By presenting this smorgasbord of promises the ANC did little to create certainty for investors, which is desperately needed to create economic growth, writes Melanie Verwoerd.
On Saturday, fresh off a very long flight, I sat down to watch Cyril Ramaphosa deliver the ANC's annual January 8th Statement. Despite my deep interest in politics I was quickly bored and breakaway camera shots of ANC supporters confirmed that I wasn't the only one.
The statement was more or less a repeat of the ANC's election manifesto. That was no surprise – we are after all in an election year. The problem lies in the manifesto itself. It reads like a disjointed patchwork of dreams and unrealistic promises. It is as if every minister and/or policy maker in the ANC imagined what they would do if they had godlike powers to fix the country. They then made long lists, which made it into the manifesto.
If the ANC government is able to implement only a quarter of its manifesto, South Africa would be a much better place, but that is highly unlikely.
An election manifesto should do two things. It should firstly inspire voters to vote for the party and secondly give certainty to investors and financial markets in terms of future policy directions.
This manifesto does neither. The 68 pages of promises will pass most voters by. I struggled to get through it and the average voter who has far less interest in policy documents than I do, would most likely give up after page 4.
The ANC would have done much better if they had decided to focus on one key issue such as jobs. They could then have focused on how they would grow the tourism industry and in the short term create a million or more jobs – many low skilled. They could have explained that in the mean time they would get the basics, such as education, health and infrastructure right (and hope that voters don't ask why they haven't done that in 25 years). That could then have been the backdrop for also committing to creating conditions that would allow economic growth.
Naturally that would not be all that the government would do after the elections, but at least it would have grabbed people's attention.
By presenting this smorgasbord of promises the ANC also did little to create certainty for investors, which is desperately needed to create economic growth. The issue of monopolies is one of many examples.
No one can disagree about the importance of breaking monopolies (of course they are not suggesting breaking up Eskom's monopoly) or the urgency of developing small businesses, especially in the townships. But the statements are wide and vague and will create more anxiety amongst investors, who have already been spooked by the issue of expropriation without compensation.
There are many other questionable suggestions in the manifesto, one of which is the old issue of a sovereign wealth fund. The ANC has for years been mentioning Norway as an example, but of course Norway has massive surpluses to play with, which we don't. It is also very difficult after recent experiences to believe that the trade unions would agree to have their pension funds tampered with through the suggested prescribed assets on financial institutions' fund.
The idea of a government-owned pharmaceutical company might sound good, but if the current state of the existing SOEs are anything to go by, that should be avoided at all costs – unless we want to waste a few more billions.
Ultimately this manifesto says more about the internal working of the ANC than what we can expect as a country. It is clear that this patchwork manifesto is a result of Ramaphosa's efforts to keep the multiple factions together and keep his detractors (and the tri-partite partners) happy.
The problem is that in order for him to finally deal with his detractors – he has to secure a significant proportion of the popular vote for the ANC in the upcoming election. Ramaphosa is an excellent orator. He is clever, funny, fast and multilingual. He also has a vision which he is passionate about. The problem is that with all the internal ANC drama, we are seeing very little of that. In fact, he is sounding increasingly uninspiring as he lists one promise or intention after the other in various speeches.
For the majority of ordinary voters the hope of change and a better life is linked to Ramaphosa. He remains the ANC's biggest election asset. The party should therefore stop thinking that the old strategy of listing page after page of achievements and promises (many which have been made before) would convince voters that there will be a "new dawn".
They should get some new speech writers and Ramaphosa should be set "free" to go back to his true self. While they are at it they should perhaps also find an election slogan that is not the same as the DA's!
- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.
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