Ramaphosa’s big challenge

2018-06-08 06:00

BEFORE President Cyril Ramaphosa took over the highest office in the land, it suffered from a crisis of credibility. His predecessor, Jacob Zuma, had spent a lot of time and energy destroying it.

Zuma inherited from Thabo Mbeki an office with a high level of respectability and moral credibility.

It was not perfect and the incumbent made mistakes that require no enumeration here.

But the fact that it had the requisite gravitas is not in dispute.

Mbeki took over from the larger-than-life Nelson Mandela who laid the foundation and set the standards. It took Zuma eight years to destroy what Mandela and Mbeki created in nearly 15 years.

Mandela’s presidency was about reconciliation, nation-building and completing the Constitution-making process. It was an imperative imposed on his presidency by the demands of a fragile nation at the time.

Mbeki’s presidency was about the nuts and bolts of state craft, fixing the public finances left in shambles by the National Party and hoisting South Africa’s flag higher in global affairs. Zuma showed not even the pretence of lofty ideals. For him public office was about personal survival.

Zuma’s downgrading of the office in almost all respects made the challenge of his successor look easy on the face of it.

Ramaphosa’s first objective was the restoration of the moral authority of the office of the president.

He also needed to inject into the Presidency his own vision.

By merely being in the office, Ramaphosa restored its credibility. But it was always going to be what he would say and do next that would indicate the substance of his leadership style as he confronts governance collapse head-on.

In his first key speeches — the State of the Nation Address, the ANC January 8 statement, his Freedom Day message and the Presidency Budget vote — he has set out his immediate priorities.

The interrelated themes are good governance, rooting out corruption, restoring trust in the government and rebuilding the economy to create jobs.

The collapse of basic governance in all major sites of state authority — national Cabinet, some national departments, state-owned entities and many provinces and municipalities — dictates that he needs to focus on emergency tactics to restore normality. He has set the right tone and has moved fast to flush out some elements of state capture and to rehabilitate governance...

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