As South Africa enters what is likely to be an important and difficult year, its president is failing to show effective leadership, argues Andre Duvenhage.
On the eve of the statement marking the 108th birthday of the governing African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s finance minister Tito Mboweni tweeted:
If you cannot effect deep structural economic reforms, then game over! Stay as you are and you are downgraded to Junk Status! The consequences are dire. Your choice…
Similar sentiments have been voiced by many well respected commentators concerned about the state of South Africa’s economy as well as its politics – and the ability of the ANC to provide effective leadership to address the major challenges it faces.
South Africa faces perhaps many more challenges than it did in the build up to the new constitution of 1994. These include a moribund economy and a governing party that is faction-ridden and ideologically disorientated. This is blamed for enabling much of the massive corruption and nepotism in the country best described as “state capture”.
What South Africa needs is a reformer who can redirect its politics to address issues related to economic growth and development, political stability, social cohesion, service delivery and several issues related to governance, management and administration.
It should all start with President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC, which he leads.
He had the opportunity to set the tone this weekend when he delivered the ANC national executive committee’s January 8 statement to mark the party’s birthday. Such statements are viewed as being important because they provide direction for cabinet discussions ahead of the new legislative sitting of parliament as well as the state of the nation address delivered in February every year by the President.
Ramaphosa was expected to lay out the political direction for South Africa during 2020. Unfortunately, his speech failed to hit the mark. It didn’t offer any radical new ideas on the structural reforms hinted at by Mboweni. Ramaphosa showed a complete lack of party as well as political leadership. His inability to be bold and decisive about what needs to be done suggests that he is increasingly becoming a victim of his own party’s inability to deal with the difficult circumstances of the current negative state of affairs in the country.
What was missing
There was nothing new in the speech outside of the existing policy and strategy of the ANC. The core of his presentation were the usual talking points about rebuilding the state, reinforcing the state-owned enterprises, the battle against corruption and state capture, social cohesion, and economic growth and development.
Despite an emphasis on making state companies, specifically the power utility Eskom work, and making progress with land reform, no fresh proposals were made. More rhetoric, a lack of strategic vision and political survival at all costs seems to be the name of the game.
This is a far cry from what’s needed.
Even more difficult times lie ahead for Ramaphosa. His promise that this year will see decisive action against those implicated in widespread corruption – among them influential party leaders – will no doubt add to his precarious position in the party.
The ANC’s 108th birthday bash provided fresh evidence that Ramaphosa faces a very difficult political environment in the party. There were expectations that about 35 000 people would turn up. In the event only 11 500 arrived to hear him deliver his speech. Some party leaders bemoaned the poor attendance.
This shows that, beyond any doubt, 2020 is going to be dominated by the battle for control of the ANC. That battle will gain a lot of momentum towards the party’s national general conference which is due to be held in the middle of this year. The national general conference is held midway between party conferences, to debate the “strategic organisational and political issues facing the movement”.
There are already those who are already beginning to shows signs of mounting a challenge against him. These include those implicated in state capture, among them ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, as well as other disgruntled members of the ANC presenting themselves as a “coalition of the wounded”.
The outcome of this battle will have far reaching implications for the future for South Africa, and its ability to deal with its numerous challenges.
Decisive year ahead
The year ahead promises to be a very difficult but also a very decisive year for South Africa. Is Ramaphosa the man to take the country into a new dawn, or is he going to be the victim of a well-organised campaign to disrupt his intended initiatives?
This year will provide the perspective on the way forward. If strong forces within the ANC get their way, someone other than Ramaphosa will present the January 8 statement in 2021.
For ordinary South Africans, this presents a very difficult scenario, with the strong possibility that the economy will slide into recession.
This, plus amending article 25 of the constitution to enable the expropriation of land without compensation, will result in even lower investment levels, higher levels of political instability and bigger challenges in terms of food security.
This does does not augur well for the future of the country and the well-being of its citizens.