By Vinothan Naidoo
The election of Cyril Ramaphosa as South Africa’s fifth democratic president has generated a palpable sense of renewal and optimism. It also presents a real opportunity to reimagine the structure of the state machinery over which he will preside. President Ramaphosa signalled as much in his maiden state of the nation address, remarking that he would “initiate a process to review the configuration, number and size of national government departments”.
A planned reorganisation of state machinery has inevitably become conflated with speculation about the extent to which President Ramaphosa will shake up and reduce the size of the inflated Cabinet he has inherited from Jacob Zuma. Cabinet composition will have a direct effect on the size and scope of the national departments that implement the mandates of individual ministers.
But it would be shortsighted to allow immediate-term cabinet reorganisation – masquerading as internal party politics – to determine the optimal size of the state’s machinery. How, then, should a Ramaphosa presidency embark upon the project of state machinery reform?
The structure of South Africa’s state machinery has undergone dramatic changes since the democratic transition. The trajectory of change in the number and composition of government departments reveals discernible differences between Mr Ramaphosa’s predecessors, which have collectively produced an expanding and splintered population of national departments.
Vinothan Naidoo is a senior lecturer in the politics department at the University of Cape Town. This article is based on a working paper he presented in 2017 in collaboration with the Public Affairs Research Institute: www.pari.org.za.