Adriaan Basson: Ramaphosa’s straight talk refreshing and frightening

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Thierry Monasse, Getty Images)
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Thierry Monasse, Getty Images)

His analysis was brutal: South Africa is not a country of savers. Our pension funds are effectively the only pots of money left. This was frightening and sobering to hear from the head of state, writes Adriaan Basson.

It was refreshing to listen to a straight-shooting President Cyril Ramaphosa at Tuynhuys last week. 

Like his predecessor Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa has had a disappointingly distant relationship with the media since he took office in February 2018.

Last week he gave a group of editors and political journalists two hours of his undivided time and promised to be more readily available for interviews and questions. 

This is promising and we shall keep him to his commitment. Being on Twitter doesn’t replace face-to-face time with senior journalists and editors who translate and interpret your views and policies to the public. 

Even though it was hard to listen to some of Ramaphosa’s answers, it was refreshing to hear him speak frankly and openly about the country’s great challenges. 

It struck me that Ramaphosa was in a good space. He spoke confidently and gave us a lecture in his personality and style.  

"I build consensus. Some people would like me to be a dictator, and it is not in my make-up to be a dictator. I have never been a dictator. I have built and led a number of organisations without being a dictator, working very well with people and making them feel worthwhile and worthy to work in an organisation, and respecting that capability of people - not given to shouting and screaming at people, and so on. That is my style." 

With that, Ramaphosa basically told us to stop telling him to act more harshly or take a more aggressive approach when it comes to matters of national interest.

It's not gonna happen. 

Fair enough, but then he should take us into his confidence about his famous long-plan strategy and not create the impression that we are merely drifting along into the arms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  

Ramaphosa spoke passionately about the social compact deal to save Eskom and it was crystal clear to me that he was one of the driving forces behind the strategy to use government pensions for this purpose. 

Ramaphosa has invigorated the role and purpose of Nedlac and is using this body, where government, business and labour sit around a table, to advise him on major economic decisions. 

The struggle stalwart and businessperson Cheryl Carolus said this weekend that the resurrection of Nedlac by Ramaphosa has been one of his major achievements so far.  

Ramaphosa is absolutely convinced that the pensions plan - to move R250bn of Eskom’s debt into a special purpose vehicle that will be serviced by the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) - is the correct and only way to go.  

His analysis was brutal: South Africa is not a country of savers. Our pension funds are effectively the only pots of money left. This was frightening and sobering to hear from the head of state. 

He has shown his hand.  

Not all economists agree with him and we can prepare for a turbulent few weeks and months of negotiations, debate and even anger before the pensions deal is struck.

The conservative trade union Solidarity has already indicated its intention to stop the deal through the courts. 

Nobody can disagree with Ramaphosa that the future of Eskom will determine the future of our economy and of South Africa.

He wants to achieve a deal through a social compact, not as a dictator or authoritarian.

But to make this social compact work, Ramaphosa and his other Nedlac partners will have to bring the key people who will be affected by the deal - government pensioners - to the table. 

Ramaphosa spoke dismissively of the "negative comments" about the proposed deal.

This cannot be right.

There are millions of people with very valid concerns about making a major "investment" into a power utility that is bloated, dysfunctional and corrupt.  

The president spoke glowingly about the "new" Eskom that is under construction by CEO Andre de Ruyter.

This is still a promise and the pensioners and their fund administrators will have to be absolutely clear what these plans are before making a move. 

Ramaphosa and his fellow proponents of the pension funds deal will have to communicate much more and much better if they want South Africa’s buy-in. 

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24

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