Media Release | Reduce the cabinet and reorganise the Presidency

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) today called for a significant reduction in the number of Cabinet Ministers, along with a fundamental overhaul of the Presidency, as important steps towards fixing South Africa’s weak state.

These proposals are contained in a new CDE report titled ACTION ONE: Reorganise the Presidency and the Cabinet (see here) which forms part of CDE’s AGENDA 2024: Priorities for SA’s new government series.

“The state’s capacity to develop policies and deliver public services and programmes has been undermined by systemic corruption, too many compromised party loyalists, inadequate skills at critical levels, and a lack of accountability for poor performance and wrongdoing,” said Ann Bernstein, executive director of CDE.

“At the same time, government has taken on more responsibilities, creating new government departments and public entities. Adding extra layers of bureaucracy and parallel management structures has made it harder to take decisions and co-ordinate key actors to deliver on outcomes,” she added.

A Cabinet of quality, not quantity

To deepen reform, the President must select the best people available to him – those with the necessary experience and skills to lead large government departments, and those with the integrity to govern honestly. He should resist the urge to preside over a bloated Cabinet since smaller Cabinets tend to be more agile, more collegial and more accountable.

“We are alive to the political reality of a potential coalition government, and the need for the President to accommodate various parties in his Cabinet. However, we believe – even within this constraint – it is possible to reduce the number of Cabinet Ministers and ensure that the best available people are chosen in key portfolios,” said Bernstein.

In CDE’s analysis, a better organised, smaller and more effective cabinet of some 20 ministers could be constituted out of the current 30. The appendix below offers one proposal for a more streamlined Cabinet.

Not all ministers have equally important portfolios. The most important figure in the Cabinet (after the President himself) is the Minister of Finance, who must be someone with personal and political authority and full confidence of the President. This support must include backing the Finance Minister’s assessment of affordability or otherwise of policy proposals from other ministries and critically of what is and is not, a sustainable fiscal position.

“The President must make full use of his constitutional prerogative to appoint two Cabinet Ministers from outside the National Assembly. This is a crucial mechanism to bring in new leadership and specialist expertise into key positions at a time of national crisis,” said Bernstein.

A reorganised Presidency

Cabinet processes must be dramatically improved and the Presidency reorganised to ensure a focus on key priorities.

“Judging by the quality of government’s decision-making and from the accounts of senior public servants with experience of Cabinet processes, Cabinet’s ability to make evidence-based decisions is weak, largely because its processes deny it the information needed to make those decisions,” said Bernstein.

Cabinet processes would be greatly strengthened by a far more rigorous process of priority-setting so that government focuses on doing fewer things well.

“We need to stop the tendency of Presidents endlessly updating their list of priorities and announcing new initiatives every time something captures their imagination,” said Bernstein.

Operation Vulindlela (OV) should be strengthened and reconstituted as a delivery unit focused solely on the delivery of priority reforms. It should absorb the Department of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation and the Project Management Office in the Presidency, while ensuring that implementation of a reform agenda is its core function. Its tasks would be: ensuring that priorities are pursued without distraction; focusing on routine problem-solving and delivery; systematically promoting cooperation across government agencies; and developing metrics that identify achievements and early warning of challenges being encountered.

Consideration should also be given to bringing back the Mbeki-era Policy Coordination and Advisory Services (PCAS) unit in the Presidency. PCAS was small, simply organised and staffed by high-quality people. The role it should play includes risk mitigation, bottlenecks in implementing complex multi-sectoral policies and ensuring the President is properly briefed on all key proposals on Cabinet’s agenda. It should also be tasked with playing devil’s advocate in respect of policy proposals to Cabinet, testing the plausibility of assumptions, costing methods and risks, working closely with National Treasury.


This report offers the incoming President a basis for institutional reform at the very centre of government, starting with his Cabinet and his office.

“Any hope of progress being made by a newly elected government necessitates an effective, streamlined centre of government setting priorities and introducing a new approach to how to govern South Africa,” said Bernstein.

“This requires a reorganised Presidency, and a smaller, fit-for-purpose Cabinet, where reporting lines are clear, where duplication of effort is avoided, and where everyone is committed to the reform agenda,” she added.

In the coming weeks, CDE will be releasing the second catalytic action in its AGENDA 2024 series. It will  identify ‘mission critical’ jobs in the state, and how to ensure that qualified people fill these positions.

