President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a new cabinet in style signalling that the five-year journey of translating election promises into better life for all is gaining momentum. In the weeks and months to come, we will see what an ‘Xsê vote’ is worth twenty five years in a democracy – and how much muscle each of the three spheres of government working collectively have in addressing the complex challenges facing our nation. Most South Africans expect the Thuma Mina wave, chosen by Ramaphosa to summon the spirit of our country’s struggle history to tackle the problems of today, to tide us into prosperity.
Just a reminder, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) used the catch phrase “Xsê”, a play on the Afrikaans phrase “Ek sê” which means “I say” to mobilise citizens to come out and vote in the 08 May elections.
Ramaphosa did not disappoint as he named a young and politically diverse cabinet with a ministerial team that, for the first time in the country’s history, is equally balanced between men and women. The ministers – 14 women and 14 men – are mostly aged under 50, in a team marking both a generational change and a commitment to reflecting South Africa’s diversity.
He stuck to his election campaign promise and told the nation that “in appointing a new national executive, I have taken a number of considerations into account, including experience, continuity, competence, generational mix and demographic and regional diversity.” Sticking is what he does best. This cabinet is yet another promise that some imminent sunlit government-led initiative, devotedly sketched, will soon emerge from the political declaration that is associated with the Thuma Mina wave.
The carefully-managed process of crafting Wednesday’s cabinet announcement under watch of Ramaphosa as the president of the republic, and the leadership of the ANC/SACP/COSATU tripartite alliance, was conducted in private. It took place for the limited purpose of agreeing (or not) to the final list of eligible candidates. On the face of it, the process was tediously technical and politically-charged in the face of enduring divisions in the alliance. But its timely conclusion masks a question of raw political importance of a gradual implementation of bold measures to restore public and investor confidence in the ANC-led government and the country’s economy.
That question extends to whether, in their “Xsê” vote for the ANC in the recent elections, ordinary citizens retain the muscle to do anything more to propel forward Ramaphosa’s course of action. If Ramaphosa had an assured majority support within the ANC, the answer would be pretty obvious – a steady forward movement is certain.
But his support within the ANC is on shaky ground, even more so as ordinary citizens collectively hold their breath that none of the powerful individuals not included in the cabinet leave parliament to rekindle political factions ahead of the next ANC’s National General Council in a calculated move to retain influence over powerful government positions.
So the answer to the question isn’t obvious, and the scope of the procedure to be followed in holding this administration accountable is therefore crucial for many who pin their hopes on Ramaphosa’s words when he reiterated his promise of an efficient and ethical government that “in the election of the 8th of May, South Africans provided this administration with a clear mandate to accelerate inclusive economic growth, act with greater urgency to tackle poverty, improve government services, fight corruption and end state capture.”
Notwithstanding steady reassurances, some of the worrying devilish dilemmas remain. Some of the impossibilities are as impossible as they were on the day we voted for this administration – but now they are also solemnly written down on paper in the form of appointment certificates of cabinet ministers. We can’t have frictionless journey ahead without an active citizenry to hold government accountable. But the size and shape of this cabinet provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate patriotism by extending the “Xsê” vote to continued collective use of the spirit of our country’s struggle history to tackle the problems of today.
In politics, as in life, reality is different from theory. A promise of economic renewal in practice has force that a promise in theory always lacks, especially when it depends largely on elusive direct foreign investments and its success hinges on creating mass employment for a poorly skilled labour force. For the foreseeable, the country is under watchful eyes of international rating agencies, as it walk a tight rope to restore investor-confidence in the economy through demonstrable measures correctly placing government in the centre of creating an attractive environment for job-creation.
A number of social partners – including organised labour, civil society organisations and opposition political parties represented in parliament – have put their foot to the floor on the need for a timetable to deliver on election promises. Just like after the first democratic elections in 1994, expectations are high that the country’s socio-economic problems will be progressively sorted by the end of the five-year term of this sixth administration. How long it will take before we enjoy the first fruits of our “Xsê” vote remains to be seen. Will it be in two years, 10 years, sometime, never? No one knows.
Although public patience is stretched beyond endurance, most South Africans appear to understand that the realisation of the fresh election promises is, well, let’s say within reach under this administration. In the cold light of day, the actual performance of this administration will soon blow away the fantasies or widened our horizon on growing an economy that creates decent jobs. What then? President Ramaphosa had the best last line when concluding his cabinet announcement: “We have all been called upon to serve the people of this country, and we will do so to the utmost of our ability.” Thus calling for collective action by speaking to the heart of each one of us say saying, Thuma Mina.
Nkosikhulule Xhawulengweni Nyembezi is a Policy Analyst and Chairperson of the Election Monitoring Network.