Cyril Ramaphosa sworn in as President of the Republic of South Africa by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng after his election by Parliament to fill the vacancy left by former president Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS
Friday will mark exactly 100 days since President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected into office. As he sees the end of his first 100 days at the Union Buildings, the president’s scorecard is a mixture of optimism in the future of the country - coupled with harsh economic realities, wage strikes, tax increases and runaway food prices.

Ramaphosa was sworn in as South Africa’s fifth democratically elected president since 1994 - on February 15 - during a week that was preceded by unprecedented political events which led to the postponement of the State of the Nation Address and the resignation of president Jacob Zuma.

Although Ramaphosa, 66, took the helm at a time that the economy was in the one of its worst states, with spiralling unemployment, many South Africans believe the president was steering the country in the right direction.

His approval rating of 65% is on par with that of his predecessors, presidents Thabo Mbeki and Zuma at the 100-day mark.

Both Mbeki and Zuma scored 66% and 68% respectively by the time they reached their 100th day in office.

The South African Citizen Survey (Sacs) on the attitudes of South Africans towards political leadership and the direction in which the country was moving had found that 65% of its respondents were satisfied with Ramaphosa.

The survey was conducted once a month by Citizen Surveys and was based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1300 respondents on topics including politics, economics, social issues and food security.

The survey found that 65% of respondents felt favourably inclined towards Ramaphosa in March, up from 57% in February. Almost two-thirds of respondents thought he was doing a good job.

President Ramaphosa led by Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete before delivering his State of the Nation Address in Cape Town. Picture: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS

Some analysts agree with these sentiments, adding that Ramaphosa displayed his business acumen and listening skills in the face of economic pressures during his first 100 days in the hot seat.

“We think the president has moved quickly to address some of the low-hanging fruit that needed improvement, but the jury is still out on whether the president will have the necessary support to address the harder issues,” said University of Stellenbosch’s Bureau for Economic Research (BER) senior economist Hugo Pienaar.

However, Pienaar said reform of the labour and education sectors were necessary for South Africa to achieve higher longer-term gross domestic product growth rates.

“More also needs to be done to reduce the cost of doing business in South Africa,” he said.

Business Unity SA (Busa) chief executive Tanya Cohen agreed, saying the election of Ramaphosa had been a notable contributor to the revival of business and investor confidence in the country.

The Rand Merchant Bank/BER business confidence index (BCI) jumped 11-index points from 34 in the fourth quarter last year to 45 in the first quarter of this year. The organisations described such a big increase between quarters as rare, adding that since 1975, confidence increased 11 index points or more on only 15 occasions.

“The president’s inclusive approach, recognising the legitimate interests and contribution of all social partners, including business, will be key to South Africa’s economic revival, serving to unlock investment, economic growth and employment,” Cohen said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of the Thuma Mina campaign at Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA

Most notable achievements

The most notable achievements of Ramaphosa have been his interventions at state-owned entities (SOEs) such as Eskom and SA Airways (SAA), where he has been seen as a new broom sweeping away years of corruption and maladministration.

He has also pushed through a new minimum wage, moved to address challenges at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) and appointed investment envoys to bring in more than one R1trillion worth of investments to the country.

The interventions at SOEs comprised the finalisation of turnaround strategies with a specific focus on mandate positioning and market development, strengthening of corporate governance structures, and stabilising finances.

The Presidency said at Eskom, where Ramaphosa put in place a new board, the interventions had a direct impact in the stabilisation of electricity supply while mitigating the effects of load shedding.

The measures also included the appointment of the chief executive and chief financial officer, stabilisation of executive management and strengthening of the board.

This, while working with public enterprises and National Treasury to address some of the pressing funding shortfalls of the institution.

At SAA, a 90-day action plan was implemented and, currently the government is in the process of finalising the appointment of a new board of directors as part of efforts to ensure good corporate governance.

“Overall, we think the interventions have been positive and helped to improve both business and consumer confidence.

“Also of importance were the immediate actions to address the liquidity issues at Eskom by appointing a credible interim chief executive and putting in place a new board.

“Indications of institutional renewal at other key state institutions, including Sars, have also been positively received as an indication of the president’s anti-corruption and open for business drive,” Pienaar said.

The cabinet reshuffle, as well as the reconstitution of many of the boards of SOEs was also seen by Busa as signalling a new era of “ethical, accountable leadership and good governance”.

“This has translated into improvements in business confidence; strengthening of the local currency; and more positive reviews by ratings agencies and international investors, as expressed during the International Investor Roadshow undertaken by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in March this year,” the organisation said.

South Africans went crazy on social media after it emerged President Cyril Ramaphosa had flown in economy class. Picture: Siyasanga Mbambani/DoC

Jobs summit

And soon after taking office, Ramaphosa promised to convene a jobs summit within the next few months to align the efforts of every sector and every stakeholder behind the imperative of job creation.

The summit will look at what we need to do to ensure the economy grows and becomes more productive, that companies invest on a far greater scale, that workers are better equipped, and that our economic infrastructure is expanded.

Recently, he followed up on his promise to launch the youth employment service initiative, which will place unemployed youth in paid internships in companies across the economy. Some say the president has also moved to unite the nation around one common goal and patriotism through his “thuma mina” message.

Thorny issues

Like any president, Ramaphosa has already had his challenges, with land invasions and service delivery protests being the most notable.

One political analyst believes that the issue of land is one of the major thorny issues that Ramaphosa will have to carefully manoeuvre through, and one that could define his presidency’s successes or failures.

“The land question is at the height of the political agenda and its resolution is urgent.

“How President Ramaphosa is seen to be leading or brokering a solution on this issue will be crucial,” said University of KwaZulu-Natal-based political analyst Lukhona Mnguni.

In his State of the Nation Address, Ramaphosa had said he would be guided by the resolutions of the 54th national conference of the governing party on the issue of land.

Those resolutions included the approach that land would be expropriated without compensation.

“We are determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensures that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid,” Ramaphosa said in February.

Significantly, Mnguni said Ramaphosa’s movements in government are likely to be constantly limited by the internal dynamics within the governing party.

“The debate on land is very important for him going forward.

“But there are other issues that he would want to intervene on but his interventions unfortunately rely on the balance of power and internal consideration within the ANC,” he said.

Economically, Cohen said, business would like to see the president maintain the focus on accountability and ethical leadership, building capacity within the state so as to implement stable, coherent, evidence-based policies.

“This will provide the foundation to enable long-term sustainable and inclusive growth, employment and social development,” she said.

Pienaar said a public sector wage agreement that was contained around the projected consumer price index inflation rate will be important for the country’s fiscal position, as well as how the major credit rating agencies view South Africa.

The Mining Charter also needed to be finalised speedily and should preferably have buy-in from the major mining houses, Pienaar added.