South Africa

Op-Ed: Cyril Ramaphosa – New Dawn, False Hope

By Kimal Harvey 13 March 2018

While Ramaphosa’s South Africa seems hopeful, his Budget is harsh and his Cabinet is still in effect captured. We must pierce through the veil of Ramaphoria and acknowledge that justice has not yet been done for the majority, notably the victims of apartheid. By KIMAL HARVEY.

Early indications are that the much-heralded New Dawn might be betrayed by false hopes. The framing of Cyril Ramaphosa’s South Africa does not look very dissimilar to our recent past, but there are some silver linings. Eskom is a start, SARS is promised, and the pending commission of inquiry into State Capture is urgently required. Parliament just recently took its first steps to amending the constitution for land expropriation “without compensation”. This would represent a significant break with post-independence South Africa’s early history, and would constitute a revolutionary change targeted at alleviating certain burdens and pains still so severely present 24 years after apartheid. A necessary palliative to cure the residual ills of the past nine years of a corrupt government is the importance of holding those who designed this impoverished and captured state to account.

The Cabinet reshuffle was an indicator that the so-called New Dawn was dead on arrival; it was a case of out with the crooked, and in with the same old and still crooked cadres. The silver linings were represented by the return of Nhlanhla Nene back as the Minster of Finance and Pravin Gordhan back in Cabinet heading Public Enterprises. However, the gurus of State Capture also acquired and retained their seats at the Cabinet table.

Zuma’s misrule was a symptom of a larger structural and systemic issue in our country. One symptom that we should be remain engaged in excavating as well as eliminating the captured state, which he left in his wake. Zuma must be held accountable and so should his “cronies”, this culture of impunity for corruption must never repeat itself again.

Over the last 20 years the black majority has remained disempowered and has not seen the promised benefits of the democratic state. We need to temper the exuberance of “Ramaphoria” as he has a lot of work to do to convince a very frustrated young South African like myself. The 2015 and 2016 #FeesMustFall youth movement sought equality for access and opportunity, and became a lodestar for the youth’s annoyance at a deeply racist and discriminatory system that our government and the leaders of the liberation have just allowed to permeate. This movement was part of a much larger decolonial conversation that South Africa needs to continue having. Concretely, the South African government needs to appropriately tackle this debate in order to capture the youths’ vote.

The best place to start would’ve been to include younger voices in government, yet as stated, the “new” Cabinet has a very elderly look to it. Ramaphosa was unequivocal that “young South Africans will be moved to the centre of our economic agenda”. Using the Cabinet as a benchmark, this seems like empty rhetoric since they appear to be excluded from the policy and framework decision-making.

Despite this terrible oversight, the Budget plan seems to be promising some relief in terms of financing free education for the poor. All students coming from families with an income lower than R350,000 per year will be fully funded for the first year of their studies in 2018.

Paradoxically, the VAT increased from 14% to 15% has the negative consequence of affecting those who could benefit from free education through additional taxation.

Ramaphosa has, however, taken a strong stance against the culture of collusion that his predecessor had fostered over the last two terms. “We will urgently take decisive steps to comply with all directions of the Constitutional Court. I want to personally allay fears of any disruption to the efficient delivery of this critical service, and will take action to ensure no person in government is undermining implementation deadlines set by the court.” This is an indication to any dubious characters in government that their behaviour would be monitored from now on, relevant especially considering the lack of action that followed most Constitutional Court decisions in the past.

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, government finally seem to be taking land reform seriously. Parliament recently passed a motion to amend the Constitution to allow for land expropriation “without compensation,” with 241 members voting in favour while 83 voted against. The DA, Freedom Front Plus, Cope and ACDP are the parties that make up the opposing 83 – meanwhile the ANC and EFF champion the winning side. There is differing opinion on this motion, as some believe that the Constitution already has the capacity to implement land expropriation without compensation.

It is important to see government take concrete steps towards dealing with an issue that has been around since the dawn of colonialism. A serious land reform policy could do a great deal to alleviate many of the injustices that still persist since those early days of colonialism and apartheid.

While Ramaphosa’s South Africa seems hopeful, his Budget is harsh and his Cabinet is grey and still in effect captured. We must pierce through the veil of Ramaphoria and acknowledge that justice has not yet been done for the vast majority, notably the victims of apartheid; the war on corruption must continue; and so much more needs to be done to alleviate poverty, inequality, unemployment as well as racial and gender discrimination. Civil society needs to stay vigilant and forceful, and push government to uphold its obligations and promises beyond what has been shown so far. Otherwise, the New Dawn will only persist as a False Hope. DM

Kimal Harvey is Programme Intern at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Cape Town

Photo: Newly elected President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa is sworn in during an extraordinary sitting of Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 15 February 2018. EPA-EFE/MIKE HUTCHINGS

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