Adriaan Basson

The year the tide started to turn

2018-12-14 06:00
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo)

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South Africans are world champions at moaning, especially this time of year when we are exhausted and the price of food (and drinks) is only going one way.

I listened to myself over the past few days and weeks, complaining about how tough this year was. And then I told myself to get over it.

Because any fair analysis of South Africa in 2018 should come to a factual conclusion that we are in a much better place than 12 months ago.

Of course we still have major issues like crime, unemployment, corruption, racism and inequality, but let's force ourselves to pause for a moment and look out of the window at the year that was.

Look past the weeds to see the cosmos flowers.

And no, this is not a naïve love letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, but you have to be really cynical and/or utterly stubborn not to acknowledge the changes his arrival at the Union Buildings have triggered.

A year ago, South Africa was holding its breath as the ANC faithful had to choose between turning a new page or keeping the status quo at its Nasrec conference.

It was close, but sanity prevailed and Ramaphosa narrowly beat the Zuma faction's candidate to become ANC president. The importance of this moment cannot be overstated; it effectively brought an end to the capture of the ANC and the state by Jacob Zuma, his family and his friends, the Guptas.

Ironically, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is now one of Ramaphosa's closest allies in the Presidency, where she interacts with the private sector on the president's behalf. In a master stroke, Ramaphosa also sent her to the North West to sort out the mess left by Supra Mahumapelo, a staunch leader of the "Premier League" and Dlamini-Zuma backer.

Dlamini-Zuma is the de facto deputy president while David Mabuza kisses babies, cuts ribbons and visits his GP in Moscow. 

What were some of Ramaphosa's other master strokes?

His appointment of Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Public Enterprises has seen a massive clean-up effort of the state-owned enterprises. Eskom, Transnet and Denel have new CEOs and boards. Forensic investigations have been completed or are underway and 2019 must surely produce some court cases involving the Zuma-era enablers and looters.

Ramaphosa has "saved" the South African Revenue Service from the disastrous reign of Tom Moyane and his lieutenants, but it will take time to restore confidence and calm at this crucial organ of state. Ramaphosa got the green-light this week to appoint Moyane's successor.

The National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks have seen the appointment of new, competent and trusted heads to kick-start the criminal justice sector into action. The ball is now firmly in the court of Shamila Batohi and Godfrey Lebeya to show the country what they are made of.

Actions speak louder than words and we need to see some high-profile arrests and prosecutions in 2019 to restore the confidence of the public in our justice system.

The resignations of Nhlanhla Nene and Malusi Gigaba as ministers of finance and home affairs introduced a new era of accountability which didn't exist under Zuma. Ramaphosa will have to be very consistent in applying the good governance test; Cabinet still has some serious rogues with not-so-small skeletons in their cupboards.

The Zondo and Nugent commissions have been a revelation and the Mpati commission into the dealings of the Public Investment Corporation will give South Africans further insights into how their money was (mis)managed under the previous administration.

Ramaphosa's management of the land expropriation debate has seen the opening up of honest, hard conversations between black and white South Africans. I still think he jumped the gun by announcing the ANC would support an amendment to the Constitution, but it is fair to say the sting has been removed and the debate about land ownership is much more mature than it was six months ago.

Now Ramaphosa needs to win an election as ANC president and there is a growing school of thought in the (black and white) middle classes that he needs to be given a clear mandate to govern on his own terms.

The opposition will correctly argue that a vote for the ANC is not necessarily a vote for Ramaphosa. The party oversaw the institutionalisation of corruption and nepotism in the civil service and it will be almost impossible for one man to remove all the stains.

But what is the alternative?

Both the DA and EFF, as well as the smaller opposition parties, have serious soul-searching to do over the festive season before they hit the campaign trail early in 2019.

Ramaphosa has shown his hand; the voters have seen his willingness to clean up the mess left by the ANC. His opponents will have to convince the electorate that they can do better.

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