Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 4 March 2020

A programme of robust action is needed to break inertia in South Africa

It is not the time for President Cyril Ramaphosa to surround himself with polite, collegial and accommodating colleagues. South Africa needs robust and determined people who are willing to put in the effort to move from inertia to effective progress and reform.

Inertia is the trademark of our new dispensation. Inertia which is felt in our party-political environment, the bureaucracy that is responsible for serving its people, and inertia which extends to the functioning (or rather lack thereof) of our economy, which continues to stutter and stall, further entrenching inequality, poverty and unemployment.

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The pursuit of social compacts and convening broad coalitions has failed to pull or extract South Africa from the brink of collapse. The slow but steady growth of strife within the governing party has largely scuppered real reform within South Africa’s bureaucracy milieu. The efforts by President Cyril Ramaphosa have failed to capture fully the mood of the country. A mood which is not made easier by the slow-moving pace of reform under the Ramaphosa administration.

The Ramaphosa administration must begin to embrace the underlying value that it was elected on a platform of reform and in the belief of a new dawn. However, the administration seems consumed by fending off the fightback campaign in the shadows, which provides little room or time for imagination, thought and execution. There must be a fundamental shift in how South Africa’s bureaucracy functions – Ramaphosa must begin to wield the power of the presidency more effectively and push forward with reform, including supporting the reform measures that must take place in the portfolios of Finance, Public Administration and Service, and Public Enterprises and Energy.

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South Africa cannot afford further tinkering and minor cosmetic shifts to how we function. Inertia will continue to unravel our democracy and its hard-fought-for freedoms if we are to allow a lack of imagination and execution to derail our democracy.

Ramaphosa and his Cabinet colleagues who believe in the project of reform must move beyond their offices at the Union Buildings and focus their energies on executing the reforms with a greater sense of urgency but also deliberate purpose.

Reform will come at a real cost. A cost perhaps to the governing party’s coalition and desire for broad church monopolistic consumption, but we must in the interest of the republic move beyond this bizarre party-political infatuation with relevance and ego. Ramaphosa must begin to show leadership in how his Cabinet executes the policies of his government, and that must entail demanding greater accountability of his colleagues, consequences for failures and inaction and the ultimate reform and reconstruction of how our government functions.

The promise of restructure and reform within government was not delivered on, and instead, South Africans continue to be burdened by politicians who eat at the trough and fail to show up in a real sense for work.

There is no time left for superficial tinkering, conventions, conferences and summits. South Africans demand real execution and this will mean that the Ramaphosa administration and his governing party (and whichever faction Ramaphosa is able to muster within the governing party) must push ahead with structural change that starts at the Union Buildings and extends throughout the districts, towns, cities and provinces that the Ramaphosa administration is able to muster to this cause.

The battle for our soul as a country has for too long been fought in the shadows where an entire shadow state under the broad coalition of Jacob Zuma has been allowed to flourish and determine the destiny of future generations. We collectively must reject this, and particularly must demand from Ramaphosa and his supporters that now is the time not to surround yourself with polite, collegial and accommodating colleagues but rather robust and determined people who are willing to put in the effort to move from inertia to effective progress and reform.

The looming threat facing South Africa is not insurmountable, but it will require sacrifice, selfless commitment to service and the Republic, and the real commitment to doing the hard work that is required to move beyond the bureaucratic inertia that is felt by citizens across South Africa.

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The years of the Mandela and Mbeki administrations reflected the ability of bureaucracy to effectively shift both the mood of a nation but also to expand the social safety net, growing the economy (albeit not diversifying it sufficiently or expanding the industrialisation and manufacturing arms), constituting a shift from a repressive apartheid regime to a constitutional democracy and to establish institutional muscle.

These years, however, were also beset by the entrenchment of party-political structures, the polarisation of our institutions, the circumvention of the law and the inability to hold comrades accountable. These are not the golden years, but rather the sowing of the seeds that have led to South Africa being brought to its knees, and still being threatened with further calamity by factionalism that is obsessed with the trough and malfeasance.

The institutional memory and muscle has however not been able to withstand political machinations and circumvention, and we have seen this play out since 2007 that should have seen Zuma facing the consequences of his actions, and not the assault on the institutions of justice and the launch of his Stalingrad defence (funded at the time from the State’s coffers).

The challenges confronting the Ramaphosa administration are no longer a lack of understanding or appreciation, but the inability to overcome the factional battles and circumvention battles being waged both within the governing party as well as the government of Ramaphosa. The battle lines are drawn within party caucus structures, parliamentary structures, provincial structures as well as regional battlegrounds. The fightback must be confronted openly, and within view of South Africans if we are ever going to overcome the consequences of leaning into the morass of party politics.

The Ramaphosa administration, in an effort to right the ship, will have to adjust its approach from consensus building to executing delivery and reform, utilising the social compact that has been built. However, the challenge will be to shift from consensus building to a willingness to take risks, make structural changes, adapting government policy to ensure it is amended and adapted to the lived realities of South Africans, and to ensure there is honest internal feedback and criticism that drives delivery and service to the people and the Republic.

These changes will not be executed by way of a summit, but rather the Ramaphosa administration must effect the change to his government, and then to engage the public and citizenry directly across the country in a campaign to drive real reform and change.

Accountability and responsiveness can be inserted into the bureaucracy but it will require a closer relationship with the citizenry that will need to be led by the Presidency, and modelled by a restructured Cabinet that is held accountable by an engaged Parliament that serves the Republic first and always. DM

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