South Africans' 5-point agenda for Ramaphosa

Wednesday May 15 2019

President Elect of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa

President Elect of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa gestures as he dances on stage after delivering a speech outside Luthuli House, the ANC's headquarters in Johannesburg, on May 12, 2019. On Wednesday, he promised quicker reforms to attract investments and create jobs as the electorate demands equitable prosperity in the Rainbow Nation. PHOTO | WIKUS DE WET | AFP 

PETER DUBE
By PETER DUBE
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South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is back in the driving seat for the next five years after winning 57.5 per cent of the votes in the just-ended provincial and national elections.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is the man at the wheel and all eyes are on him to fix the wrongs of the past administration that include corruption, mismanagement and patronage.

Under Jacob Zuma’s government, the depth of South Africa’s national crisis was clearer than ever.

The country battled numerous corruption scandals, sluggish economic growth, record unemployment and poverty.

And after dropping 23 seats in parliament in the May 8 election, President Ramaphosa, a former businessman and unionist, knows he has to move swiftly to address a number of issues that are top in the ‘wish-list’ of citizens.

In his first appearance since being declared winner, President Ramaphosa stroke all the right chords on steering faster reform, including turning around power utility Eskom.

At a meeting of chief executives sponsored by Goldman Sachs investment bank in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Mr Ramaphosa said a number of reforms had been identified.

"We are now going to do that with greater speed. We are going to ensure that the certainty that investors want to see is there," he said.
He singled out reform of state-owned enterprises saying Eskom had been set back by corruption and completely destroyed management processes.

The utility, which he described as "too big to fail" is teetering with debts of $30 billion.

He announced in February it would be split into generation, transmission and distribution units

The end-game of the reforms, he said, was to tackle South Africa's unemployment, which stands at 27 per cent.

"The key mandate I have as president which keeps me awake at night is to make sure that our focus is on jobs," he said.

The wish-list for South Africans as they went to the polls, however, is far much longer, if not broader than keeping the lights on and creating jobs.

Africa Review samples the top ones.

Purge South Africa of corruption
Eradicating corruption is at the top of the list of issues the electorate would like to see their leader and his new Cabinet tackle with urgency.

During Mr Zuma’s second tenure, between 2014 and 2018, corruption and state capture went hand in hand with Mr Zuma name closely linked to the scandals.

The Southern African Catholics Bishops Conference (SACBC) has already urged Mr Ramaphosa to show a firm hand in dealing with those implicated in corruption and state capture at both national, provincial and local level.

His response - "Whether they like it or not, we will end corruption and we will nail them” - was a reassuring one.

Create employment

With an unemployment rate of more than 27 percent and big employers like mining shedding jobs, small businesses could be the fillip.

For them to pray that role, however, reforms will be required especially those promoting enterprise.

"The government should be asking how it can build a nation of entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Pieter Bensch, executive vice-president at Sage Africa & Middle East.

Among the policies analysts say would achieve this are those aimed at attracting investments in the manufacturing and mining sectors which, to be fair, President Ramaphosa had embarked on.

“He’s got to address the country’s structural economic issues, remove red tape for small and medium enterprises in terms of registering businesses and seeking financing," says Mandla Mzimela, an economic analyst.

And there is the small matter of xenophopia which puts off investors in small scale industries.
Lead a lean, clean cabinet

The South African leader finds himself under immense pressure to unveil a downsized cabinet, possibly of around 30 ministries, to signal official seriousness austerity.

South Africa’s cabinet has grown from 26 under Nelson Mandela in 1994 to 34 ministers and 37 deputy ministers. The United States has 15, Kenya 18 and the United Kingdom 21.

Related to that are calls by the ruling party's trade union partner Cosatu, to distance himself from 22 rogue ministers implicated in corruption.

"We expect a streamlined, competent and capable cabinet devoid of disgraced politicians," Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) executive director Neeshan Balton summed up the wishes.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said the expansion was not meant to make it more effective.

"It was simply to accommodate political friends or for patronage. It has become a very costly exercise,” Dr Fikeni said.

Stability in the cabinet, he said, would also be key as frequent changes signalled policy uncertainty.

President Ramaphosa take on this will be known when he announces the cabinet on May 26, a day after his inauguration.

Land redistribution without hurting output

President Ramaphosa has vowed to accelerate the redistribution of land to the black majority, endorsing a constitutional amendment to make expropriation without compensation easier.

Surely, in the next five years, the blacks, who are majority of the country's 56 million people, will expect significant progress in the land redistribution issue.

He seemingly has learnt lessons from neighbouring Zimbabwe and has repeatedly offered assurances that investments and food security would not be threatened by this exercise.

Tackle poverty and inequality

More than half of the population is still poor a quarter century into independence, underscoring vast inequalities.

At least three million South Africans have dropped below the poverty line in the past eight years, bringing to 30.4 million or 55 percent of the population those who live below R992 ($70) per month according to Statistics South Africa.

One way of addressing this is empowering the majority black through the now controversial free tertiary education for students from poor and working class backgrounds.

He has pledged to expand it this year to cover first and second year university students.

The impact of this, however, will take a while to be felt and quicker fixes may be called for before the next election.

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