This is a guest blog post by Anthony Carroll. Anthony is founding director of Acorus Capital, a private equity fund investing in Africa, and a vice president of Manchester Trade Limited, an international business advisory firm. He has over forty years of experience working with Africa and is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on national television the selection of South Africa’s new cabinet. This announcement quickly followed his inauguration to become president after Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC) secured 57.5 percent of the vote in the national elections of May 8, the fifth since the end of Apartheid in 1994.
Since the elections there had been much speculation as to the size and content of President Ramaphosa’s cabinet. During his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s presidency, cabinet members were often chosen on the basis of their closeness to Zuma and were his praise singers within the ANC. Also, with thirty-six departments, each with a minister and deputy ministers, there was jurisdictional overlap which detracted attention from substantive tasks and the departments often served as their own magnets for corruption.
In order to create more coherence, President Ramaphosa reduced the number of cabinet ministers to twenty-eight. The selection process was a delicate one involving ANC party leadership and Ramaphosa’s executive team, with certain concessions having to be made to the ANC’s old guard, including some Zuma acolytes. However, Ramaphosa’s choices were largely merit-based, broadly representative (50 percent are women) and in harmony with his “New Dawn” initiative of expanding economic opportunity for all South Africans through economic growth rather than redistribution. This is a cabinet in his own likeness and being! It should be noted that the cabinet of President Mbeki also was filled with competent executives who were able to achieve the highest economic growth rates and job creation in the past twenty-five years. The Zuma presidency was a costly detour.
Although there was no surprise to see the names of such competent officials as Pravin Gordhan, Ephraim Patel, Naledi Pandor, Lindiwe Sisulu, and Tito Mboweni, Ramaphosa’s selection of Patricia de Lille as minister of public works and enterprises really “put the cat among the pigeons.” De Lille won high marks as an anti-apartheid activist in the Western Cape as a leader of the strident Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). She later departed the PAC and formed the Independent Democrats and eventually merged that into the Democratic Alliance. She was elected mayor of Cape Town in 2011 where she gained high marks for her courage and executive leadership. She was a tireless critic of President Mbeki’s HIV/AIDS denialism and the massive corruption of the Zuma presidency. Despite being the most popular politician in the Western Cape, she was pummeled by DA leadership over allegations of favoritism and inflexibility. After a long but successful battle to clear her name, last year she resigned as mayor, quit the DA party and formed GOOD, a new political party that received 3 percent of the Western Cape provincial vote in the May elections.
De Lille’s selection has many promising aspects. First, she is fearless and has little tolerance for incompetence or corruption. Second, she has executive experience that she will bring to bear in addressing the acute needs for infrastructure development in South Africa. These needs include modernizing ports, airports, roads, and rails to improve South Africa’s ability to grow its economy and in so doing deftly navigate the pitfalls inherent in the country’s federal system. She can also address the woeful status of local and provincial governments to provide the most basic of infrastructure for its citizenry. For example, she could tackle the problem of housing shortages in South Africa’s burgeoning cities and in so doing ameliorate some of the polemics around land redistribution, the “Third Rail” of South African politics.
Last, her appointment provides an opportunity for the U.S. to pivot and develop a more coherent and fulsome political and economic relationship with South Africa. The passage of the BUILD Act will see the creation of a new development finance agency by the US government with $60 billion to finance projects that benefit both the U.S. and South African private sectors. Indeed, South Africa’s sophisticated banking and financial services institutions could provide a solid basis to explore opportunities for financial leveraging that could create mutual benefits. Let’s get the ball rolling.