South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has unveiled a smaller, gender-balanced cabinet for his first full term as President, vowing to revitalize South Africa’s slumping economy after winning a reduced majority in national elections this month.
Mr. Ramaphosa, in a televised speech to the country on Wednesday night, dumped several corruption-tainted ministers from his cabinet, but retained others in a compromise move that could undercut his pledge to fight graft.
One of South Africa’s most controversial politicians, David Mabuza, will retain the post of deputy president in the new Ramaphosa cabinet, despite being the subject of widespread allegations of corruption. The integrity commission of the ruling African National Congress, citing the graft allegations, had questioned whether he should remain in Parliament.
Mr. Mabuza stepped down briefly from his parliamentary seat last week, but then returned this week, with his supporters claiming that he had been “cleared” of the corruption allegations.
Mr. Ramaphosa announced that he is merging several cabinet ministries to reduce costs. The new cabinet will have 28 ministers, down from 36 in the previous government, and it will be balanced equally between men and women for the first time in South African history, he said.
“We need a capable, efficient and ethical government,” Mr. Ramaphosa said.
“All South Africans are acutely aware of the great economic difficulties that our country is going through right now, but they are also aware of the constraints that have been placed on our public finances.”
Before his election victory this month, in which the ANC won a reduced majority with 57 per cent of the vote, Mr. Ramaphosa had promised a more streamlined cabinet to focus tightly on reviving the stagnant economy. The merger of cabinet ministries is the first step, he said.
“This is a significant move of downscaling our state,” he said in his televised speech. “Many people believed that our government, which is meant to serve 57 million people, was bloated.”
South Africa’s economy has repeatedly slipped into recession in recent years, and its annual growth has remained below 2 per cent in each the past five years. The International Monetary Fund is projecting growth of just 1.2 per cent this year, barely above the 0.8 per cent growth of last year. The unemployment rate has been stuck at about 27 per cent for several years, with youth unemployment climbing over 50 per cent.
Mr. Ramaphosa said he made a deliberate effort to choose younger politicians to serve in his cabinet. “This is part of a generational transition in which we are creating a pipeline of leaders to take our country further into the future,” he said.
Despite his promise of a streamlined cabinet, however, he appointed 34 politicians to deputy minister posts. Including the deputy ministers and deputy president, his new executive has 63 members, down only marginally from 72 under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, who resigned under pressure last year after a corruption scandal.
Mr. Ramaphosa’s new cabinet has retained some of his most-respected economic reformers and anti-corruption campaigners, including Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. But by allowing tainted politicians such as Mr. Mabuza to pass swiftly through the screening process by the ANC’s integrity commission, he has cast doubt on his anti-graft promises.
South Africa’s currency, the Rand, lost 2 per cent of its value this week when investors realized that Mr. Mabuza would be staying at his post. They saw it as a signal that Mr. Ramaphosa will be forced to make compromises with ANC factions that oppose his pro-market pledges.
Mr. Ramaphosa promised that every cabinet minister will be required to sign “performance agreements” with him, and their performance will be “closely monitored” against clear targets and specific outcomes.
If their performance is unsatisfactory, “action will be taken,” he said. “The expectations of the South African people have never been higher or greater.”
Mmusi Maimane, leader of the biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said the cabinet was a “negotiated settlement between factions” in the ruling party.
“Ramaphosa placed the internal factional interests of the ANC ahead of the interests of the people of South Africa,” Mr. Maimane said in a statement. “He used cabinet to reward loyal cadres within the ANC.”