South Africa’s cabinet includes ex-opposition leader


John Steenhuisen will be a minister in South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s coalition cabinet.
John Steenhuisen will be a minister in South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s coalition cabinet.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed former opposition leader John Steenhuisen as minister of agriculture, bringing the Democratic Alliance and other parties into his new coalition cabinet.

Ramaphosa’s African National Congress was forced to join forces with rival parties to stay in power after losing its majority for the first time in three decades in a May 29 election.

The announcement of the new cabinet of the government of national unity followed weeks of protracted and at times acrimonious negotiations.

Ramaphosa retained the ANC’s Enoch Godongwana as finance minister while Ronald Lamola was appointed minister of international relations and co-operation, replacing Naledi Pandor.

Gwede Mantashe stayed on as mineral and petroleum resources minister but the president removed energy from his portfolio. The combination of mineral resources had been seen by many as creating a prejudice in favour of coal as a source of power generation.

Energy will now fall within the portfolio of Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

“These men and women we have appointed to the executive … reflect the diversity of our nation,” Ramaphosa said.

“In the spirit of partnership and collaboration, the incoming government will work together.”

Wrangling over who gets what cabinet seat was the last hurdle to setting up a government, which now faces the task of reviving a moribund economy, fixing crumbling roads and power stations and creating jobs for the third of South Africans out of work.

“We look forward to being part of a new era in South Africa’s democratic journey, and to bringing real and tangible change to the millions of citizens who voted for it,” Steenhuisen said in a statement following the announcement.

Some minor parties also saw their leaders receive cabinet posts.

For decades the ANC had traded on its legacy of ending apartheid 30 years ago, when Nelson Mandela came to power and successfully reconciled a country deeply divided along racial, ethnic and class lines.

But voters became angered by the ANC’s poor record on delivering on basic services including water, schools and electricity.

Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen
John Steenhuisen says the coalition cabinet marks a new era for South African politics. (EPA PHOTO)

Whether the current loose coalition of former enemies can improve on the ANC’s record may depend on the extent to which they can put aside their ideological differences, analysts have said. There are several potential hurdles to policymaking.

The DA wants to scrap some of the ANC’s Black empowerment programs, saying that they have mostly made a politically connected business elite fabulously wealthy while much of the Black majority stays poor.

It opposes the ANC’s desire to expropriate land – most of which is in white hands as a legacy of conquest by colonists and subsequent entrenched white minority rule – without compensation and give it to Black farmers.

The DA also seeks to phrase out South Africa’s minimum wage, currently sitting at 27.58 rand ($A2.28) a hour, arguing it makes the workforce uncompetitive.