Cyril Ramaphosa: President
What would President Cyril Ramaphosa's to-do list have looked like on 1 January 2020? Having spent much of 2019 campaigning for the ANC in the national election, and putting together his first Cabinet, Ramaphosa would have wanted to consolidate his power in the government and the ANC, leaving no chance for his political detractors inside and outside the governing party to derail his Thuma Mina ambitions.
Next on his list would have been economic growth. Ramaphosa made it clear early on in his term that he wanted economic transformation, job creation and economic growth to be his legacy. During his State of the Nation address in February, Ramaphosa highlighted efforts to turn around state-owned enterprises, primarily Eskom, attract investment and create jobs.
Lastly, Ramaphosa would have hoped that his "investments" in the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit would bear fruit after years of inaction and state capture.
All of this changed on 5 March 2020 when South Africa recorded its first positive Covid-19 case. History forced Ramaphosa to become a "wartime" president, as the world mounted a response to an unknown virus that had the potential to destroy millions of lives, livelihoods and futures.
The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief that it was Ramaphosa, and not Jacob Zuma, that led us through the pandemic. As much as Covid-19 shattered Ramaphosa's dreams of job creation and economic growth, it presented him with a unique opportunity to lead a nation through arguably one of the toughest periods in modern history.
Ramaphosa's leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped his year and, very likely, his legacy.
Ramaphosa's leadership during the Covid-19 crisis has been exceptional. Leading from the front and communicating regularly and clearly, the president's famous "family meetings" kept the country abreast of the government's strategy to fight the virus.
Although we criticised some of the nonsensical lockdown regulations introduced by his Cabinet colleagues, and argue that the president should have done more to challenge irrational interventions, like a ban on tobacco products or certain clothing, Ramaphosa's central role was to lead the country through science and transparency.
In a time of fake news and alternative facts, we are thankful that we had Ramaphosa leading us through one of the greatest crises of modern times. With the information and science available to him at the time, we do not fault Ramaphosa for imposing a hard lockdown to ready South Africa's health system for the impending crisis, and change behaviours.
He was failed by a weak state that couldn't provide an adequate safety net to the poor, who lost their income and access to feeding schemes. And irrespective of his best intentions, a few weeks that became months of lockdown couldn't prepare the broken public health system of the Eastern Cape for the province's Covid-19 scourge.
Nobody was happier than Ramaphosa when the Hawks finally pounced on state capture suspects like Vincent Smith, Ace Magashule and Mmamonnye Ngobeni. The political fallout aside, it was incredibly important that the criminal justice system started functioning this year.
Politically, 2020 was the year during which Ramaphosa strengthened his political power in the ANC. His detractors may have underestimated the vast powers of his office and there is very little chance that Ramaphosa would be successfully unseated before his term ends.
Despite his best intentions to establish a world-class public health system, grow an innovative new economy and root out corruption, Ramaphosa was dealt a weak state that he is not fixing fast enough.
Ramaphosa may have wanted to firmly entrench his political power before he moves hard against incompetent and crooked civil servants, but the time has come to make brave moves to save the country.
To save the economy, Ramaphosa can no longer dither when it comes to matters like a bloated public service wage bill, restructuring Eskom or saving SAA.
The recent fallout at the SABC over necessary retrenchments was a curtain-raiser for Ramaphosa on what could happen in all state entities over the next 12 to 18 months. He will have to stand firm in the face of populist retreat and do what is necessary to save the country's balance sheet.
Ramaphosa promised that Eskom would be restructured almost three years ago – when is it happening? Granting powers to municipalities to buy electricity from independents was a big achievement this year, but this needs to be rolled out at scale.
Dealing with Magashule's corruption case is a litmus test for Ramaphosa. If he fails to sideline the secretary-general, who is at the centre of the NPA's state capture prosecutions, it will be a serious blow for his authority to lead the country's fight against corruption.
Overall score out of 10: 7
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