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World South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa unveils a compromise cabinet

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at a news conference in Pretoria on Feb. 26, 2018.

PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa's new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has unveiled a reshuffled cabinet that purges some of the most controversial of his predecessor's ministers while retaining others in a bid to build unity in a badly divided ruling party.

Mr. Ramaphosa's first cabinet, announced late Monday night, is a compromise among the factions and ideologies in the ruling party. It gets rid of several ministers who were implicated in corruption allegations under the reign of former president Jacob Zuma, but it adds other politicians who have been dogged by their own corruption scandals.

The new cabinet shows the limits to Mr. Ramaphosa's power. Despite pushing Mr. Zuma into retirement less than two weeks ago, he does not have full control of the ruling African National Congress and needs to make gestures to every faction and region.

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"I have been conscious of the need to balance continuity and stability with the need for renewal, economic recovery and accelerated transformation," he said in a brief explanation of his cabinet choices.

Mr. Ramaphosa, a business tycoon and former trade-union leader, rose to power in the ANC last year by campaigning against corruption and promising a revived economy. He is perceived as pro-business and investor-friendly. But the compromises in his cabinet suggest that he will need to move cautiously on his reforms.

His cabinet announcement on Monday was repeatedly postponed to allow further "consultations." It was a sign of the heavy pressure from all sides as Mr. Ramaphosa tried to balance the factions. He finally made the announcement after 10 p.m., keeping South Africans glued to their televisions as they waited.

His new deputy president, David Mabuza, was a longtime Zuma loyalist until he abruptly switched sides at the ANC leadership conference in December, helping Mr. Ramaphosa win a narrow victory over Mr. Zuma's preferred candidate. That meant he was owed a political favour, and so he now moves into a key position where he could eventually succeed Mr. Ramaphosa as president.

But his appointment to the deputy presidency will undercut Mr. Ramaphosa's anti-corruption promises. As premier of Mpumalanga province, he faced frequent allegations of graft and abuse of power. A leading political commentator and author, Adriaan Basson, has described Mr. Mabuza as "one of the dirtiest politicians in the history of the ANC." Among the well-documented accusations were that he plundered public funds, tried to bribe journalists and stashed large sums of undeclared cash at his farm. His provincial government was investigated for its alleged role in several political killings.

Elsewhere in his cabinet, Mr. Ramaphosa gave key appointments to former ministers who had been sacked by Mr. Zuma. His new finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, and his new minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, had both served as much-respected finance ministers with a reputation as anti-corruption fighters until Mr. Zuma fired them.

Among the Zuma loyalists who were fired from cabinet were mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, energy minister David Mahlobo, communications minister Faith Muthambi, and public enterprises minister Lynne Brown. All had been implicated as allies of the Gupta brothers, the business tycoons and partners of Mr. Zuma's son who are now being sought on corruption charges.

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But another minister who was accused of helping the Guptas, finance minister Malusi Gigaba, was retained in cabinet. He was shifted to the Home Affairs portfolio, where he will still exercise considerable influence over government policy.

The new police minister, Bheki Cele, is a former national police chief who was fired from his post for corruption in 2012. Investigations found that he had interfered in leases for police buildings, giving the contracts to more expensive bidders. But he is hugely popular in KwaZulu-Natal, a region where Mr. Ramaphosa is politically weak and needs allies.

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