For media enquiries and interview requests, please contact Refiloe Benjamin: | 011 482 5140


AGENDA 2024, based on CDE’s extensive policy work and collaboration  with experts, business leaders, former public servants and academics, sets out to answer what is by far the most important question facing South Africa: what can a new government do to get the country back on track after 15 years of stagnation and decline?

Agenda 2024 sets out a series of carefully selected and crafted actions to signal a new approach to reform. The five priority areas for action arefix the state; drive growth and development by freeing up markets and competition; build a new approach to mass inclusion; deal with the fiscal crisis; and strengthen the rule of law.


In this appendix we provide some preliminary, provocative ideas on what these changes might look like. We show how a better organised, smaller and more effective cabinet of some 20 Ministers could be constituted out of the current 30. Our proposed list is based on advice from experts, but it is not intended to be the final word on the topic.

South Africa needs an urgent and serious discussion on what a more effective Cabinet should look like, in order to meet the country’s challenges for the next five years.

The current cabinet: 30 ministers

  1. Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; 2. Minister of Basic Education; 3. Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies; 4. Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs; 5. Minister of Defence and Military Veterans; 6. Minister of Employment and Labour; 7. Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment; 8. Minister of Finance; 9. Minister of Health; 10. Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation; 11. Minister of Home Affairs; 12. Minister of Human Settlements; 13. Minister of International Relations and Cooperation; 14. Minister of Justice and Correctional Services; 15. Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy; 16. Minister of Police; 17. Minister in the Presidency; 18. Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity; 19. Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation; 20. Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities; 21. Minister of Public Enterprises; 22. Minister of Public Service and Administration; 23. Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure; 24. Minister of Small Business Development; 25. Minister of Social Development; 26. Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture; 27. Minister of Tourism; 28. Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition; 29. Minister of Transport; 30. Minister of Water and Sanitation.

CDE’s proposed new cabinet (20 ministers)

The Economy Cluster

  1. Finance (leave as is, but appoint a strong minister, with full presidential support)
    2. Economy (three into one – DTIC, Mining, and Tourism. Two Deputy Ministers)
    3. Employment and Labour (leave as is, but with a primary focus on reducing unemployment)
    4. Cities, Housing, and Urban Development (New ministry focused just on Metros. Absorbs Human Settlements where a national focus will continue. Two Deputy Ministers)
    5. Water and Sanitation, Energy, Environment (two into one – Energy splits from Mining. Two Deputy Ministers)
    6. Transport, Infrastructure, Communications and Digital Technologies (three into one. Infrastructure splits off from public works. Two Deputy Ministers)
    7. Agriculture and Land Reform (As is. Two Deputy Ministers.)
    8. Local Government (non-metros) and Traditional Affairs (As is – but now main focus on non- Metro local government, along with Traditional Affairs. Two Deputy Ministers.)

The Social Services Cluster

  1. Education and Training – (two into one. Main focus on basic and higher education, with a strong small division focusing on science and innovation. Two Deputy Ministers).
    10. Health (As is.)
    11. Social Development (As is.)
    12. Sports, Arts and Culture (As is.)
    13. Home Affairs (As is.)

The Safety and Security Cluster

  1. Police (As is.)
    15. Justice and Correctional Services (As is.)
    16. Defence (As is)
    17. State Security and Intelligence (As is but outside the Presidency)
    18. International Relations (As is.)

Public service

  1. Public Service and Administration (As is).
    20. Minister in the Presidency (As is, but providing support in driving the reform programme)

The following ministries would either be terminated or downgraded to non-ministerial level:

  1. Minister in the Presidency responsible for Electricity – Terminate
    2. Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation – Downgrade and to be absorbed into Operation Vulindlela.
    3. Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities – Make this a function in every department where appropriate.
    4. Minister of Public Enterprises – Terminate – Viable SOCs to report to line departments.*
    5. Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure – Public works should be a provincial function. Infrastructure is part of a new Ministry (see above)
    6. Minister of Small Business Development – Terminate and shut down department

*NOTE: CDE is working on a separate ACTION report on what to do about the SOCs (forthcoming in this series), in which we will propose how best to manage the SOCs  – options include: DPE in different form, unit in the National Treasury or something else in government.

CDE is an independent policy research and advocacy organisation. It is South Africa’s leading development think tank, focusing on critical development issues and their relationship to economic growth and democratic consolidation. Through examining South African realities and international experience, coupled with high-level forums, workshops and roundtables, CDE formulates practical policy proposals outlining ways in which South Africa can tackle major social and economic challenges.

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