president cyril ramaphosa

President Ramaphosa progress report: South Africa post-Jacob Zuma

In the state he found South Africa in, how has Ramaphosa affected change thus far?

president cyril ramaphosa

It will be a year since President Cyril Ramaphosa took the helm from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, in the first quarter of 2019. However, so much has happened since he was sworn into office in mid-February of this year.

It is vital to understand what kind of state the country was in before the rhetoric shifted towards Thuma Mina (send me forth). Without being too dramatic, South Africa, as a sovereign state, was the proverbial sinking ship.

Read – Ramaphosa ‘thuma mina’: Is the party over before it ever really started?

Our state-owned entities (SOEs) were allegedly (the appropriate term to avoid any legal backlash) hijacked by dark, foreign forces. Our judicial system was standing on one leg, working for others and at a stalemate in acting righteously in other cases.

The South African Revenues Services (SARS) was rumoured to be the personal ATM for many corrupt state officials and corporate thugs.

However, when President Ramaphosa took up the seat at the top of South Africa’s hierarchy, it felt like our divided society was prepared to give the historic African National Congress (ANC) a wash-over.

How far have we gone from then until now?” is a question that rings loudly in our ears.

South Africa’s renewed investment fever

In formal terms, Ramaphosa, at the moment, is serving as an interim president. He still has to win over the majority of votes in the upcoming 2019 general elections and his main priority in that regard — it seems — is looking to fix internal issues that have strained the parties two-third majority rule.

However, this short period has seen Ramaphosa use his expertise as a businessman to put South Africa back on the map as an attractive destination for foreign investment.

Read – Ramaphosa’s investment envoy launches trade mission in Japan

Of course, this is a tough ask, considering the gravity of our country’s problems. As a nation, we are grossly divided and the socioeconomic reality that plagues South Africa will most certainly not be a short-term fix.

In April, President Ramaphosa officially announced his intentions to attract R1.2-trillion in investment to our shores over a period of five years.

The objective was to initiate the ‘investment drive’ in a conference that was to take place between August and September.

Quoted in an article on Fin24, the president stated that:

“The investment conference, which will involve domestic and international investors in equal measure, is not intended merely as a forum to discuss the investment climate.

“Rather, we expect the conference to report on actual investment deals that have been concluded and to provide a platform for would-be investors to seek out opportunities in the South African market. We are determined that the conference produce results that can be quantified and quickly realised.”

This investment conference could not be associated with the Jobs Summit he hosted earlier in October. It seems that the president is still gathering miles, hopping from one country to the next, selling the refurbished South African dream.

China, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Germany seem have been won over by the president. China, after Ramaphosa’s sweet-talking, not only pledged to establish a foothold in South Africa’s economy but also forecasted more groundwork in the continent.

Read – Theresa May admits she’s a fan of Ramaphosa’s “ambitious” investment drive

The president’s relationship with the self-made powerhouse of an entrepreneur, Jack Ma, looks the most impressive from afar. Ma’s ability to hone success in the digital space speaks to the vision Ramaphosa has on injecting life into the worrying issue of youth unemployment in South Africa.

The German state-owned KfW Development Bank was also a Ramaphosa-esque attraction. Undersigned by Germany, the development bank sought to help our embattled power utility, Eskom, with a little more than an R1-billion loan to bring it back to good stead.

The two Middle Eastern superpowers — the UAE and Saudi Arabia — have also just come on board to assist in rejuvenating the state of our SOEs, with each pledging to invest more than R100-billion in South Africa.

Read – Can President Ramaphosa drag South Africa out of an economic recession?

Ironing out the creases in corruption

Of course, all of these numbers would excite many optimists. However, all that effort from the president would mean absolutely nothing if the funds coming in would land in the hands of those who are allegedly responsible for burying this country in the ashes it is trying to rise out of.

This is clearly something the president is aware of. Hence, we have commissions of inquiry currently taking place in a few of our SOEs.

