The Ramaphosa era has dawned: 3 scenarios for how it could play out

2019-05-17 06:00
Cyril Ramaphosa

Cyril Ramaphosa

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President Cyril Ramaphosa will at long last be able to implement the policies and make the structural changes to the state that he believes can take South Africa forward. But he doesn't operate in a vacuum and although the Constitution gives him vast executive powers, realpolitik reins it in, writes Pieter du Toit.

After President Cyril Ramaphosa managed to construct a coalition coherent enough to eject former president Jacob Zuma from executive office on Valentine's Day last year, word from his advisers was that he would use the remainder of Zuma's term to prepare for 2019.

He was going to bide his time, review government policy, prepare for his chosen Cabinet and other key people to take over in 2019 and identify where the most crucial interventions should be made.

To them it was clear that although Ramaphosa was president, with all the vast powers afforded him under our generous Constitution, he wasn't in a position to do as he pleased. And even though, at a political level, he rid Cabinet of some odious remnants of capture and corruption like Malusi Gigaba, Mosebenzi Zwane and David Mahlobo, he was unable to discard dead-weights like Bathabile Dlamini and Nomvula Mokonyane.

At a governance level Ramaphosa remained stuck with the framework of state as reconfigured by Zuma in 2009, with many departments being split into two, some rebranded and an enormous salary bill believed by National Treasury to be unsustainable. And although he instituted a range of commissions and inquiry into the years of excess and debauchery under Zuma, there has been no prosecutions and no sentences handed down.

Add to that a drifting economy that needs bold, considered and effective decision-making if soaring debt, low growth, limited investment and failing state companies are to be addressed, and Ramaphosa has a near impossible task.

The president will never have as much room to manoeuvre as he has now. Despite what Ace Magashule, his nemesis in the ANC, says, everybody in the party knows that he rescued it from a worse drubbing than was handed to it during last week's national election.

Scenario 1. The adults take charge

In the first scenario Ramaphosa is largely free to implement the changes necessary to ensure a capable state, exact accountability and reignite the economy. But this can only be done if he manages to keep a tight rein on Luthuli House.

The ANC's internal machinations are where this country's successes and failures are largely determined. And Ramaphosa knows that, notwithstanding the resolutions taken at the party's conference at Nasrec in 2017, he will be able to implement reforms only if and when he has taken charge of the building on Pixley ka Isaka Seme Street in downtown Johannesburg.

In this scenario Ramaphosa is able to exert his authority over the party by either reprising his coalition in order to isolate and contain Magashule, or Magashule is replaced due to criminal prosecutions against him. The ANC has a terrible track-record when it comes to removing ethically suspect and dubious characters, and the removal of Magashule seems doubtful. But if Ramaphosa can corral enough support – like he did with the removal of Zuma – he could quite possibly manage the worst of Magashule's antagonisms and backroom deals.

This will enable him to tackle the problems of state with conviction and confidence.

The first order of business will be to ensure that the minister of finance and National Treasury have the freedom to implement policies to reverse the country's economic decline. That decline has been exacerbated by poor public finance management, and in this scenario Ramaphosa will have to be ruthless.

State companies must be restructured and private equity brought on board, the enormous public sector wage bill must be slashed and the labour regime revisited.

All these interventions are politically contentious, it will lead to ructions and will cost Ramaphosa political support. But it is necessary.

Rampahosa will also make deep cuts to Cabinet, discarding vanity ministries and, given political realities and the limited supply of creative skills in the ANC, appoint technocrats as ministers in order to get government functioning.

If he succeeds, then the recovery of crucial institutions like the NPA and SARS will naturally lead to accountability and good governance. And maybe Magashule will then receive his comeuppance. Or even Zuma.

In this scenario economic growth improves, the criminal justice system functions and reforms are implemented.

Scenario 2. Muddling on through

In scenario 2, Ramaphosa doesn't have (a) the political capital or space and (b) the courage of his convictions to effect the type of structural adjustment reforms the country needs.

Like in the previous scenario, Ramaphosa's success depends on his relationship with the powerbrokers at Luthuli House, represented by Magashule and his cunning deputy, Jessie Duarte.

The ANC – and Ramaphosa – have been preaching the need for "unity", the need to stop infighting and the necessity to steer away from faction forming. Historically, any serious reforms at government level that is at odds with traditional ANC-SACP-Cosatu policies have been slammed and rejected as part of factional battles. Ramaphosa would not want to be seen to be a factionalist, but by the same token he cannot ignore what is happening around him.

If Ramaphosa decides to keep on trucking, he will remain in a perpetual ceasefire with Magashule and Luthuli House, a holding pattern of photo opportunities and niceties with the Presidency and the ANC acting as counterweights.

Ramaphosa will still be able to make some reforms to government, much of it cosmetic (like a smaller Cabinet) and some of it forced by necessity (like the Eskom restructuring), but nothing like the fundamental reforms that are needed.

In this scenario economic growth stagnates and deteriorates, the criminal justice system remains under pressure and largely dysfunctional and limited reforms are implemented.

Scenario 3. Kleptocracy continued

This scenario is closely related to the previous one.

Ramaphosa is not a kleptocrat and is not part of the Zuma network of capture and corruption. But the continued battle in the ANC does hold danger for Ramaphosa and the country's prospects and if he is forced onto the backfoot in the next year, ahead of the ANC's national general council, he could lose the battle for the soul of the ANC.

Magashule is Ramaphosa's main antagonist and the office of the secretary-general is an immensely powerful one in the governing party. In this scenario Magashule – who is only concerned with strengthening his power base and extending his influence in the party – gains the upper hand by leveraging the reach of his office to down Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa might not be "recalled" during his term of office, but if Magashule and the anti-reformist bloc succeeds in subduing the reformers – by means of stealth, intimidation, political realignment, blackmail or bullying – the ANC will resemble the party under Zuma.

If that happens there will be no reforms in state and government. Cabinet and other executive positions will be used as means of patronage, networks of rent-seeking and resource extraction will remain in place and key government institutions – like the NPA and SARS – will be undermined to protect the corrupt.

In this scenario the economy shrinks and GDP declines, the criminal justice system malfunctions and is corrupted and no reforms are implemented.

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  ace maga­shule

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