News in South Africa 6th August:
1. Cabinet reshuffle welcomed:
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle has been broadly welcomed, though not without its sore points over a few surprises.
Most notably, many in the economic sector are disappointed to see finance minister Tito Mboweni exit the portfolio – while parliamentarians are calling the move of Thandi Modise from her position as speaker to the defence department as a major loss for the national legislature.
It was the curveball in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reshuffle on Thursday evening. And while National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise’s move to head defence was widely welcomed, it also caught many unawares.
Looking back at Thursday, perhaps an indication of what was to come was that Modise had sent her apologies to the National Assembly programme she usually chairs.
Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli stepped in then, as he will be stepping in as acting speaker now.
The parliamentary process is straightforward once lawmakers return from constituency recess by 18 August. While that week is set aside for committee meetings, nothing stops the scheduling of the sitting that is required to elect a new speaker in line with Section 52 of the Constitution.
What is not so straightforward and is steeped in politics – mostly ANC factional politicking – will be deciding on the new speaker. It has to be an MP, and with the ANC having the majority of seats, or 230 out of 400, the party effectively determines the next incumbent.
This decision will entail discussions at Luthuli House, and within a parliamentary ANC caucus where not everyone was supportive of Modise.
Another surprise move by the president was doing away with the state security department, and moving its function to the presidency. Some have characterised this as the president consolidating power.
“This is to ensure that the country’s domestic and foreign intelligence services more effectively enable the President to exercise his responsibility to safeguard the security and integrity of the nation,” said Ramaphosa during his announcement on Thursday.
The minister who will be tasked with over seeing state security will be new minister in the presidency, Mondli Gungubele.
Gungubele’s deputies will be Pinky Kekana and Zizi Kodwa who Ramaphosa said will be appointed as deputy minister in the presidency responsible for state security.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was replaced as minister of defence and military veterans by Speaker of Parliament Thandi Modise. Ramaphosa thanked Mapisa-Nqakula saying she “will be deployed to a new position”.
2. New regulations for tourism:
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet has approved new norms and standards for the safe operations of the tourism sector during the Covid-19 and other related pandemics.
Acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the norms and standards provide common minimum health and safety measures.
“This will ensure uniformity across the tourism sector,” she said in a briefing on Thursday (5 August). “They will cover services such as accommodation, food, tour operators, casinos, weddings and other related activities.”
The full set of regulations are expected to be published shortly.
Ntshavheni said that the introduction of the regulations will place South Africa on par with international markets, and will enable the sector to be fully open for international tourist arrivals.
While South Africa has mostly kept its borders open to international tourists since easing its first hard lockdown in mid-2020, other countries have not reciprocated, and South Africans still face strict travel restrictions.
This also impacts travellers who are dissuaded from visiting South Africa because of the difficulties in returning to their own countries.
A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 6 August, South Africa has 86 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 major restrictions before the third Covid wave hit.
3. Work cut out for new Finance Minister:
Arguably the biggest surprise in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle announcement late on Thursday night was Finance Minister Tito Mboweni being “excused” from the position and replaced by Enoch Godongwana, the head of economic transformation in the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC).
Mboweni was parachuted into the finance ministry top job back in October 2018 following the untimely resignation of Nhlanhla Nene.
While he agreed to take the job, it was understood to be temporary move, with Ramaphosa wanting Mboweni in to restore confidence ahead of the 2019 national elections.
Since then, Mboweni has seemed to be in his element in the position, despite his gung-ho moves around much-needed structural reforms for the SA economy sometimes getting him into trouble with the ANC’s alliance partners. He has also had clashes with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan around the bailouts of SAA.
While talk about a planned cabinet reshuffle has been swirling for weeks, following the effective suspension of embattled Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and the death of former Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, there was very little expectation that Mboweni would also exit at such a tumultuous time for Ramaphosa and the country.
Just last week Mboweni and National Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane revealed details of a new R36.2 billion social relief and business support package, which came in the wake of the recent unrest and destruction to property in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng.
Now, Godongwana, who is no pushover himself, will be leading the finance ministry during what is still uncertain times. Besides the recent riots linked to the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic remains a risk.
While Godongwana has the benefit of an expected bonanza in tax revenues (largely on the back of booming commodity prices) to fund the new economic relief package, he also has the unenviable task of effectively taking on unions to keep the public sector wage bill in check.
4. Zweli resigns ahead of reshuffle:
Former health minister Zweli Mkhize fell on his sword ahead of the president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle on Thursday evening, resigning from his position amid the Digital Vibes scandal, which saw the politician and his family benefit from multi-million contracts at the health department handed to his associates.
Mkhize has been characterised as a ruthless politician behind the scenes and was seen by many in political circles as a viable successor to president Cyril Ramaphosa as the next leader of the ANC.
Analysts say it’s too early to tell if the Digital Vibes scandal has ended his political career.
5. Small business online shopping easier:
As e-commerce gains popularity in almost every aspect of shopping over the last 16 months, 68% of South African consumers have flocked to online shopping since the start of the pandemic
At the same time, 63% of consumers consciously choose to shop online at local businesses, according to a Mastercard study on consumer spending.
The campaign, which will run until September 30, 2021, aims to motivate South Africans to support local small business through e-commerce under PayFast, which is used by over 80,000 merchants, offering sellers a variety of online payment methods including Masterpass, credit cards, Instant EFT, debit card, Mobicred, and Scode.
“Shop Local” will open opportunities for about 100 small businesses, giving them exposure and a much-needed marketing boost.
“The pandemic has delivered financial headwinds that threaten the economic progress of SMEs and because of this, Mastercard is taking action, while also calling on consumers alike to shop, share and support these businesses,” said Marketing and Communications Director at Mastercard, Southern Africa Kamini Redhi.
“At Mastercard, we are dedicated to unlocking potential and empowering SMEs to thrive commercially by connecting them to millions of new and existing customers through digital technologies and awareness campaigns like our collaboration with PayFast that spark conversations and help elevate SMEs in the marketplace,” Redhi added
Companies taking part in the campaign include those within the following industries: food and drinks, fashion and accessories, skincare and beauty, furniture and décor, general merchandise, tech, health and fitness, toys and travel.