President tip toes around ANCWL

Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is sworn in as communications minister at the Union Buildings.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is sworn in as communications minister at the Union Buildings.
Image: ALAISTER RUSSELL

President Cyril Ramaphosa trod carefully yesterday when he announced limited changes to his cabinet that avoided acting against a number of controversial ministers, some of whom have links with the strategically important ANC Women's League.

Ramaphosa promoted one of his most vocal supporters in government, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, from a deputy minister to minister of a merged communications ministry. She takes over from former communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane and her telecommunications counterpart Siyabonga Cwele.

Mokonyane, who is one of the ministers Ramaphosa has been under pressure to fire, has now replaced the late Edna Molewa as environmental affairs minister while Cwele has taken over the home affairs portfolio left vacant following the recent resignation of Malusi Gigaba.

The limited changes indicate Ramaphosa's careful approach aimed at not upsetting any of the key ANC factions ahead of next year's general elections.

Since he took office in February, there has been a strong lobby for Ramaphosa to drop Mokonyane, minister in the presidency Bathabile Dlamini and rural development minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

Calls for Dlamini's axing emanate from her role in the saga that led to the SA Social Security Agency almost failing to pay out pensions. It also follows a Constitutional Court ruling in which she was asked by the court to provide reasons why she should not pay a portion of the legal costs in the Sassa case. Yesterday was the deadline for her to do so.

Mokonyane stands accused of having bankrupted the department of water and sanitation, where she served as minister under former president Jacob Zuma.

Sowetan has it on good authority that a special investigation unit has been interviewing those who worked with her at water and sanitation and charges against those responsible for mismanagement of funds will be made soon.

The minister has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Presidency insiders say Ramaphosa could not afford to act against these ministers in the current cabinet reshuffle as that would have alienated the Women's League ahead of the elections. They however say in the event the court orders Dlamini to pay from her pocket for the costs of the Sassa case, she would lose her cabinet post.

While Ramaphosa did not not make any major shake-up to his cabinet, he merged telecommunications and postal services and communications into one ministry. The ministry was separated by former president Jacob Zuma in 2009 when he became president. The merger will resolve several problems as ministers fought for roles.

The promotion of Ndabeni-Abrahams to cabinet could be seen as Ramaphosa rewarding her for supporting him to become ANC president in December.

She was instrumental in lobbying support in Eastern Cape, a province that is still loyal to the president. She is also one of the youngest ministers and has been given a huge portfolio where she will be the face of government and in charge of managing problematic state-owned enterprises like the bankrupt SABC.

Ramaphosa said the move to merge the two ministries would ensure better alignment and coordination of matters critical to the economy, particularly in the context of Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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