President Ramaphosa is the president of all of us, ANC voters and non-ANC voters.
We should keep hoping against all odds that he succeeds in his efforts to restore order in the affairs of our country, and that the second Investment Summit he is hosting this week attracts as many moneyed people as possible to take a chance on our madhouse; Ts & Cs applying.
We should, however, also hope that any investment pledges he secures are not China-style ones that ‘look the other way’ from corruption and the brazen deployment of individuals implicated in crime into positions as lawmakers who will keep determining the economic and political trajectory of our country. Such investors would be encouraging unethical - even criminal - political leadership, and stand to be regarded as enablers or, as some like to say, corruptors of African leaders if things go pear-shaped. Encouraging unethical leadership would also say a lot about them and where they come from.
If the president succeeds – assuming that none of the new deals secured get tied to the usual suspect and politically connected rent seekers embedded as BEE partners - we shall all come out better. If he fails, we shall all continue to pay the price of an economy in an unstoppable downward spiral, unable to convince those who can financially rescue it that it deserves to be given another chance.
The signs are not good
The truth is that back in 2018, when the president hosted his first Investment Summit, he was only a few months into the job as the real No.1. Levels of faith in the ‘New Dawn/Thuma Mina’ tandem were still higher than they currently are, but already beginning to lose their lustre in the eyes of many South Africans.
The bizarre public pronouncements by the ANC’s secretary-general Ace Magashule, often in direct contradiction of the President’s well-meant promises, did not help. Since then, a good number of the same crooks who are heavily implicated in state capture and other forms of corruption have silently been redeployed into important government positions in total disregard of public sentiment, all of which took place despite the same people never having been cleared by our criminal justice system.
One wonders how people with serious criminal allegations hanging over the heads get to secure security clearances to become “lawmakers” in South Africa. Now, as “lawmakers”, they’re well positioned to ensure that the laws of our land - both new and existing ones – never get to be used to process the crimes they’re alleged to have committed against the best interests of the country. They’re also likely to demand a say in where any investments we secure get to be deployed. It is a rather peculiar situation for any country to be in.
Negative Credit Rating
Explaining part of the reasoning behind its most recent change of South Africa’s sovereign credit rating outlook from stable to negative, ratings agency Moody's said the “the negative outlook signals, in part, [its] rising concern that the government will not find the political capital to implement the range of measures it intends, and that its plans will be largely ineffective in lifting growth."
Moody's noted that while government has some plans to address problems like unemployment and low growth, South Africa faces obstacles "in part from outstanding vested interests, in part from the social and political challenge of imposing measures that are initially likely to be detrimental for parts of the population.” To explain this further, the agency gave the example of the new mining charter, which is described as being unlikely to boost investment in the sector, given persisting regulatory uncertainty amid ongoing appeals against some of its provisions.
Connecting the dots
It shouldn’t be too hard for an observer who meticulously connects the complex matrix of socio-political and economic dots in our land to say why it must be so hard, even impossible in some cases, for the president to implement many of the promises he makes. Though broadly controlled by the same political party, the government he runs is a de facto coalition. Ramaphosa is in a difficult coalition beset by a combination of moral, ethical, ideological, economic, as well as criminal interests and contradictions.
It is a serious conundrum that he is unlikely to solve. To make any sensible decisions and get to implement them, such decisions have to pass the scrutiny of a bunch of ethically compromised political bigwigs who, if not defending access to the public purse – or the trough – have reasons to be watchful that the country’s criminal justice system remains weakened and politically captured, having been repurposed to either look away or actively shield criminality by politicians.
The Commander-in-Chief of our Joint Armed Forces
It is just unfortunate that Ramaphosa is also - perhaps even first and foremost - the president of the same ANC that has brought us to where we are without any sign of regret. We know that of the two positions of president he occupies, one politically deploys the other. The position of state president might come with the impressive title of ‘Commander-in-Chief of our Joint Armed Forces’ but it is still weaker than that of ANC president. In the current dispensation, Ramaphosa cannot be the strong, decisive, state president South Africa desperately needs while having to constantly look over his shoulder at his coalition partners whose interests we all know are not in sync with the needs of our country.
But, in the uniting spirit of the Springboks, let us join hands in our complex, yet beautiful, diversity. Across our many divides, let us stand behind the efforts of our president and the well-meaning men and women in his close proximity to turn the fortunes of our ship around. If it sinks, we shall all go down with it. But our support should always come with its own terms and conditions: the criminally implicated must be removed from public office to never be politically deployed again, whether we’re watching or not.
In the spirit of the Springboks, our president should look beyond the party he leads for good men and women in South Africa – irrespective of race, creed, gender identity and political adherence - to also put their hands on the wheel and help us win many more victories.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.