is Lindiwe Sisulu. Born in 1954, she is the daughter of liberation icons Walter and Albertina Sisulu. She has a PhD from York University in England and has been in the cabinet continuously since 1994. Her focus has been on domestic issues, with her byword being “poor first.” Broadly speaking, her political approach appears similar to that of the left wing of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. It remains to be seen whether she has any interest in improving the official bilateral relationship with the United States, which is now no more than “correct” and “cordial.”