S.Africa’s new ‘bloated’ unity government under fireTue, 02 Jul 2024 15:17:23 GMT

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment of 32 ministers and 43 deputy ministers is under fire from opposition and business leaders over fears it will become immobilised and a waste of taxpayers’ money.For years, Ramaphosa promised to slash the size of what critics already deemed a “bloated” cabinet. But late on Sunday, the newly re-elected president was quick to defend his decision to do the opposite.Unveiling his highly anticipated, hard-won and unprecedented coalition government, Ramaphosa increased the number of ministries from 30 to 32.His African National Congress (ANC), which has governed the country since the advent of democracy in 1994, will lead what it calls a government of national unity (GNU) after losing its outright majority in the May polls. “Due to the need to ensure that the National Executive is inclusive of all the parties to the Government of National Unity, this has not been possible,” the 71-year-old said.Denouncing the move, the opposition leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) voiced concern “that this cabinet has been increased and bloated, signalling more pressure on taxpayers”. The Business Leadership South Africa lobby group also warned that “the very large size of the GNU cabinet does raise concerns about budget”.Each minister earns over 2.5 million rand ($135,000) a year, while deputy ministers are paid more than 2.2 million rand ($119,000), according to the government gazette. Perks include elaborate state security, travel allowances and ministerial homes in Cape Town and Pretoria. South Africa’s 32-strong cabinet surpasses many developed nations, including the United States, Germany, Japan and Britain.A month of haggling with opposition parties saw Ramaphosa having to balance demands for key ministerial posts from his own party and its new allies, as well as mediating diverging views to agree a common agenda.- ‘Pushback’ -Analysts say the pressure to balance the ANC’s interests outweighed the urgency to slim down the cabinet.”He hasn’t fired as many ANC ministers but repurposed their roles,” said William Gumede, from the Wits School of Governance.”There was a lot of pushback” about the coalition government “within the ANC, not just from the ideological perspective, but also that many ANC leaders will lose their jobs, their income”, Gumede said. The historied party, which scored 40 percent in the May 29 election, retained 20 cabinet positions, including key ministries such as foreign affairs, finance, defence, justice and police.Its largest coalition partner, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has six portfolios, including home affairs, environment and public works.Five other smaller parties also secured ministries.Previously, the DA had been particularly critical about the size and expenditure of the former ANC government, calling it a “patronage cabinet”.The DA “didn’t know that the president would increase the cabinet so substantially”, its federal chairwoman Helen Zille told a local broadcaster. But given the lengthy negotiations to seal the coalition deal, the DA would do well to remain quiet “because they were a part of those negotiations themselves”, Gustavo de Carvalho, from the South African Institute of International Affairs, said.ActionSA, a small centre-right party, had already warned ahead of the announcement that if the DA stayed silent it would mark “an abrupt U-turn on the DA’s commitment to cut down a cabinet”.- ‘Pay back’ -Yet, it is “fairly normal” for democratic governments to fall short on their promises to downsize their cabinet, de Carvalho said. While the announcement disappointed many, Ramaphosa was able to maintain the ANC’s “influence”, he added.The party will “maintain their priorities in a new government where a lot of their priorities will have to be negotiated”, de Carvalho said.For Gumede, it is not uncommon for governments in African countries to “pay back many people within their own party, ethnic group or community”, rather than put efficiency first.South Africa’s new ministers and their deputies will be sworn in on Wednesday.