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Can Ramaphosa turn the tide?

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Can Ramaphosa turn the tide?

South Africans breathed a collective sigh of relief following the long-awaited resignation of their unpopular President, Jacob Zuma in mid-February. But after a very difficult nine years of Zuma’s rule, expectations are high for the new man in the hot seat – Cyril Ramaphosa. Will he be able to roll back Zuma’s legacy and deliver the promise? Analysis by Dr Desné Masie.

The wait to unseat Zuma had seemed interminable and there was much celebrating after he had finally fallen on his sword and resigned. The emotional response from South Africans was exhilarating. For me, the feeling was as great as the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Across the country, the atmosphere was as jubilant as it was during the famous Rugby World Cup win in 1995. A divided nation had been united in its hatred of Zuma – and there is an optimistic sense that this time, the Rainbow Nation can get it right. ‘Never again!’ South Africans have vowed. Never again will they allow their country to be morally and economically bankrupted by political opportunists.

Zuma’s kleptocratic presidency, which began in 2009 when Thabo Mbeki was obliged to vacate the Presidency as a result of the ANC’s political machinations and Zuma’s grassroots support, resulted in the hollowing out of state institutions and widespread corruption.

This ultimately culminated in the ‘State Capture’ phenomenon brought about by his cronies, and South Africa’s sovereign debt being downgraded to below investment grade in March 2017 after yet another of Zuma’s ill-conceived Cabinet reshuffles.

But whether the post-Zuma era lives up to expectations depends greatly on how his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa manages the days and weeks to come.

Zuma was replaced as head of the ruling ANC’s National Executive Committee by Ramaphosa in December, and the pressure on him to step down had been mounting ever since. Ramaphosa, a wealthy businessman with a net worth of around half a billion US dollars, has long been the favourite prospect of investors, and was also Nelson Mandela’s chosen successor, but he will nonetheless wear a heavy crown.

He’ll need to revive South Africa’s tarnished international reputation and sluggish economy. He will have to deliver on a nation’s hopes and dreams.

Escapologist checkmated

With a nation watching in disbelief, a de ant and troubled Zuma said in an undignifed televised statement on 14 February that he had “not done anything wrong”, and that he did not “agree” with the ANC’s decision to recall him of 12 February. He felt he had been unfairly treated by the party and just wanted to know: “What have I done wrong?”

South African Twitter, a lively political forum, was quick to remind him. e respected former editor of the Financial Mail, Barney Mthombothi, said: “Zuma keeps on asking: ‘What have I done?’ You’re corrupt. You’ve breached your oath of office. You’ve gutted the criminal justice system. You’ve presided over state capture. You’ve plundered South Africa to enrich your own family. You’ve sold the country to the Guptas. In the name of God, go!”

Finally, stunned by the realisation that he had long overstayed his welcome, with the prospect of a near- certain parliamentary vote of no-confidence on 15 February, and a raid on the Johannesburg compound of his political cronies, the Gupta family, by the special police unit, the Hawks on the morning of 14 February, Zuma, the political escapologist, realised he was in checkmate. He resigned at last on the evening of 14 February.

Zuma has proven a political Lazarus in the past, and had survived corruption charges, a rape trial, years of protest from civil society, the anger of the underclass, a ratings downgrade, and disrespect from the international community, only to bounce back repeatedly with a proven strategy involving deploying cadres of political allies in key posts.

South Africans, and the world, have watched aghast as Zuma and his cronies have frittered away the Mandela dividend, which had generated massive support globally for the country’s economic and political future when it turned to democracy in 1994.

Zuma presided over, and actively contributed to the destruction of investor and popular sentiment as widespread corruption and economic deterioration became the norm during his rule.

What was different this time?

For the party, as for the nation, Zuma’s situation had become untenable. While it is true that South Africans at home and abroad worked tirelessly, especially in civil society, to rid the country of the increasingly embarrassing “matter of the President” tag, Zuma pushed the state machinery too far. e scale of corruption became too audacious, it became impossible to paper over the cracks.

Political analyst Martin Plaut says: “A few million here and there, perhaps he would have gotten away with and people could have lived with”. Plaut is of the opinion that critical to Zuma’s undoing was that his plunder became impossible to hide.

Zuma evoked the wrath of a nation when he improperly used around $23m of state funds to upgrade his personal residence, Nkandla, in KwaZulu Natal, in 2014. is led to an investigation by then Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, who also later worked tirelessly on the state capture allegations that exposed Zuma’s links to the Gupta family.

In addition to Nkandla, alarm bells rang furiously when state-owned enterprises such as the energy utility Eskom nearly fell apart as a result of insalubrious tenders involving Gupta associates.

The result of this culture of so-called ‘tenderpreneurship’ for deals gained through political connections, would eventually lead to the fall of the powerful public relations company, Bell Pottinger, and the call for management consulting rm McKinsey and auditing firm KPMG to be held to account for their role in Eskom’s woes. The British peer, Lord Peter Hain has called for all UK firms involved in any such deals to face justice.

The tide really turned against Zuma when South Africa lost its investment-grade sovereign bond rating following a downgrade by credit ratings agencies in 2017.

Moody’s cited lower growth prospects due to political uncertainty, slow progress with structural reforms and rising public debt. Investor sentiment continued to deteriorate amidst mounting concerns not just about economic policy but about the independence of the judiciary, treasury and central bank.

