Big win for Ramaphosa will not deliver business-friendly reforms

2019-05-05 07:18
cyril ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses members of the business society at Beyerskloof outside Stellenbosch. Photo: Jaco Marais

South Africans who want genuine reform have a critical task to perform in the coming poll. Instead of relying on Cyril Ramaphosa's supposed reform agenda, they must act to prevent an ANC/EFF two-thirds majority in Parliament, writes Anthea Jeffery.

It is easy to understand the widespread (but misplaced) hope that has encouraged many commentators – including The Economist – to call on people to vote for the ANC, so as to strengthen President Cyril Ramaphosa's ostensible reform strategy.

These Ramathusiasts would like the ANC to get a 60% majority in the election. But a 60% majority for the ANC will simply ensure that the organisation – together with the EFF, with its potential 13% share of the vote – will easily be able to command the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Bill of Rights and other provisions in the Constitution.

A 60% ANC majority will allow the ruling party, working with the EFF, to change the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation; to change the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to "align" it with the second phase of the transition (as the ANC's election manifesto urges); and to proceed with other damaging interventions vital to the ANC's national democratic revolution (NDR) and its ultimate socialist and communist objectives.

The Ramathusiasts do not seem to see this risk. They appear to believe that Mr Ramaphosa is truly a committed "reformer", who simply needs a strong election victory to push back against the "Zupta" looters and the "radical economic transformation" (RET) wing within the ANC.

The unstated implication (exactly what reforms Ramaphosa may introduce is never spelt out) is that the president will then be able to defeat the expropriation without compensation demand, safeguard the SARB's independence, curtail public spending, and introduce the labour and other reforms needed to boost investment, growth, and jobs.

But what evidence is there that Ramaphosa matches up to this "reformer" hype?

He has, of course, acted relatively strongly against corruption since he came to power, as this is vital to restoring at least some modicum of confidence in the ANC. But a balance sheet of policy shifts under his watch shows three growth-positive ones versus at least 10 eroding property rights or the investment climate.

Ramaphosa has failed even to caution against the latter. Instead, the president has described himself as "a committed socialist" and repeatedly endorsed the NDR. The vital role he played in the ANC's multifaceted and ruthless people's war in the decade from 1984 to 1994 also shows the depths of his commitment to the organisation's ongoing revolution.

By contrast, if the ANC gets a bare 50% – which is more than it merits after 25 years of bad policies, gross mismanagement, and increasingly brazen corruption – then the two-thirds majority necessary to change key provisions in the Constitution will elude the ANC and EFF.

If people shun the ANC and its vote falls to below 50%, it could well forge an alliance with the EFF to retain state power, as some of the Ramathusiasts urging a strong vote for the ANC have cautioned. An ANC/EFF alliance will, of course, be strongly committed to expropriation without compensation, the nationalisation of the SARB, and a host of other damaging policies.

The crucial difference, however, is that this ANC/EFF alliance will lack the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Bill of Rights and other constitutional provisions. The Constitution will then continue to stand as a bulwark against ever more radical interventions. This is enormously important.

South Africans who want genuine reform have a critical task to perform in the coming poll. Instead of relying on Ramaphosa's supposed reform agenda, they must act to prevent an ANC/EFF two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Staying away from the polls to "punish" the ANC, or because no other party seems sufficiently attractive, will not be enough to achieve this. In the 2014 general election, the ANC won the support of only 45% of registered voters. Among all eligible voters – including those who had not bothered to register – its support was lower still, at a scant 36%. Many more eligible voters stayed away from the polls (12.8 million) than voted for the ANC (11.4 million), but the organisation nevertheless won 62% of the seats in Parliament.

Much the same will happen again in 2019 unless people turn up on election day and cast their votes for opposition parties, especially at the crucial national level. People wanting real reform should therefore vote for any of the parties on the ballot paper that genuinely support growth-focused policies.

South Africans must actively use their voting power against all those trying to force socialism and then communism on the country. To do otherwise is to betray an electorate with a strong preference (as opinion polls have repeatedly shown) for jobs, growth, and racial goodwill – not the radical redistribution, racial division, and rising destitution the NDR will bring.

- Dr Anthea Jeffery is head of policy research at the IRR, and author of People's War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa, soon to be available in all good bookshops in abridged and updated form.

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