Cyril's no-growth cabinet

John Kane-Berman says this is not a team likely to get the economy moving

Few institutions have been as sceptical of Cyril Ramaphosa's credentials as a reformer than the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). Ever since he succeeded to the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) nearly18 months ago we have scrutinised not only his own pronouncements but also legislation, draft legislation, and policy documents flowing out of both the ANC and various ministries.

The Cabinet appointed last week vindicates our scepticism. Even though President Ramaphosa said that the general election last month had provided his administration "with a clear mandate to accelerate inclusive economic growth", some of his key appointments are more likely to do the opposite.

Trade and Industry is to be combined with Economic Development and headed by Ebrahim Patel, an erstwhile militant trade unionist with a power-hungry attitude and a governmental track record of constant interference. He can be expected to carry on implementing the other policy identified by Mr Ramaphosa when he announced his Cabinet, namely "the need to build a modern developmental state that has the means to drive economic and social transformation".

Quite apart from the fact that building such a state is beyond the capacity of the cadres deployed by the ANC to run the public sector, using the state to "drive transformation" is a formula for impeding rather than "accelerating" growth. Retaining another former union heavyweight, Gwede Mantashe, at Mineral Resources (combined now with Energy) confirms that Mr Ramaphosa regards "transformation" of what is left of the mining industry as more important than permitting it to recover and grow. At least Mr Mantashe has not joined the hue and cry against coal.

At Employment and Labour we now have Thulas Nxesi, a one-time general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu). This union bears a large part of the responsibility for the wretched state of the vast majority of South Africa's public schools. When he was still at its helm, Mr Nxesi could not bring himself to repudiate Sadtu officials who threatened violence against teachers and pupils failing to comply with union decrees, dismissing explicit threats as "political rhetoric". He is hardly the man to liberalise the restrictive labour law introduced in 1995 by Tito Mboweni, law whose pro-union bias is a disincentive to employers to hire workers.

Keeping Angie Motshekga at Basic Education does not inspire confidence that Mr Ramaphosa's government will take on Sadtu, whose praises Mr Ramaphosa has himself previously sung. 

As for Thoko Didiza at Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development, she was an early exponent of expropriating land without going through the courts, having drafted legislation empowering herself to do this when she was a member of Thabo Mbeki's Cabinet.

During the election campaign, posters bearing Mr Ramaphosa's smiling face and the slogan "Let's grow South Africa together" were to be seen on trees and lamp posts all over town. When he announced his new ministry he said it had received a mandate to "accelerate inclusive growth".  

The ANC's spectacular failure to do this is evident from the fact that since it came to power, unemployment has risen from 3.67 million to 9.99 million, translating (on the expanded definition) into an increase from 31.5% to 38%. The staggering extent of that failure is evident from the last but one issue of The Economist, which reported that the "rich world" was enjoying an "unprecedented employment bonanza".

The boom across the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development was broad-based, in that unemployment among unskilled workers and the young was "tumbling", as was long-term unemployment. Ever more women were working. Not only was work plentiful, it was getting better. Tight labour markets were enhancing the bargaining power of workers. "Capitalism is improving workers' lot faster than it has in years."

"Thanks to the jobs boom," the magazine said, "unemployment, once the central issue of political economy, has all but disappeared from the political landscape in many countries."

Mr Ramaphosa claims a mandate for growth, which he then proceeds to betray by appointing ministers unlikely to implement that mandate. The reasons are plain. Implementation would mean abandoning the fallacies and fantasies of the "developmental-state" mindset in favour of policies less hostile to the dynamics of the capitalist system. It would also mean an end of kowtowing to militant unions, especially those at Eskom and in other parts of the public sector. This, after all, is a man unable to trim very much fat off his own government.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by clicking here or sending an SMS with your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.