Pieter du Toit

Mr President, we need a clear and determined statement of intent

2019-06-20 07:28
Cyril Ramaphosa (Thierry Monasse, Getty)

Cyril Ramaphosa (Thierry Monasse, Getty)

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South Africans are weary of speeches and platitudes and having to read between the lines. President Ramaphosa must deliver determined a statement of intent tonight. And then he must make it happen, writes Pieter du Toit.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as president – first in February 2018, and then subsequent to the general election in May – was widely welcomed.

There was broad agreement among analysts, albeit in various degrees of consensus, that he was by far the most qualified of ANC leaders to effect a turnaround of state and party, given the ANC’s electoral dominance. (This is of course leaving aside the issue of whether or not the ANC is the right party to lead the country, but that question has been decided by popular vote.)

Ramaphosa’s interventions since last year are widely documented and do not have to be elaborated upon here. A number of commissions and inquiries have been established to determine the depth of rot in institutions like the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Revenue Service, both of which fulfill crucial functions in our democracy and both whom were issued with new leaders. He has tried, but largely failed, to restore confidence in the economy and he has attempted to wrest control of the ANC away from the rent-seekers – an effort that remains a work in progress.

But Ramaphosa, described by Anthony Butler in his biography of the president’s rise to power as someone who stays true to process and procedure, is running out of road. He will need to use the powers entrusted to him by the Constitution to move the country forward and push it out of the mud. A cautious man, the country cannot afford for him to dither anymore whilst state-owned enterprises are teetering on the verge of implosion, the criminal justice system remains wracked by inefficiency and corruption and the national debate is dominated by populists and opportunists.

The Constitution vests in the president the power and the authority to govern the country within a specific set of laws and regulations and with the assistance of Cabinet. It is this guarantor which ultimately directs the executive and tempers its worst impulses.

But Ramaphosa, in his (understandable) quest to unite the ANC after the lost decade of Zuma, is showing excessive deference to the ANC’s Nasrec resolutions and the party’s guiding scripts. Of course a head of state acts based upon the mandate of the governing party, be it Republican, Tory or ANC, but a head of state must also act in the national interest, that often can and do run contrary to the party interest.

State capture is the perfect example. It was executed by the party’s most senior deployees, with the full knowledge and assistance of the party leadership. And every single decision taken by both the Zuma government and the party’s executive leadership can (and was) justified by the resolutions taken at the party's Mangaung conference in 2012. It is now however patently clear that state capture was not in the national interest, but in the interest of a few.

The clearest guidelines to recovery (and the most ominous warnings) are contained in National Treasury’s assessment of the dire state of the economy published in February along with the budget. But most of the interventions needed and proposed by Treasury will cause the president to make enemies and lead to the likes of Ace Magashule, the ANC’s calculating secretary general, doubling up on plotting against him.

Ramaphosa however will have to decide what he wants his presidency to achieve. If it is ANC unity, then the national interest will continue to suffer. If it is the national interest than he must be prepared to make difficult decisions and he must be willing to stare down his enemies. That includes decisions about the SA Reserve Bank (SARB), land expropriation, the economy, race relations, crime and state capture.

The phony war inside the ANC is clearly over. Magashule is a determined opponent (witness the return of miscreants like Mosebenzi Zwane, Supra Mahumapelo and Faith Muthambi to positions of influence) and will plot and scheme against Ramaphosa, regardless of whether he nationalises the SARB or not.

South Africans are weary of words and speeches and platitudes and having to read between the lines. Ramaphosa must deliver determined a statement of intent tonight. And then he must make it happen.

- Du Toit is News24 assistant editor for in-depth news. Follow him on Twitter: @PieterDuToit

Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  ace maga­shule  |  sona 2019
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