President Cyril Ramaphosa faces tough challenges for SA's new dawn

Cyril Ramaphosa takes the oath of office at his inauguration. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Cyril Ramaphosa takes the oath of office at his inauguration. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Published May 26, 2019


As the world gathered to witness another Madiba moment, it was clear Cyril Ramaphosa’s dream of 25 years was now a reality.

A boy from Soweto won the 2019 national general elections and was crowned South Africa’s fourth democratically elected president.

The world came to wish him well, inciting a 1994-type of nostalgia. Ramaphosa broke tradition and was inaugurated at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in the city of Tshwane, as opposed to the Union Buildings where apartheid presidents were inaugurated.

The explanation behind this was that Ramaphosa’s inauguration would be R100 million cheaper than his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. Analysts have criticised the inauguration saying it was a waste of state funds.

Political scientist Thando Dotyeni said if Ramaphosa’s “clean government statement” was a genuine aspiration and not a campaign slogan, then he would have opted to be sworn-in in his office and escaped the pomp and ceremony of an inauguration; saving the country about R250m.

Some have argued it is an unnecessary festival of bells and whistles to inaugurate a man who has already been in power for more than a year.

In fact, Ramaphosa has many challenges to face.

His first will be proving that he is not an operative of white capital. Julius Malema’s comments at Wednesday’s swearing-in of Ramaphosa in Parliament proves concern of his proximity to white people. Ramaphosa must convince black people that he has their best interests at heart.

“He must show that he has a genuine plan for transformation of the economy and that he is prepared to return land to black people,” Dotyeni said.

As he walks away from Loftus as the fourth president, Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” will be characterised by the sweeping changes he will make not only to the Cabinet but also the spheres of government that have been tainted by corruption, inefficiency and a factional battle.

His first 100 days in office are crucial and how he deals with state-owned enterprises (SOEs), especially Eskom, will set the tone for his five-year term.

Political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu said Ramaphosa must be praised for acting within the law to address problems at SOEs, especially Eskom.

“But I think not enough was done and the intermittent outages have discredited him in many ways.

“On the one hand, he was going around the world trying to jump-start our economy and, while doing that, Eskom was not coming to the party in terms of making electricity supply always available.

“That affected many businesses and would have scared other potential investors. On that score, as much as the president tried to deal with Eskom, I don’t think enough has been done to address the situation.”

The country was affected by load shedding prior to the elections and despite the feeling of hope that Ramaphosa, as the leader of the ANC offered, this was not a good sign for his leadership.

“This showed that the problem was beyond his control because ideally, politicians would like to ensure everything is in order prior to the elections because they are looking for votes but that did not happen,” he said.

Mngomezulu said the issue of state capture should not be credited to Ramaphosa because the “process was already under way when he was elected ANC president at the 2017 Nasrec elective conference.

“The former president was pressured to appoint the commission of inquiry to look into this issue.

“Initially, he was reluctant but he felt the public pressure.”

Mngomezulu said the factionalism within the ANC is a reality and Ramaphosa’s close victory at the 2017 ANC elective conference revealed that he held an ace card in the (now) party’s deputy president David Mabuza.

“Ramaphosa will have to make tough choices to deal with the factionalism in the party for his first 100 days.”

He is not only viewed from a political perspective but his experience in business has been welcomed by that sector, which now looks to him to help reinvigorate a stagnant economy.

Standard Bank chief economist Goolam Ballim said business would look at the framework for the reform process, which is made up of two stages, to assess how Ramaphosa performs in his first 100 days in office.

“Stage one would have involved reform at government and quasi government institutions and in the main, these are personnel changes at the National Prosecuting Authority, SA Revenue Service, the Hawks and police services.

“The ultimate aim was to improve governance and policy changes.”

Ballim said stage two now beckons and this is important and aided by Ramaphosa’s confirmation as state president for the next five years.

“He has been bolstered by the ANC’s victory in the national elections and that will give him further capital to act on what we refer to as the stage two reforms.”

Ballim said the macroeconomic reforms would be underpinned by the ministers that have been appointed to crucial portfolios.

“They will enunciate the shape of policy direction. The key ministries are economics, security cluster and both health and education.

“Mining is also crucial but there have been material improvement in the dialogue between the miners and the ministry,” he said.

Ballim said that would be critical over the first 100 days.

“We would like to see further capital in terms of the president strengthening his position within the party and we would like to see stability in Eskom and its financial status.”

The last battle awaiting Ramaphosa may be what is usually defined as the battle for the soul of the ANC.

The party’s removal of former president Thabo Mbeki, before completing his term, set a dangerous precedent for ANC presidents.

Zuma’s removal was a similar scene to Mbeki’s axing, with the battle of forces between the head of state and the head of the ANC being the contest.

If Ramaphosa fails to garner a majority in the national elective committee, he may be removed at the party’s National General Council or asked to step down after the party’s national election in 2022.

By then, Ramaphosa would only have served for three years as president of the republic.

Political Bureau

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