Unions lobby South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa to trim, clean up Cabinet

President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to be sworn in for a five-year presidential term, on May 25, 2019.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to be sworn in for a five-year presidential term, on May 25, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

JOHANNESBURG (BLOOMBERG) - South Africa's biggest labour union group wants President Cyril Ramaphosa to cut the size of his Cabinet to 26 ministers and a maximum of six deputies, and exclude anyone implicated in graft.

The appointments will be the next big step for investors watching for signs that Mr Ramaphosa can follow through on promises to revitalise the economy and clean out the government after a series of scandals during predecessor Jacob Zuma's presidency.

Mr Ramaphosa is due to be sworn in for a five-year presidential term on May 25, following the ruling African National Congress' (ANC) victory in last week's election, and could name his new Cabinet a day or two later.

While the president has the prerogative to choose his executive, he would typically consult the ANC's other top leaders and the party's political allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and South African Communist Party.

A number of interest groups have been lobbying over key posts, but Cosatu should be among those with the most sway since it was instrumental in helping Mr Ramaphosa win control of the ANC in late 2017 - paving the way for him to replace Mr Zuma as president two months later.

While Mr Ramaphosa, who is a former union leader, fired a number of Mr Zuma's ministers who had been implicated in graft after taking office, several others kept their posts. Mr Zuma and the ministers have denied wrongdoing.

"We told the president we don't want a legalistic approach that those who have not been found guilty (keep their posts)," Cosatu said in an e-mailed response to questions.

"We simply cannot afford to have a Cabinet of compromised characters any longer if we are going to be able to fix the state."

 
 
 

Mr Ramaphosa, 66, who currently has 34 ministers and 35 deputies, has said the size of the Cabinet will be trimmed but hasn't said which posts will go or who he plans to appoint.

Cosatu wants it and the communist party to have representation in Cabinet, and for long-serving ministers who haven't performed well to be replaced.

Among those it wants retained are Mr Ebrahim Patel, a former union leader who currently serves as economic development minister, and Police Minister Bheki Cele, who it said had done well.

Cosatu leaders have previously said they want Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to go.

Women's Minister Bathabile Dlamini has been accused by the nation's highest court of perjury. Environmental Minister Nomvula Mokonyane  was accused in testimony at a state inquiry of taking bribes. Both have denied the allegations.

Several ministries could be consolidated, but civil servants should not be fired and the delivery of government services should not be compromised, the labour group said.

Cosatu's proposals on re-configuring the government include:

- Combining the ministries of Trade and Industry, Economic Development, Small Business Development, and Science and Technology.

- Merging the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries with Rural Development and Land Reform.

- Integrating the Basic Education and Higher Education Ministries.

- Merging the ministries of Water and Sanitation and Environmental Affairs.

- Retaining the Public Enterprises ministry until 2024, and then scrapping it, with state companies it oversees reporting to other ministries. The mining and energy ministries, which were once combined, should remain separate.