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Ramaphosa and the Dark side of the Dawn


Susan Booysen is Director of Research, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), and visiting and emeritus professor, Wits School of Governance.

It is time for assessment of the assessments of Cyril Ramaphosa’s first 100 days as president of South Africa. The rave reviews come with the fine print of health warnings.

The scales are tipping, “radically”, in favour of Cyril the Man of the Dawn, donning shining armour after the long, dark night of Zuma rule and ravages. Rays of morning light illuminate the landscape (to belabour the clichéd metaphor): there is a truly impressive rush of actions of cleaning up and cleaning out, introducing bolder policies, bringing in consequences for malfunction in governance.

The 100-day assessments have paraded the achievements. The line-ups included the new faces that now manage state investigative and prosecuting agencies, along with the state-owned companies. They promise sea changes compared with the debasement executed by the Zuma-era predecessors. Last week’s Cabinet briefings, on the eve of the 100-days benchmark, showed that Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reshuffle is growing wings. There is more urgency, sincerity, credibility than in the days of … (dare we recall the names, are they in the Zuma underground now?) functionaries like David Mahlobo and Mosebenzi Zwane.

The Hawks, the Crime Intelligence, the South African Revenue Services, and a host of national and provincial government departments are under new management, helping Ramaphosa to rebuild confidence in state operations. Further, the Special Investigating Unit has been unleashed on aberrant municipalities, provincial government departments, and a host of others. Parliament passed the Public Audit Amendment Bill, promising to end soon the virtual wall-to-wall of no consequences for corruption in government, in particular also in the municipalities that act deaf to annual Auditor-General denunciations.

This is, almost, a “new world”. A different South Africa is being born, so it seems, even if the Cyril dawn is struggling to break through dark clouds that clutter the skyline. Fundamental questions hover concerning the interface of ANC and state: Can good work still be nullified by rearguard action against the Ramaphosaists, from the “dark side” of the ANC? Does the new ANC have the wherewithal to subvert the ANC that operates as “killing machine” of fellow party members (and some others who cross the procurement line)?

The week of the 100 days also saw the designer-timed public polling news confirming that Ramaphoria has captured the electorate. In its Mobile Pulse survey Ipsos reported Mandelaesque approval ratings for Ramaphosa’s first 100 days, with 76% of registered voters approving of the job that Ramaphosa is doing as president of South Africa. In March 76% of respondents in the Kantar Public poll had approved of what CR was doing on the economy; the Ipsos iteration confirms the scope of approval of economy actions, which now reaches towards 80%. The Citizen Surveys findings of March 2018 helped show that Ramaphoria is not a figment of a presidential publicist’s imagination.

Yet, these are early days. Some argue for early elections and capitalising on the voter adoration of Ramaphosa, which occurs alongside opposition stasis. Yet, ANC internal instability is as palpable as that of opposition parties. The Zuma night brigade is hanging on to power in many enclaves of the party (and state), knowing they have no place in the dawn. Their welcoming parties and prayer services for Zuma, acting as groupies at Zuma court appearances, show that for them and the killing machines there is night or nothing. And early election advantages will dissipate in a flash if this internal instability spills over afresh into state and government.

The “dawn ANC” is probably moving as fast as it can in trying to create one ANC, noting the Ramaphosa enjoinder that it was Mandela who taught him to take people along when making decisions. With this in mind, until one overwhelmingly virtuous ANC is confirmed as really existing, the dawn ANC can still crumble under the weight of the “dark side ANC”.

Besides the party’s instability, Ramaphoria on the state front remains fragile. It will sink if investment, job opportunities and economic growth do not reveal tangible, positive turns by year-end, if the new policing regime does not take hold and subdue crime and criminality as popular culture, if land and education changes do not bring more of the angry, economically excluded citizens into the loop, if municipal governments do not with haste divert the wealth of misspent and misappropriated public funds into services for those who cannot pay for water, electricity and shelter, and if politicians’ ego and purse projects (like new nuclear energy, executive jets) are not rejected definitively.

On the reverse side of the striking Ipsos poll findings was the question of who would “vote for the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa in the general election next year” (a question that is Ramaphoria-loaded, take note). The high-endorsement findings (above) concerned what registered voters think of Ramaphosa’s actions … The voting intent responses did not repeat the close to 70% endorsement. A small outright majority of 52% said they were extremely likely or likely to vote for the ANC under Ramaphosa. A significant bloc – about a quarter of all of the respondents – reported being “neutral” on this question.

This means, just like the ratings agencies that are holding out on offering unambiguous endorsements, and despite the good Ramaphosa beginnings, the South African electorate have a cynical verdict, having learnt about the seemingly self-correcting monolith. They insist nowadays: show us whether Ramaphosa is, actually, the ANC. They wonder: Is an ANC vote a vote for the dawn or the dark side? DM


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