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Ramaphosa — the President of many summits and few out...

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Ramaphosa — the President of many summits and few outcomes

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Lukhona Mnguni is head of policy and research at the Rivonia Circle. His main background is in political science and development studies.

On 4 and 5 August 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa will host the Presidential Social Sector Summit. This is supposedly part of Ramaphosa’s ‘call on all sectors in South Africa to collaborate with the government to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality’. It will be the latest in a series of summits that have cost a great deal but delivered little.

The media accreditation advisory was only issued on 25 July 2022, the same day President Ramaphosa addressed the nation on the electricity crisis. 

This proposed Social Sector Summit appears to be a hastily organised response to former president Thabo Mbeki’s critique that Ramaphosa had not delivered on a national social compact, within 100 days, as promised during his state of the nation address (Sona) in February 2022.

It is time we have frank conversations about the failures of President Ramaphosa’s way of governing. He perpetually makes promises that he barely delivers. He has been governing by conferences, summits and committees/commissions to no end. 

The impression he sends to the country is that he is trying to rebuild and needs everyone to be on board. It is important to develop broad consensus on policy approaches so that there is less resistance and greater buy-in on proposed directives. However, the President has abused this exercise and remains unaccountable for previous interventions. 

There is either poor advice around him or an absence of a national vision on his part.

Eskom

The announcements he made about Eskom and our energy policy approach were deemed to be “bold” by some people as though this was the first attempt at doing something about Eskom. President Ramaphosa has been making interventions at Eskom and on energy since January 2018 and the crisis keeps getting worse. 

He effectively forced former president Jacob Zuma to appoint a new board at Eskom, a welcomed move at the time. That board led by the late Jabu Mabuza (who resigned in January 2020) assessed Eskom, attempted to clean out some corrupt elements and made a call for a predictable rolling blackout timetable over a period of 18 months. The latter was rejected by the shareholder, Ramaphosa’s government. 

When Eskom was trying to make a case for running a tight ship and proposed there be no salary increases for some time, the shareholder led by Minister Pravin Gordhan intervened, effectively undoing Eskom’s proposed path to financial sustainability. 

Eventually, CEO Phakamani Hadebe resigned in 2019, partly out of frustration and being stifled in performing his duties by the shareholder representative. The Eskom job had also taken a toll on Hadebe’s health. 

Following Hadebe’s resignation, a poor decision was taken to make Jabu Mabuza Executive Chairperson. This was criticised widely, but Ramaphosa’s government pressed on. Mabuza eventually resigned in January 2020 following an interview by Deputy President David Mabuza who claimed the president had been misled in December 2019 when Mabuza’s management promised there would be no rolling blackouts between 17 December 2019 and 13 January 2020. 


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Following Jabu Mabuza’s resignation, president Ramaphosa promised that there would be reconfiguration of the Eskom board — a promise he has not kept to date. Instead, the Eskom board has slowly depleted over the years with the shareholder neglecting to fill vacant positions and getting competent skills onto the board. This is something Andre de Ruyter has also alluded to in an interview. 

It is not clear how Ramaphosa seeks to get things right at Eskom when his government continues to fail at building a robust board that can see to the multiple promises he made to the country. 

Alas, the president is committed to promises, not to actioning those promises.

Other interventions at Eskom during his tenure include the appointment of Freeman Nomvalo as the Chief Restructuring Officer (CRO) in July 2019. Prior to that, in February 2019, a Panel of Experts was appointed. International experts were brought into Eskom. An inter-ministerial task team chaired by the deputy president was also set up to deal with Eskom challenges. 

All these efforts have never been accounted for to the public by President Ramaphosa. Instead, he has once more appointed a National Energy Crisis Committee to be chaired by the Director-General in the presidency. This is a replica of the inter-ministerial task team, just that it will simply be composed of technocrats. So much effort and money have been spent on Eskom with nothing to show for it.

President Ramaphosa’s leadership style is dangerous because it operates in the dark with little transparency. To a degree, the media, civil society and the general public have been complicit in not holding the President to account. He gets a free pass and dodges the media with no consequence. 

This upcoming Presidential Social Sector Summit will not achieve anything. There is enough evidence that the Investment Conferences have not yielded much for our economy. It is quite clear that the social compact signed at the Jobs Summit has yielded no fruits. 

The Youth Employment Service (YES), hastily launched in March 2018 carried an ambitious target to create jobs for one million unemployed young people. When Ramaphosa stated this employment target, his then spokesperson Khusela Diko rolled her eyes in disbelief. She wished her principal had not uttered so bold a promise that may never be realised. 

She was right. 

There have been no one million jobs from the YES programme, but a mere 82,207 have been created. Some critics point to the fact that big business has benefited the most from this programme as it enabled them to improve their BBBEE scores without much obligation to absorb any young people in sustainable employment within their operations. 

It is a failed programme.

The point here is to demonstrate that Ramaphosa leads by promises that are never kept. He is to be untrusted. His government has launched multiple Master Plans for various industries such as sugar, water, automotive, etc. 

These Master Plans were deemed a compact within the involved industry players. Therefore, I was taken aback when the President called for the development of a national social compact when delivering his Sona earlier this year because that is what he had been doing since he took office in February 2018. 

For this reason, some gender activists are sceptical about his attempt to call another Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) Summit because not much has been achieved since the last summit in 2018. At a joint sitting of Parliament on GBVF in September 2019, Ramaphosa promised that government would redirect R1.1-billion in additional funding “to the comprehensive response to gender-based violence”. 

Very little in this regard was achieved. 

The National Strategic Plan on GBVF was launched in 2020 but there is still no national council in place to oversee its implementation. Instead, the president opted for a private sector-led GBVF Fund model.

Lastly, there was a Nedlac-led process to adopt the country’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan in 2021. This was dubbed an outcome of wide consultation, even though businesses felt their suggestions were left out and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation wrote a scathing critique of the plan and the approach undertaken towards its adoption.

One can confidently intimate that the upcoming Presidential Social Sector Summit will be another failed project, wasteful expenditure of limited resources with no commitment to action and any outcomes from such a summit. 

President Ramaphosa is arguably the weakest link for South Africa and should be freed from the burden of governing this country — he is either incapable or unwilling to step up. 

Neither is good for South Africa. DM/MC

The founder and Chairman of Rivonia Circle, Songezo Zibi has indicated he is prepared to run for President.

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  • Firstly, is there a more annoying phrase out there at the moment than Social Compact? If they called it a Social Cow-pat it would make more sense as it’s all bullshit. Apart from that does anyone take any notice of what Ramaphosa says anymore, the only hope is that he can hold on until the next election when, and get on your knees and pray, there could be some meaningful change. It is beyond words how disappointing this guy has been.

    • Richard Fitzpatrick, you have spoken the truth about him.I agree 100% with what you have written.
      He is weak and indecisive more the pity that he is hoping for a second term.
      “getting on our knees is all we can do”

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