This was an intolerable situation for the country’s investors and supporters and a rapid selling of South African currency and bonds soon followed. With the economy under pressure and political instability mounting, Zuma and his lieutenants soon found they had few places left to turn. The ANC’s inner workings normally see the party put on a united front, but the infighting soon became clear for the wider nation to see and this is when Zuma’s stronghold over the state machinery began to rapidly unravel.

Restoring the independence and credibility of state institutions, while satisfying the national demand that Zuma be held accountable for wide-spread corruption and purging his cadre deployments throughout his administration, will be a major test of Ramaphosa’s reformist mettle.

The ANC is a broad church of alliances including moderates, militant trade unions and a far-left socialist wing. ere will be many political debts for Zuma to pay before he bows out, and tracks to cover for those who have helped him survive in power for the past nine years, through scandals that led to a long list of charges.

Holding Zuma to account will be the trickiest aim in the race to the next general election. It is worth evaluating South Africa’s recent political and economic history to understand the extent of the complex moving parts Ramaphosa will have to balance.

The power vacuum that created Zuma

Zuma’s political manoeuvres certainly resulted in policy uncertainty as he hired and fired nance ministers in rapid succession. South Africa’s deteriorating economic policy, combined with Zuma’s failings and low economic growth, a worsening de cit, unemployment and inequality, cost the ANC essential votes in the 2016 local government elections.

Dissatisfied South Africans voted with their feet, and the ANC lost key seats. To make matters worse, there were the widespread 2016 student riots, which saw thousands of students protest for free education, and when this uprising became violent, the genteel classes were spooked, and the country very nearly brought to its knees. All these developments in conjunction highlighted just how febrile the country’s political instability had become.

With Zuma’s shenanigans becoming reliable fodder for the opposition parties, he was no longer able to guarantee electoral success with the youth, the poor and disenchanted South Africans, never mind the moderates.

But laying the blame on Zuma entirely for what happened, does not seem entirely fair. He is a political opportunist who capitalised on a power vacuum. While the ANC’s members fought amongst themselves for the spoils of democracy, Zuma saw the opportunity to run rings around Thabo Mbeki in 2009 and went for the top spot.

The ANC was already a fragile organisation by this stage. e ANC is a tripartite alliance of Labour and the Le with the liberation movement of Mandela, a fact o en neglected by political observers. rough an alliance with the South African Communist Party and the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the ANC came to power in 1994. In South Africa’s democratic era, this broad church became increasingly difficult to cohere.

Liberation movements battle to maintain their identities when they achieve their goals, and this is what I believe has been the central problem in the ANC’s post-apartheid era. It was easier to maintain cohesion between the tripartite alliance during ‘ e Struggle’ against the common enemy of apartheid, which oppressed the working poor, who were overwhelmingly comprised of black South Africans.

But the cracks has already began to form as early as 1992, when the so-called negotiated settlement was being arrived at. is is shorthand for the deal that was made between the ANC, the then ruling National Party and the business community, which included powerful international financiers.

It has remained a bitter point of contention between the moderates, Labour and the Le within the party that too many concessions were made to the Right Wing and the business community for the sake of a peaceful democratic transition.

There have been some uncomfortable truths to the arguments made by Labour and the Le , with regard to the negotiated settlement, because while South Africa ostensibly rode high economically for a few years on the Mandela dividend, running a budget surplus with good macroeconomic fundamentals under Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel, spending on infrastructure and poverty was not nearly aggressive enough.

At the same time, so-called empowerment deals flourished, with international investors returning to South Africa a er a long economic boycott of the country.

These empowerment deals are a huge contributor to the situation South Africa finds itself in today. They were the result of a kind of economic redistribution meant to address the inequities of apartheid. Black Economic Empowerment under the ANC became official economic policy and resulted in a black oligarch class that created the likes of Ramaphosa.

While part of the black economic empowerment policy was a affirmative action in the employee ranks of organisations, it also contemplated larger black economic control and ownership of the economy.

But the outcome of the policy has seen little substantial change for the majority of poor black South Africans and the enrichment of a few politically well-connected individuals who became wealthy beyond their wildest dreams as they cut deals and propelled themselves to the boards of some of the world’s largest companies. In addition, whites have largely maintained their economic privileges.

It is this scenario, against the backdrop of worsening inequality and intractable poverty, that led to a radical socialist faction spawning out of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), demanding radical economic transformation, and creating one of South Africa’s most powerful political parties.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), founded in 2013 by expelled former ANCYL leader Julius Malema, caught South Africa’s mainly white elite commentariat by surprise in 2014, when they won 6.35% of the vote.

The EFF are a force to be reckoned with in South Africa’s parliamentary politics, and their campaigning, particularly with regard to reparations for Nkandla, has been central to Zuma’s fall from grace. They will also be a thorn in the side of Ramaphosa.

And adding to Ramaphosa’s troubles in the fallout in democratic South Africa, will be the splits within Cosatu, which led to the largest trade union, Numsa (the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa), being expelled in November 2014.

This led to solidarity exits of further unions from Cosatu and the establishment of the second- largest coalition of trade unions, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) in April 2017. It is difficult to say how these developments, the EFF and the splits in Cosatu, will play out at the ballot box in 2019’s general election. NA

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