Business Maverick


ANC’s old argument – It was all Mbeki’s fault; New argument – It was all Zuma’s fault

ANC’s old argument – It was all Mbeki’s fault; New argument – It was all Zuma’s fault
Illustrative image | President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the 2024 State of the Nation Address. | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photos: Shelley Christians | Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

Ramaphosa wants to paint a picture of a country that was in trouble before he came along and then everything turned around. With the best will in the world, I don’t think this is true.

I would like to perform a quick fact-check on one little aspect of the State of the Nation Address (Sona) delivered on Thursday evening by President Cyril Ramaphosa — a job made substantially easier since the President had the decency and integrity to partly do it himself. 

He made the point that over the last two years, the number of jobs created had increased every quarter, and South Africa now had more people in employment than before the pandemic. This is correct, laudable and a relief, and is worth pointing out because it’s not well known. He went on to say that because the number of people entering the job market each year is greater than the number of jobs created, the unemployment rate is “the highest it’s ever been”. Once again, quite true. 

It just so happens I was arguing with a reader about this question. They claimed that journalists, myself included, were biased against the government’s economic performance, and that we — inadvertently or carelessly — seek negative statistics to back up our preconceived beliefs. My counterargument is that anyone who thinks SA’s economic performance has been up to snuff over the past 15 years is living in a dream world. In my mind, this is beyond debate — but others think differently.  

Interestingly, Ramaphosa supports me. (In a sense.) He said, “Over the past five years, we have worked to revive our economy from a decade of stagnation and protect it from both domestic and global shocks.” That means he is acknowledging that there was a “decade of stagnation”, something I don’t recall any other ANC politicians doing. 

I suppose now that former president Jacob Zuma belongs to another party, it’s open season to lay the blame on him. Politics — don’t you just love it? 

Furthermore, Ramaphosa said, “We have laid a foundation for growth through far-reaching economic reforms, an ambitious investment drive, and an infrastructure programme that is starting to yield results.” But you know, I have to say, I’m not feeling it. 

The ANC’s position, as I see it, is that there was a period of economic malaise which just happened to take place when Zuma was president. After he left, things started heading in a different direction. But look at the numbers — they have not changed direction to any great degree — in some ways, they have become worse. 

The statistics are complicated by Covid, which threw everything out. But one question we could ask is: Which countries rebounded from the Covid low point most effectively? Ramaphosa said more people are employed in SA now than were before the pandemic. That is great, but it’s not unusual globally, though importantly, the increase SA has seen is lower than in many comparable countries. 

In SA, about 16.5 million people were employed before Covid, and the figure now is 16.74 million, a 1.4% increase. This is based on Stats SA figures from late last year.

By comparison, Brazil had about 95 million people in jobs just before Covid. It now employs around 102 million, a 7.4% increase. Other countries with big population increases show the same trend. In Indonesia, about 135 million people are currently employed. Before 2020, the figure was 128 million, a 5% increase. 

You could take dozens of other cases. Mexico was at 55 million, and it’s now at 59 million, a 7% increase. Even the notoriously slow-growth Eurozone had around 163 million people employed before Covid and now has 168 million, a 3% increase. 

This stands to reason, because what is holding SA back is the enormous level of electricity cuts which afflicted the country last year. That too, Ramaphosa said, is getting fixed, and we can now look forward to a future without load shedding. How he said this with a straight face I don’t know. My colleague Ray Mahlaka points out that even the new Integrated Resource Plan says that South Africa will still be dealing with electricity supply problems until 2030.   

The point is that Ramaphosa wants to paint a picture of a country that was in trouble before he came along and then everything turned around. “The last five years have been a time of recovery, rebuilding and renewal,” he said.

With the best will in the world, I don’t think this is true. Like many South Africans, Ramaphosa argues that once Eskom and perhaps also Transnet are fixed, everything will be hunky-dory. But there is so much more wrong with the ANC’s policies than just its approach to state-owned enterprises. 

The best thing you can say about Ramaphosa’s speech is that at least he is not a populist along the lines of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, or Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, or god forbid, Donald Trump. He is a credit to SA as a person: sensible, modern, logical, realistic. But he has not managed to face down the nutters in his party, or oust the incompetents or hold the line against the trough-feeders. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Colin K says:

    As always, Mr Cohen, well put. I particularly agree with your two concluding sentences, though I shudder to think of the reactionary and vindictive comments you (and me by agreeing) will receive for saying even the smallest positive thing about the president.

    Too many commentators have an overly Manichean view of politics. Not enough understanding that almost all politics happens in the grey.

  • ST ST says:

    Some say it’s Mandela’s fault or apartheid’s fault! Can we truly separate the past from the present? 30 years is months in political bureaucracy. Zuma has had the most negative impact (from what we are being told). We are also told the the economy was the best during Mbeki’s tenure. I guess we will never know how things would have panned out if we moved from Mbeki to Ramaphosa. In any case, if your predecessors did not fully resource the country, gutted the resources you need, and allowed significant deterioration, it would require Herculean efforts just to get to back to zero, especially if you have significant internal opposition. In SA, making too much noise can cost you the ultimate price. So who knows why Ramaphosa could deliver? Any new party has to deal with this reality.

  • The ruling party will still depend on the gullibility and naivety of the masses to stay in power , albeit with a lesser majority ruling percentage

  • Mark Gory Gory says:

    A credit to South Africa? Puleeese
    Every bit as corrupt and venal as his anc colleagues. Suurstofdief!

  • Denise Smit says:

    Ramaphosa not a populist? He only does and says what the populist ANC says he must say. And it goes down well with his constituency. Does not at any time give unpleasant medicine to the populace

  • Thami Nqikela says:

    I do believe that President Ramaphosa is delusional,may be ,he is outlining what he envisaged to do as a president, however, forces within the government sway him back and forth,therefore he could not deliver.
    Be that as it may he ( the honorable president) has in someway a dual drive . He would have wished to be thee president,but rather he would sacrifice his mission so that he pleases his cronies,those within the party, and largely, those few rich guys from the other side of the economy, the ppl with influence.
    He doesn’t want to be outright about challenging corruption because his guilty consciousness tells him I am part of it,further perpetuates this fact as a president engaging in dodgy deals.

    With all this where does it put the country?
    The country is crying for help because everything has subsided,if we are led by a blind man then he would not sense that.
    The question that I would like to raise is , wether blind or not were does his introspective being say about all what is happening Chances are that the country could even deteriorate further into a South Africa that is lacking even though blessed with so many resources. Elections are coming where do we go to the promised land or back to apartheid.

    I do believe that all South Africans should rise,challenge what it is now or what it is to become. Disappointed ,as I am ,I do believe we the majority that have been marginalized for long has done self-destruction to ourselves, if change come, and is not favorable ,as we have anticipated We should blame ourselves not any other person.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    No no, now they’re swimming 30 years upstream and claiming it is apartheid that forced them to be the lying, stealing, arrogant, corrupt, lazy, listen to nothing racist government that they are. That made them destroy the future of all our people, lay waste to everything, allow crime to burgeon uncontrollably, pollute our water, wreck our roads, break our rail system, destroy our borders, break our health system and trash education.

    Sorry chaps, but I for one don’t buy it.

    Own your sh*t.

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