Things are going to get better under Cyril – right? Experts weigh in on our new president

2018-02-15 11:05
PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images

PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images

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Cyril Ramaphosa promises a fresh start for the embattled ANC and SA – here’s how experts rate his chance of delivering the goods.

He’s going to clamp down on corruption, give civil service slackers the boot, show state capturers the door, boost the value of the downtrodden rand and welcome overseas investors and their dollars back to South Africa.

These are promises Cyril Ramaphosa made in the run-up to the ANC elective conference – and now Zuma’s finally resigned, he’s in the hot seat and holds the hopes of millions of South Africans in his hands.

Dare we hope for a return from the shattered rainbow-nation dreams of harmony, prosperity and opportunity?

Is he the saviour who’ll deliver the country from corruption and greed – or is he just another politician full of empty promises?

We spoke to experts to find out if Ramaphosa will live up to his word – and, given the divided state of the ruling party – if it’s even possible for him to stem the tide of graft, despair and incompetence.


Ramaphosa at the helm of the nation makes one optimistic about the future, political commentator Justice Malala says. In a column he praises the ANC president’s accomplishments as a student activist, unionist, negotiator and successful businessman.

“Ramaphosa stands for something: clean government, service to the poor, national pride and inclusive economic growth,” he says. “I’m giving Ramaphosa – a leader dealt a very weak hand by his party – a chance. I do so because the circumstances under which he comes to power, though extremely tough, are nothing like the way his predecessor came to lead the ANC.”

William Gumede, associate professor at the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand, says it’s obviously difficult to predict the future but at least South Africa now has some kind of direction and certainty.

The ANC is in dire need of someone who represents fresh ideas and can be a unifying figure in the wake of President Jacob Zuma’s divisiveness, Gumede says.

“The ANC needs to rebuild trust and confidence among its supporters who left for the EFF or the DA, as well as among the public.”

The party also needs to boost overseas investor confidence – and Ramaphosa is seen as a confidence builder, he adds. One of the biggest tasks is for the government, business and civil society to work together to deal with the country’s many challenges, such as unemployment.

“You can’t go into a partnership unless you’re trusted and people think you’re competent,” he says. “So he needs to bring that to the table. People have had enough of corruption.”

The country is also marred by poor management and the shambles the state-owned enterprises and various government departments find themselves in.

“I was just at home affairs today and it’s embarrassing,” Gumede says. “There are no toilet doors, lifts don’t work, it’s dirty and people are loitering outside. It tells you there’s no effective management.”

Gumede believes the ruling party’s new leader can inspire and install competent management. He describes the problem with Zuma, as well as other government officials, as “people with massive debt and finances in total disarray, with high family overheads, children who have to go to school, and costs beyond their salary”.

Officials in situations like these, he says, are more open to bribery. “It’s a problem generally that there are people who go into politics because they have no other income and so they tend to hold on to power.”

Ramaphosa, Gumede says, is unlikely to have these issues because he has his own money.


“We’ve gone through so much political drama in the past years – scandal after scandal, state capture and everything else – that any new person, even if they came in and did nothing . . . well, that would be something positive,” political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni says dryly.

The ANC is aware it stands to lose support – and power – in the 2019 elections if things don’t take a turn for the better.

“The ANC collectively understands 2019 is around the corner ‘and we better behave’.” Ramaphosa knows how to behave, he adds.

“What makes many people feel positive about him is the perception that at least he’s not going to steal – even [ANC chairperson] Gwede Mantashe said it,” says Lukhona Mnguni, a political commentator and researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

He was referring to Mantashe’s comments earlier this month at a wreathlaying ceremony for struggle icon Oliver Tambo. “We have a president who has money, who’s wealthy, who won’t be tempted to steal,” he said. “If he steals we’ll ask him, ‘Why do you steal [when] you have enough?’ ”

But, Mnguni cautions we’re setting the bar too low if we simply settle for a leader who’s “not bad” – and Ramaphosa has yet to convincingly show a clear vision and intention for SA.

“He still plays on the mantra that the ANC has good policies but the problem is the implementation of these policies, even though in his [election] campaign he spoke about the need to boost the economy and create jobs.” Mnguni warns that the personality cult around Ramaphosa is troubling because a similar adoration of Zuma saw him ascend to the presidency.

“Thabo Mbeki was so bad that Zuma was seen as a shining light of pro-poor policies because we created the vision around him,” he says. “Zuma then couldn’t commit any wrongs and for some time we couldn’t hold him accountable – until it was too late.”

It doesn’t matter if we feel positively about Ramaphosa, Mnguni says – what’s crucial is that the ANC needs to reform and allow the new president to achieve his goals.


The president’s expert negotiating skills and his decades of management experience will serve him well to unite factions within the ANC, Gumede believes.

“Many African leaders have never managed anything in their lives, but then they become a leader and they don’t understand the complexities of management.”

Ramaphosa has run a union, been a chairman and a CEO, and his management skills are endless.

“He’ll have to sit down with the likes of Ace Magashule and David Mabuza and ask them ‘Why do you want to work with me?’”

Ramaphosa recently visited Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, and this could be seen as his way of getting all the key leaders in the country on his side for his strategy to recall Zuma to succeed.


Top of the messes Ramaphosa needs to fix is Eskom, Gumede says.

“If Eskom isn’t working we have low growth, factories don’t have power and companies close down.”

Then he needs to tackle corruption head-on. “He must be seen to be serious about corruption. There needs to be an investigation into the key players.”

He needs to work hard to create job opportunities and new investments, difficult as that may be, Gumede says.

Fikeni believes parliament needs to be allowed to do its duty “without fear or favour or prejudice in holding the executive accountable, even if those happen to be senior figures within the ruling party.”

Mnguni has no doubt Ramaphosa will show he’s serious about his tough talk on corruption, but says he expects the ANC president to pursue corruption cases that don’t involve political influence, to win political support.

Ramaphosa’s biggest test, says Mnguni, will be how he handles showing Zuma the door, and whether Zuma will get an exit deal that offers him immunity from criminal charges.

“Will Ramaphosa be willing to fight corruption at all costs – even potentially sacrificing his own political career?” Mnguni muses.

There’s also the question of how he’ll deal with corruption cases involving heavy hitters in the Eastern Cape, a province which backed him at the elective conference, Mnguni adds.


“I guess the Zuma group could split from the ANC and form their own party because they don’t want to be prosecuted for corruption,” Gumede speculates.

The Zuma group may see the formation of a new party as their way of dodging prosecution, although it wouldn’t afford them any legal protection.

But Mnguni adds the split in the ANC could worsen if Ramaphosa has no strategy to unite the party. If he wants to be the president of the country he can’t alienate the majority who supported Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

And recalling Zuma could also worsen the party’s split if it’s handled badly, he predicts.

“But the worst will be if Ramaphosa takes over as president and retreats on the resolutions of the ANC because he’s afraid of the market – for example, the issues of free tertiary education, economic transformation and land expropriation that need urgent clarification.”

He can’t afford to give legitimacy to the view he’s an agent of “monopoly capital”.

Interesting times lie ahead – and while Ramaphosa might not need the money, you can bet he’s going to earn every cent of his new salary.

PHOTOs: Getty Images/Gallo Images

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