Read – “Speed up the process and punish those named in VBS scandal” – says Ramaphosa

Besides Ramaphosa’s intention to clean out the turds from the Cabinet, the impact of these inquiries has seen more South Africans vesting their interests in politics. The rhetoric around ‘accountability’ as a prerequisite of governance has been refurbished.

The state capture inquiry has revealed the faces of those dark forces we spoke of earlier and we have only just scraped the surface.

Judge Robert Nugent’s commission of inquiry into the affairs at SARS has also be credited to Ramaphosa’s vision of saving what is left of our SOEs and revamping from there once he takes up office for a full term (granted that his party wins the upcoming elections).

Read – Judge Nugent advises Ramaphosa to fire SARS commissioner Tom Moyane immediately

Mpumelelo Mkhabela, on a News24 column, spoke about how it is up to Ramaphosa to fail at this point.

“On governance, it is the transformation of two institutions that will provide the clearest indication of Ramaphosa’s political agility: the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

“Both were nearly destroyed. Public confidence in their ability to fulfil their constitutional obligations waned. Ramaphosa has the power to not only fix this but also to strengthen the edifice on which these institutions are anchored to mitigate against abuse even long after he has left office. How he will use his executive authority will be subject to public judgement.”, he wrote.

Kate Jaquet is a co-portfolio manager of US-based Seafarer Capital Partners. On her research-driven visit to our shores, she noted how Ramaphosa’s efforts, however admirable they were, could be hindered by corruption within the state’s entities.

Corruption has been a significant detractor to growth in South Africa for some time. The Ramaphosa administration tackled corruption head-on in its first months in office, with sweeping changes to senior management at South Africa’s state-owned enterprises(SOEs).

“SOEs have long been a platform of corruption, a strain on South Africa’s economy and in need of large-scale reform.  After years of mismanagement, South African SOEs are now hamstrung by out-sized balance sheets… A potential next step would be to address the culture of over-staffing and nepotism at SOEs, but this could prove difficult given the nation’s high unemployment rate.”, she stated.

The latest commission of inquiry to be set up by Ramaphosa was at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC). After the release of the report — commissioned by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) — into the downfall of VBS Mutual Bank, it was revealed that the PIC, Africa’s largest asset manager, may have been open for corrupt business.

As Paquet put it, for as long as the country still battles with corruption within its SOEs, foreign investors will remain comfortable on the sidelines. It is the duty of Ramaphose to ensure that he cleans out the rot in his Cabinet and encourages the much-needed boost in our economy.

Restoring the historic image of the ANC

Cleaning out the rot is a mission that has placed Ramaphosa as the least favourite leader of the ANC within certain factions that may have been pleased with a Zuma 2.0 replacement at the helm.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lost out to Ramaphosa at the ANC’s conference in Nasrec last summer. Since then, ANC branches across the country have been divided in two: those who believe Zuma deserved a better replacement (namely his ex-wife) and those who see Ramaphosa as the new frontier for the party.

Rumours of an internal plot to overthrow the president, involving Zuma and some of the party’s current senior members such as secretary-general Ace Magashule and former premier of the North West, Supra Mahumapelo, rang loudly a few weeks ago.

Read – The plot thickens: Ace Magashule to face the music over Ramaphosa “coup”

An authoritarian would have dealt with the issue immediately and fired those implicated, without consulting the validity of the rumour. However, the mood, both in the country and within diplomatic corridors internationally, was lifted when Ramaphosa used this rhetoric to drive for unity within the party.

The display of unity will be very critical in the months running up to the elections. The ANC has lost a chunk of its following to opposition parties like the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) since the local government elections that took place two years ago.

The image of a united ruling party that is accountable for its actions and seeks to serve the people seems to be at the top of the list for Ramaphosa.

Whether or not his vision of a working South Africa will ever come to fruition is as Mkhabela stated, entirely up to him. His success or failure will be the result of his own doing.