THE SHAKE UP: Ramaphosa's great opportunity
JOHANNESBURG - Let us forget about Irvin Jim’s insatiable quest for power. Let us assume the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party (SRWP) to be something that happened in a legend the same way the United Front only existed in the figment of those who believed South Africa was ripe for a socialist take over.
Let us blind our eyes from his contention that he, and only he, has not sold out on the working class to the mythical beast called white monopoly capital for 30 pieces of silver.
Let us wink (at least twice) for Jim’s sidekick, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, when she tells the nation with a straight face that the very 350000 or so members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) who found the SRWP a bit absurd would one day rise up against us.
Let us accept, therefore, that if Hlaudi Motsoeneng is a little delirious, and Andile Mngitama funnier after outsourcing the thinking part of his brain to the Guptas, then Jim’s dream of a Bolshevik revolution in the globalised world of the 21st century is steroids gone bonkers.
That such an ambitious and power drunk elite could, however, hoodwink a good few thousands to believe that they are the real deal should send shivers down our spines.
But our concerns should be focused more around the demise of another iconic South African giant, AngloGold Ashanti.
Last week AngloGold Ashanti, announced that it had decided to sell its last remaining gold operation in the country, Mponeng, to stem losses.
AngloGold Ashanti is as much of the South African fabric as biltong, MTN and Kaizer Chiefs.
The decision to offload Mponeng marked the end of an era that started in 1917 when Ernest Oppenheimer opened Anglo, paving the way for mining to become the bedrock of South Africa’s economy and propelling it to the continent’s most prominent enterprise.
Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assertion that the industry is not on its sunset, the reality is that it has become more expensive to harvest minerals at bigger depth underground. The failure of the industry to diversify and the mushrooming of zama zamas have not helped its fortunes.
In a country that is battling rampant unemployment, any talk of taking even the smallest of businesses to another destination should be worrying. More so as we witness the mothballing and collapse of a once-thriving construction industry.
Yesterday, Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) said that the country’s unemployment rate rose in the first quarter of 2019 as construction and financial services firms cut jobs.
StatsSA said unemployment accelerated to 27.6percent from 27.1percent during the period - a 15-month high - on the back of sluggish economic growth.
Youth unemployment has risen to 55.2percent, a scary prospect, given that South Africa, like the rest of the continent, is predominantly a young nation.
This is what Ramaphosa inherits as he begins his own reign later this month.
He will be hard pressed to chart a new vision for the country.
But to do that he will have to accept that the National Development Plan has failed to energise the country, because it is nothing but a wish list.
The closest we came to have some pragmatism in our economy was the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) macro-economic strategy of the mid-1990, which focused on expanding the black middle class in South Africa and expanding the consumption side of the economy.
Gear was able to stimulate economic growth north of 4percent and provided the financial backing to the government’s expansion programmes.
The management of public finances also improved drastically under Gear and the restructuring of government departments led to a reduction in state expenditure.
However, it failed to rally private investment behind its objectives.
Ramaphosa needs to come up with a vision that will take South Africa into the 21st century. He will have to find a balance between fiscal prudence and redistribution.
That should start with overhauling our education system. Our kids should be taught that there is life outside of the traditional disciplines.
They should be made ready for opportunities that the 4th Industrial Revolution and green economy brings.
They should be taught entrepreneurship from an early age, which would allow them to run their own businesses and teach the value of self-reliance.
As former president Kgalema Motlanthe pointed out in his growth report, South Africa’s small and medium enterprises are located far from the main centres of economic activity.
Ramaphosa would need to know that far from the delusional takeover a la Jim, South Africa is ripe for a new industrial policy that would up-scale sectors such as agriculture into drivers of more growth and employment.
Such a policy would need to be backed by rigorous funding and a redirecting of skill. Ramaphosa would also have to speed up the restructuring of state-owned enterprises as they have become an albatross to the fiscus.
Billions that are used to bail out these failing entities would be better used to stimulate growth that can be shared instead of saving jobs for those who are unionised.
Ramaphosa would have to prioritise the breaking down of Eskom into three separate units as the current model is not only unsustainable, it is plainly outdated.
When the world is moving towards cleaner energy, South Africa cannot be stuck in the coal generation of its electricity that has already seen it accumulating more than $28billion (R400bn) in debt.
Local and foreign investors and lenders are increasingly getting weary of providing more credit.
For a president who enjoys more popularity than his own political party, Ramaphosa is at the centre of a huge national backing that can change our fortunes.
To achieve this, he would also need to appoint men and women of courage and integrity into his cabinet to help him implement his vision.
While the reintroduction of the advisory unit in his office is admirable, it is not enough.
The entire civil service needs to be reformed from the patronage network that proliferated under the previous administration into a professional outfit that is only accountable to the Constitution.
His detractors in Luthuli House and Nkandla would be watching his every move like vultures ready to pounce on a carcass. But Ramaphosa has enough credibility, clout and political capital to offset any undue encroachment on his turf.
He needs to be the president all South Africa can be proud to call theirs.
If late president Nelson Mandela crafted national reconciliation and his successor Thabo Mbeki championed African Renaissance, Ramaphosa should be the father of South Africa’s economic revival and renewal from ruins.