Guest Column

The pressure of now: Meaningful change takes time

2019-09-27 06:00
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his June 2019 State of the Nation Address (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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The hope is that President Ramaphosa will be adroit in managing the tensions within the ANC. As for putting criminals in jail post haste, South Africans should be careful not to expect the president to act as police, prosecutors and judges, writes Thembinkosi Gcoyi.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to listen to a presentation about South Africa's political and economic trajectory over the next few years by one of the leading political risk consultancies in South Africa. In outlining the current political and economic situation, I was struck by the level of expectation for change and impatience that many have.

The trauma of what President Cyril Ramaphosa calls the "nine wasted years" is apparent in most analyses of the South African political, economic and social situation with many expressing a view that the president is not doing enough to change things. According to this view, the president has been in office long enough to have made an impact on the myriad challenges he inherited from his predecessor. Some are of the view that by now, more of the crooks who ruined our political and economic system should be languishing behind bars as atonement for their sins to the republic.

It is difficult not to be sympathetic to this view. South Africans have been assailed by all manner of misfortune visited upon them by a callous ruling class whose interests superseded those of the citizens. However, I am also sympathetic to President Ramaphosa, given the mammoth task he is facing to steer the South African ship out of troubled waters.

His task is made more difficult by what appears to be a difficult political relationship with his secretary-general and some members of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC). Additionally, he must contend with a labour union base that appears to have lost its ability to engage critically with policy discourse, preferring narrow ideological, self-interested positions rather than meaningful engagement in policy dialogue. The same can be said of the business sector, whose gaze hardly ever goes beyond the bottom-line.

As has been pointed out in various other thought pieces, President Ramaphosa and SG Ace Magashule appear to be at odds over some of the policy reforms that need to be undertaken to solve the country's challenges. This is symptomatic of the broader disjuncture within the ANC on what the country needs to do to extract itself from its current quagmire.

This is a good thing. It should not be easy for the president to get his way on any policy conversation. Critical engagement should begin within the ANC if the country is to have the kind of robust policy frameworks that it needs. A weak and pliant NEC is not a credit to the efforts of the country to engender exhaustive policy discussion, especially considering the difficult choices that the government needs to make in driving its reform agenda. It would be tragic if any of us hoped that Nasrec would result in an NEC that is sheepish in its approach to policy discussion based on who occupies the number one spot in the party.

Thankfully, the president must fight for every inch of ground to advance his agenda and prove his ideas worthy, in the face of a fightback campaign that may not always be driven by progressive ideals.

The response of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to the proposed economic plan issued by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is exactly the kind of reaction one would expect from a body which has suffered strategic drift under its previous leadership. The federation is not making an earnest attempt to hide its inadequacies, engaging in regressive rhetoric about technicalities of consultation rather than responding to the policy proposals advanced by the Treasury.

Like all South Africans, Cosatu has an opportunity to contribute to the nature and character of the document to ensure that it reflects real choices and sensible policy options, informed not purely by constituency interests, but what is in the broader interests of the country.

The hope is that President Ramaphosa will be adroit in managing the tensions within the ANC. He needs to use his entire might and reputed negotiation skills set to persuade, cajole and where necessary, threaten those who are unreasonably holding up the progress of the New Dawn. South Africa cannot be held ransom to their myopia indefinitely. What South Africans should accept is that change will take time.

As for putting criminals in jail post haste, South Africans should be careful not to expect the president and his government to act as police, prosecutors and judges. The criminal justice system is being fixed. Many processes are unfolding to reveal the state of rot in governance systems. Only when the responsible authorities are ready will we see prosecutions. To demand otherwise and expect the president to insert himself in this conversation will continue the culture instituted by his predecessor of using the criminal justice system to achieve his political ends.

South Africans must hang in there. We must do our part to support the necessary change we all desire. Putting ourselves in a tailspin about things taking too long will only frustrate us and leave us disappointed that things are not changing fast enough, when in fact, a lot of changes are taking place, even if not easily discernible in all the political noise that inevitably drowns out important things.

- Thembinkosi Gcoyi is the managing director of Frontline Africa Advisory. Follow him on Twitter: @tgcoyi

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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