Is he fit to be the next Mr President?

2018-01-28 06:01
Cyril Ramaphosa. (Leon Sadiki, City Press)

Cyril Ramaphosa. (Leon Sadiki, City Press)

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While we must practise cautious optimism, a Ramaphosa presidency could be the solution to SA’s woes, writes Tebogo Khaas.

Conventional wisdom instructs us that president-in-waiting Cyril Ramaphosa could become one of the most consequential presidents in contemporary South African history.

This assumes, of course, that Ramaphosa remains steadfast and focused as he undertakes the daunting task facing him.

Let me explain.

Ramaphosa understands that the public veneration that followed his ascension will subside over time. The messianic expectations by a weary citizenry will collide with the vagaries of his momentous calling.

Waging the much vaunted fight against malfeasance doesn’t accord with the questionable moral rectitude of some senior ANC officials.

As the pursuit of criminal investigations around state capture continues in earnest and the criminal justice system becomes emboldened, some senior ANC leaders are likely to be ensnared.

It could, therefore, be a matter of time before the uneasy unity in the ANC is rattled or scuppered.

Simply put, Ramaphosa and the ANC are in a tight space.

Never mind the ailing economy, Ramaphosa faces the arduous task of rebuilding the ANC while ensuring that the party remains united, relevant and attractive to voters.

It is apparent that Ramaphosa will not endure with voters on a milquetoast management philosophy. The ANC can neither remain impervious to the clamour for it to put South Africa first nor persist with ambivalence about the excesses of those in the inner sanctum of power, meanwhile it acts hawkish about anyone outside the influences of power.

As an avowed constitutionalist, Ramaphosa seems to appreciate this. As he transitions from the shadow of President Jacob Zuma into his own, Ramaphosa has made it abundantly clear that tardiness, sloth, dishonesty and incompetence – hallmarks of Zuma’s presidency – will not be countenanced. Already, his leadership philosophy and disposition seem to conjure positive behaviour in others.

The political gods must be smiling upon Ramaphosa

Criminal justice system officials, for instance, seem emboldened by Ramaphosa’s disposition and lucid pronouncements.

Testimony to this is the alacrity with which law enforcement agencies have moved against the Gupta family, which seemed untouchable until Ramaphosa ascended the throne.

Zuma’s close friend and fellow economic hitman, Atul Gupta, had his and some of his company’s assets placed under judicial preservation.

This followed allegations of theft, fraud, corruption and money laundering involving more than R220m paid by the Free State department of agriculture towards the Estina dairy project in Vrede.

Former Free State MEC for agriculture and current Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane is alleged to have played a central role in this project and, reportedly, faces arrest.

This is also likely to ensnare ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, who is alleged to have sanctioned and promoted the project.

Should Magashule and other prominent ANC leaders who are implicated in wrongdoing be charged, the ANC unity could be severely tested.

Senior Eskom managers equally seem emboldened by Ramaphosa. They remonstrated recently with lapses of governance, ethics, leadership and financial management at Eskom in a memorandum sent to Ramaphosa.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown suddenly experienced what appears to be a Damascene conversion and convenient epiphany after Ramaphosa’s ascension. She claims to have “demanded immediate action” from officials in her department, which led to the recent board changes at Eskom.

The beleaguered Eskom is battling serious financial problems. It needs to raise billions in the next few weeks in order to retain its going concern status and finally publish its overdue interim financial statements.

There are signs of slight improvement in business confidence.

Early anecdotal evidence includes favourable market sentiments and a strengthening currency.

It is also noteworthy that Goldman Sachs has identified South Africa as the “big emerging market story” of this year, based primarily on the new, market-friendly ANC leadership and projected improvements in the country’s economic fundamentals.

These signs provide impetus and favourable ground for expected green shoots of economic recovery.

What seems to be missing, though, is the urgency to inculcate the need for austerity in the mindset of all economic role players.

This is important as Ramaphosa needs to focus on reducing the high public wage bill and runaway public debt.

Extravagance limits government’s capacity to meet the physical and social infrastructure investment needs necessary to unlock and sustain growth.

In the meantime, it would be easy to overlook, or dismiss as inconsequential, Ramaphosa’s recent public engagements.

Ramaphosa did not waste time kicking off what appears to be his 2019 electioneering charm offensive. He undertook regional blitzes in three key provinces, while paying homage to ANC legends and traditional leaders.

He used the opportunity to not only shore up ANC support in election battlegrounds, but also consolidate his grip on power.

The new ANC president sought to foster party unity in disaffected areas, especially in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The political gods must be smiling upon Ramaphosa.

The ANC’s fiercest competitor, the DA, is beset by internal ructions countrywide. Its facade of stability, unity and uprightness is peeling off as its leaders accuse each other of arrogance, corruption, fraud, theft, nepotism and maladministration. This would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

Zuma’s departure, the emergence of the affable and upright Ramaphosa, and the ANC’s adoption of reformulated, albeit improbable, policy positions on land and funding for higher education seem to have set the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at sixes and sevens. These new developments seem to have caught the EFF off guard and without a cogent strategic response.

While the DA’s intraparty bun fights linger and the EFF unleashes full-frontal assaults on mannequins, Ramaphosa is warmly embraced across the political and racial spectrum.

Nevertheless, there are concerns that Ramaphosa may succumb to political expediency when appointing members of his Cabinet and senior bureaucrats. Fears that Ramaphosa will capitulate to undue political influences seem baseless.

Having instructed the Eskom board to “immediately remove all Eskom executives who are facing allegations and other acts of impropriety”, it is inconceivable that Ramaphosa may then seek to act differently when making appointments.

It is crucial, therefore, that Ramaphosa conducts himself with forthrightness and consistency in his management of the affairs of both the ANC and the state. I do appreciate the need for cautious optimism about the inherent possibilities of a Ramaphosa presidency, while still highly cognisant of our human frailties.

I will, however, not let that dampen my boundless optimism, sustained by my insatiable yearning for a prosperous future for all.

Khaas is chairman of Corporate SA, a Johannesburg-based strategic advisory and consultancy firm. He invites you to follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas.

Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  jacob zuma  |  anc

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