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Performance Assessment Part 2

One year later: Audit of Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation 2018 turns up a good score

One year later: Audit of Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation 2018 turns up a good score
President Cyril Ramaphosa has done most of the things he said he would in his first year of office, but a huge injection of change is still necessary. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

By our calculations, Ramaphosa has achieved 17 of the 26 key promises he made last February. He has failed at four items and progress on five items is questionable. Give him a B+ for trying to deliver on his promises.

This article has been amended to note that the mining charter has in fact been tabled. The initial article said that it had not been.  The Daily Maverick apologises for the error.

If you treat the annual State of the Nation Address as a promise to the nation and then assess how well President Cyril Ramaphosa has done, he is a B+ student.

Last February, President Cyril Ramaphosa had to deliver an annual address which had been prepared for his predecessor, former president Jacob Zuma. He reports to the nation on February 7.

He added the rallying call of Thuma Mina, or Send Me, based on a song by the jazz giant Hugh Masekela, who had died a few weeks before. Ramaphosa took out a few of Zuma’s pet projects, but kept the idea of promise and deliver that has become the norm of South African national addresses since President Thabo Mbeki, who was a managerialist president. This means he saw himself as a CEO running a company.

By Daily Maverick calculations, Ramaphosa has achieved 17 of the 26 key promises he made. He has failed at four items and progress on five items is questionable.

Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address on Valentine’s Day in 2018 was focused on two things: the political economy and corruption. He inherited an economy in distress and a country on the edge of an investment ratings downgrade. Corruption was so endemic that South Africans had a new term to add to their lexicon: State Capture.

A year later, South Africa has staved off a downgrade, but the economy has not been steered sufficiently far from the fiscal cliff to keep it from a threat of a downgrade.

And corruption is still a narrative of the norm, but it has transmogrified into a festival of truth: this is because South Africa has three sitting judicial commissions of inquiry into different forms and arenas of State Capture sitting simultaneously, while a fourth, into tax administration and management of SARS, has completed its work. Ramaphosa’s presidency can thus be characterised as an anti-corruption administration, but the governing party of which he is also president can be said to be mired in corruption.

South Africa’s economy is still in the doldrums, growing at less than a single percentage point and the state-owned enterprises, led by Eskom, are so indebted and dependent on state guarantees that they continue to drag down growth and prosperity. What Ramaphosa has achieved is a focus on economic recovery, although this has not been helped by instability in the leadership of the National Treasury.

Ramaphosa is onto his second finance minister in under a year. The man he courted for the job, former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, resigned in a blaze of shame after he was shown to have lied about how many times he met the Gupta family. Now the former Reserve Bank governor and businessman Tito Mboweni is in that role.

The president promised various summits to deal with the economic crisis: he delivered on a jobs summit and a follow up on investment. With private sector partners, he also got a Youth Employment Service out of the starter blocks. This promise of one million internships to young unemployed South Africans is potentially transformative, but it will take time to reach critical mass.

With the incubation and capital of Discovery and other blue-chip companies, Ramaphosa has also delivered on an R1.5-billion Small Business Fund. Ketso Gordhan heads this fund which operates out of Sandton.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, Ramaphosa has delivered on land expropriation without compensation. Before parliament prorogued in 2018, an expropriation draft law was tabled which sets out the steps by which expropriation without compensation can happen; and it sets out a detailed process to expropriate land in this way. In addition, Ramaphosa ensured that the national minimum wage legislation kicked in.

Both land expropriation without compensation and the national minimum wage have few adherents in the business community.

Ramaphosa’s biggest drag on the economic front is Mineral Resources minister Gwede Mantashe.

While Ramaphosa last year called mining a “sunrise sector”, Mantashe has not followed through.

The mining charter has been passed, but the industry still has problems with the interpretation of the once-empowered, always empowered clause.  

Meanwhile, Mantashe has been unable to deliver a peaceful solution to Xolobeni, where the community has set its face against titanium mining of its dunes.

In the social policy sphere, Ramaphosa’s biggest achievement for 2018 was to ensure that there were no disruptions in how grants were paid. When he moved Bathabile Dlamini as Social Development minister, there was a chance that the 17.3-million South Africans who depend on grants would suffer disruptions.

There was a small disruption for one payment cycle, but the Post Office’s bank, as well as private sector banks, have stepped up into the gap left by Net1/Cash Paymaster Services which lost the payments contract.

In 2018, Public Enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan became the face of the fight against corruption. The arena of the greatest activity has been the state-owned enterprises where there has been a wholesale clear-out. In the lost decade of State Capture, Eskom, Transnet, SAA, the SABC and Denel became a drain on the national economy because they were at the epicentre of grand corruption, running up huge levels of debt.

Gordhan spearheaded a project to clear out the boards at the five parastatals and those boards, in turn, have put in place new leaders and top management structures.

The jury is still out on whether the parastatals can be turned around as they continue to be turbulent drags on the economy. Ramaphosa also promised action on a national health insurance scheme; this has not happened because the public health system is too much of a basket case. And Ramaphosa failed spectacularly on the promise of “new discipline in the public service”.

The 1.4-million people-strong public service remains Ramaphosa’s Achilles heel: he cannot, for example, extend Home Affairs working hours, or even introduce performance management for teachers, because of the stranglehold of public servants over the bureaucracy.

Ramaphosa has done most of the things he said he would, but the impact of all this action is like pin-pricks of change when a huge injection of change is necessary. DM

This is part two of a three-part series on Cyril Ramaphosa’s first year in the presidency. See Part 1 here.


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