JOHANNESBURG - South Africa succeeded in turning around public finances and setting itself on an improved growth path in the early years of democracy, but has been less successful in addressing the structural faults in the economy, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday.
In a speech prepared for delivery at a conference convened by the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection and the University of Johannesburg to mark 25 years of democracy, Ramaphosa said progress had been undermined, particularly since a global financial crisis, by stagnant growth, declining investment, maladministration and corruption, among others.
He said research and academic institutions had a critical role to play in advising government, and providing the necessary data that informs its planning models.
“As I said in the state of the nation address a few weeks ago, this is a government that is not afraid of new ideas, and of new ways of thinking,” he said.
“We want to work with you, and for you to challenge us, to bring added rigour to the work of government.
Ramaphosa said South Africa was a “vastly different place” to what it was in 1994 when his African National Congress assumed power at the fall of white minority apartheid rule.
“As a 2018 report published by the South African Institute of Race Relations notes, we are sometimes too modest about our achievements,” he said.
The government had in the first years of democracy been called upon to address an immediate economic crisis, characterised by a substantial fiscal deficit, a huge apartheid debt bill and stagnant growth, Ramaphosa said.
“Through sound macroeconomic management and, to some extent, the benefits of a democratic dividend, we succeeded in turning around public finances and setting the country on an improved growth path,” he said.
“Over the course of the last 25 years, however, we have been less successful in addressing the structural faults in our economy.”
He acknowledged that unemployment had increased over the last decade, poverty levels had begun to rise again and millions of South Africans remained excluded through a lack of assets, skills and networks.
Many South Africans hope that former businessman Ramaphosa’s election as president will undo a decade of decay under his predecessor Jacob Zuma, who has been widely accused, but denies being corrupt.
“Once again, our economy is in a crisis,” Ramaphosa said on Tuesday, adding that the optimism that characterised the early years of democracy had been steadily eroded by disaffection and disillusionment.
“Corruption has steadily eroded the state’s capacity to meet people’s needs and is worsening a trust deficit between government and the citizenry,” he said.
"We need to work together to improve the current state of affairs, to aid in nation building and the forging of a common national identity."