South Africa

Ramaphosa in New York

Ramaphosa eyes solution to land question, hints at election before May

President Ramaphosa interacting with guests before delivering his toast remarks at a Reception held in honour of President Mandela in the United Nations Headquarters. 24/09/2018, Elmond Jiyane, GCIS (flickr)

President Cyril Ramaphosa says he can already see a solution “on the horizon” to the controversial land question. He has also disclosed that he will call the next general elections before May next year and expressed confidence that the ANC will win them “quite easily”.

Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Monday, Ramaphosa who is here mainly to attend the opening of the annual United Nations General Assembly debate on Tuesday, said the ANC was starting to regain its support.

The ANC is getting back its mojo and strength…. the mojo is coming back,” when asked how the ANC stood after all its problems under his predecessor Jacob Zuma, including the State Capture corruption scandal.

The ANC was starting to regain its support because of the moves his administration was taking to clean up captured state-owned enterprises and government departments and to provide greater policy certainty. Those found responsible for corruption would “face the full might of the law”.

The judiciary will be very busy over the next few months,” he promised.

Ramaphosa, who indicated the elections would “held next year, before May of 2019” was asked how he could so confidently predict an easy election victory for the ANC, given the poor state of the economy, when the rand was the fourth-worst performing currency in the world and the SA Reserve Bank had lowered its 2018 growth estimate down from 3%.

Ramaphosa said several policy problems which had been causing uncertainty and discouraging investment and growth were now “done and dusted” so investment should now begin.

He cited the improvements to the Mining Charter after wide consultation, the allocation of the delayed telecommunications spectrum – which would be “done and dusted in a week or so” – the resolution of problem which companies had experienced in getting visas for their executives which had caused “a huge headache” – and also the lowering of electricity prices to attract companies which use a lot of electricity.

He told the council the solution he was glimpsing to the land question had emerged from the over 650,000 submissions which had been made to the parliamentary committee examining the possibility of amending the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation.

The process would lead either to the Constitution being amended or left in place while other laws were passed to address the land question, he said. He stressed as often before that “there will be no land grab”.

Stability would only be reached in the country when historical land dispossession had been addressed, Ramaphosa said. He did not elaborate on the solution he was seeing, save to mention the “huge” tracts of government land which would be given to landless people, the need to give people land for housing and the numbers of companies who wanted to give their land away to address the injustices of the past.

We have received exciting proposals…we believe a solution is at hand,” he said, again also stressing that the issue would be dealt with by relying on “the South African DNA as taught us by Nelson Mandela, to address the problem not through violence but through talking”.

Asked how he was addressing the technical recession with two quarters of negative growth, Ramaphosa told the council about his efforts to stimulate the economy by pumping in money.

But he also noted that he was aware that such stimulus was constrained by the country’s high debt burden and high borrowing costs. The solution he had opted for was to boost the economy through building infrastructure, he said, describing the R400 billion infrastructure fund he had recently announced.

Clearing out the corruption from state owned enterprises and government departments would also help to make South Africa much more attractive to investors – domestic as well as foreign, Ramaphosa said, referring to his target of attracting $100-billion of investment over five years.

He said corruption was not only in government, citing the “gigantic scandals” in private companies through which billions of rands had been lost from pension funds among others.

Ramaphosa appeared to make a good impression on his audience as he spelt out his domestic and foreign policies with a business-like approach.

He said South Africa was working with other African countries to establish a Continental Free Trade Area, “which would fundamentally transform Africa’s economies and consolidate the continent’s position in the global trading system”.

This dream – of a single African market for goods and services – has been made possible by sustained economic growth that many African countries have experienced over the past few years. They have also experienced greater political stability over the past few years and we are now beginning to look forward to the dividend of peace and the dividend of having a common market.”

Roger Altman of Evercore Corporation who was chairing the meeting responded by saying: “There’s probably nothing more reassuring to business people than to hear the newly-minted leader of a major country like South Africa come here and talk about dividend policy.”

Ramaphosa did not answer yes or no when Altman asked him if South Africa had mended relations with the US after the row between him and US President Donald Trump over Trump’s recent tweet saying he had asked his Secretary of State to investigate land seizures and farm murders.

I regret to say President Trump was ill-informed about what was happening in South Africa, I think if he had taken time to get better information from us, he would have been much better informed and his comments would have been better appreciated by South Africans,” Ramaphosa said.

He added that his government had sent clear messages to the US State Department and to the US itself that his government was consulting broadly on the land issue – which was “the original sin which was committed in South Africa when the colonialists came” – and was dealing with it within the Constitution and the law.

Though Ramaphosa did not mention it, his officials had earlier announced that International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu would meet US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo later this week to try to patch up the quarrel.

Officials said Ramaphosa and Trump were likely to share a table at a lunch at the UN, on Tuesday.

Ramaphosa did warmly thank the US – not only the government but others such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – as well as European countries and the UN, for the help they were giving SA to try to curb the Aids pandemic.

Largely because of that help in treating 4.3-million people with anti-retrovirals, South Africa’s HIV infection rate, which he acknowledged was still the highest in the world, had begun “to plateau and go down”.

On South Africa’s basic foreign policy approach, Ramaphosa said South Africa remained inspired by the role Nelson Mandela had played as a bridge builder and sought “to follow his example in bringing together divergent perspectives”.

This approach was reinforced “by a number of disturbing global developments” including the resurgence of geopolitical rivalry, which had not been experienced since the Cold War era, the growing challenge to important multilateral arrangements such as withdrawal from commitments on financing for development, climate change and nuclear non-proliferation.

These challenges were by no means insurmountable, he said. Earlier in the day addressing the Mandela peace summit at the UN, Ramaphosa had urged world leaders to honour the legacy of Mandela by tackling such global problems, particularly conflicts and poverty, with greater commitment.

He noted at the council that the summit had adopted a political declaration for the UN to observe the next 10 years as the Nelson Mandela International Decade for Peace.

Sisulu said at a reception which Ramaphosa hosted on Monday night that about 100 heads of state or government had addressed the Mandela summit on Monday or would do so when it reconvened next month. It had to be held over because so many world leaders wanted to speak.

In his Council on Foreign Relations speech, Ramaphosa stressed the need too address world conflicts through more preventive diplomacy, including through greater partnership between the United Nations and regional organisations such as the African Union.

This will be a focus of South Africa’s diplomacy when it goes onto the UN Security Council in January next year for a two year stint.

Ramaphosa also called for building more meaningful partnerships between UN member states, international organisations, civil society organisations and the private sector to tackle conflict and other global problems.

Earlier, addressing top business executives, including Microsoft President Brad Smith and celebrities such as actor Michael Douglas – a UN Messenger of Peace – at the UN Private Sector Forum at the UN, Ramaphosa spelt out how business could do that.

He said by investing in post-conflict countries, businesses could help stabilise them and prevent them slipping back into conflict. He praised the UN Global Compact for its efforts to do that. DM


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