Opinionista Sinethemba Zonke 27 August 2019

Dear Mr President: Act, and we will follow

To say that Cyril Ramaphosa is a disappointment is an understatement. Coming on the back of the tremendously rotten years of Zuma, he has had a low bar to get over, yet we have a lacklustre performance from him and his team.

The New Dawn has had an early death, and, unfortunately, the cause of its expiry should be laid at the feet of the person who gave birth to the idea, President Cyril Ramaphosa. Through negligence and dereliction of his duty in ensuring its vitality, Ramaphosa allowed the New Dawn to perish as a result of his hesitation to deal with severe threats to the infant idea.

These threats have come from within the Tripartite Alliance, which comprises the ANC, SACP and Cosatu. This hesitation has left many of his supporters (particularly Ramaphosa’s unofficial PR department at Business Day, headed by Peter Bruce) in limbo. Ramaphosa’s praise singers have been contorting themselves in all sorts of ways to explain a “long game” being played by the president, while South Africa edges closer to the precipice.

Leading up to the Nasrec conference, Ramaphosa has had some of the most goodwill given to any politician in South Africa, especially stakeholders external to the ANC. Even among traditional supporters of a party like the DA, Ramaphosa has high favourability ratings.

Business leaders, analysts and journalists have gone to great lengths to present Ramaphosa as the “second coming” of Nelson Mandela, and the only one able to save South Africa. However, unlike Mandela, Ramaphosa faces different challenges than the late statesman did, with most of these being internal to the ANC’s political alliance rather than the external challenges the party faced after it came into power.

When Ramaphosa ascended to the top of the ANC in December 2017, he tried to unite the ANC, an organisation that has been falling apart for more than two decades. Ramaphosa and his team refused to look at the Tripartite Alliance thoroughly to recognise that some parts have gone gangrenous and require amputation.

Instead, Ramaphosa went for a DIY approach of stitching the ANC’s zombified, disintegrating body together. While this has kept the limbs from falling off the body, it is a temporary solution. The more substantial risk is that the infection spreads to the rest of the body. A limb that exemplifies this is the ANC Youth League, which recently had its leadership disbanded for the second time since 2013.

The Tripartite Alliance has been losing body parts for some time, through various splinter groups in the past decade, including COPE and the EFF. Another significant loss was the expulsion of Numsa from Cosatu, leading Numsa to create a rival union federation, Saftu.

The collapse of the alliance has become inevitable with the party leadership almost split in half since Ramaphosa narrowly won the Nasrec elective congress by 179 more votes than the Jacob Zuma faction flagbearer, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. While Dlamini Zuma has acted magnanimously since her loss, working well with Ramaphosa in his Cabinet, the other key players in the Zuma faction are not giving up ground to Ramaphosa. Considering the fate they face should the ANC-led government seriously deal with corruption, it is understandable that they will fight Ramaphosa tooth and nail for control of the ANC.

However, while Ramaphosa faces challenges from Zuma’s acolytes, the fatal blow to his efforts of providing effective government leadership has been his union allies. The Cosatu-affiliated unions, the majority of which are in the public sector, have blocked crucial changes needed to fix SA’s fiscal woes. Unions have been the major obstacle in dealing with the overblown public sector wage bill and have been the reason Ramaphosa’s government has been sloth-like in the restructuring of Eskom.

To say Ramaphosa is a disappointment is an understatement. Coming on the back of the tremendously rotten years of Zuma, Ramaphosa has had a low bar to get over, yet we have had a lacklustre performance from him and his team. Ramaphosa and his supporters, including Pravin Gordhan, keep speaking about a fightback campaign against them, one being pushed by the EFF and Zuma’s proxies like ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Regardless of a fightback campaign, the indecision and lack of action on the part of Ramaphosa and Gordhan are doing more damage to the country. This can be seen when it comes to the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), especially Eskom, which is the most significant risk to the stability of this nation.

Ramaphosa and Gordhan appear to have been paralysed by the ideological holy cows of the alliance, preventing them from doing quick work in resolving institutions that have been a drain on public finances.

Gordhan and Ramaphosa were very loud and boastful in their rhetoric about the actions that would be taken on Eskom, with the most fundamental change being the breaking up of the utility into three parts. This restructuring appears to have been stalled, with Ramaphosa and Gordhan halted in their tracks by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which helped bring the president into power.

In terms of reducing the public wage bill, again, Ramaphosa’s executive has backpedalled. How has the fightback campaign of Mkhwebane, Magashule or the EFF played in the indecision by Ramaphosa with regards to Eskom or lack of action on the public wage bill? Do we blame Mkhwebane, Magashule and the EFF for the uncertainty being created by the proposed National Health Insurance Bill? How about Ramaphosa’s signing of the Credit Amendment Bill, which may cost banks R20-billion while forcing people in small income brackets out of the legitimate loan market to mashonisas (loan sharks), placing them under further economic duress?

Ramaphosa’s administration has also been dithering in efforts to change the investment environment by dealing with low-hanging fruit such as the visa regime, as well as the challenges of overcoming cumbersome labour regulations that block efforts to bring in high-skilled labour.

South Africa is yet to see deliberate, concrete and visionary steps being taken by Ramaphosa that are in the interests of the country, even if they diverge from those of his friends in the alliance, such as Cosatu. The rest of the country, which has believed in Ramaphosa a lot more than it trusts the ANC, is left stranded while the president tries to appease the unions. His appeasement is not aiding the economy or giving any confidence to investors or citizens.

Ramaphosa is in a position of leadership. Should he start acting decisively in a manner that is to the advantage and interests of South Africa he will find he has lot more support from the country that can counter any regressive forces in the Tripartite Alliance. Ramaphosa needs to act, and as long he does so in the best interests of the country, those who believe in South Africa will follow him. DM

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