Ramaphosa’s first 100 days in power: Building trust an immediate goal

ANC chief follows through on promises to tackle government corruption and nepotism

African National Congress (ANC) leader and South African president  Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a meeting of the  party on its land expropriation policy in Johannesburg in May. File photograph: Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images

African National Congress (ANC) leader and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a meeting of the party on its land expropriation policy in Johannesburg in May. File photograph: Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images

 

Newly appointed president Cyril Ramaphosa’s first 100 days in office have offered South Africans a glimpse of what the future could hold for a country undermined by corruption and economic stagnation.

Since replacing the ousted Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s leader on February 15th last, Ramaphosa has sought to build trust in his administration as his immediate goal, rather than introduce widespread policy changes from the get-go.

In an interview on May 27th with state-run radio station SABC to mark the 10-day milestone, Ramaphosa said the changes he had made so far were designed to restore people’s confidence in the country, so that the type of investment needed to create large-scale employment could be attracted.

To achieve his goal, Ramaphosa has followed through on his promises to tackle government corruption and nepotism – which flourished under his predecessor – and made interventions targeted at specific sectors to support the economy.

Another aspect of his turnaround strategy has been to announce an ambitious plan to secure $100 billion (€85 billion) in overseas investment that will involve holding two large summits – one on jobs and one on investment – in the near future.

To set his turnaround strategy in motion, the trade unionist-turned-businessman reshuffled his cabinet at the end of February and installed trusted lieutenants in crucial government positions at the expense of many Zuma loyalists.

The well-respected Nhlanhla Nene, who Zuma fired from his cabinet in 2015, was reappointed minister of finance to ensure there is a reliable hand on the nation’s purse strings. Another move of major significance saw Ramaphosa sack Mosebenzi Zwane from the position of mineral resources minister.

Corruption allegations

The latter had been at the centre of numerous corruption allegations, and his introduction of the revamped Mining Charter last year had caused uproar in the industry.

The charter, supposed to redress inequities in the industry created by apartheid, had prompted industry stakeholders appalled by some of its provisions around black economic empowerment to challenge it legally.

Experts had warned the changes Zwane had made to the charter would undermine investment into the sector, which is a pillar of the economy, rather than promote it. The charter has since been withdrawn so that it can be revised.

Last month the newly appointed public enterprise minister Pravin Gordhan, a longtime Ramaphosa ally, also announced that government had begun the process of turning around poorly performing state-owned enterprises.

Power utility Eskom, airline SA Express Airways, freight and rail transport company Transnet, and weapons producer Denel, all had significant personnel changes made to their boards of directors by Gordhan.

“The poor performance of these companies was a result of deep, widespread corruption and maladministration,” Gordhan said at a press conference, before adding, “This continued unabated at these companies until a few months ago. We are intent on reversing this situation.”

According to a recent editorial published in South Africa’s respected Business Day newspaper, the biggest impact Ramaphosa has had on the country has been the confidence he has been able to instil in relation to his ability to reverse South Africa’s downward spiral.

“Top of the confidence-building measures has been the rapid replacement of the leadership of state-owned companies. As this is where most of the risk to the economy and the rot was centred, the focus has made good sense,” the editorial said.

While Zwane’s sacking was broadly welcomed locally, other ministers such as Malusi Gigaba, Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini have managed to retain positions in Ramaphosa’s cabinet, despite their dubious track records.

Their survival prompted the president’s critics to conclude that his hold on power in the ANC remains undermined by factionalism. Furthermore, they insist his ability to push through the type of economic policies that will be needed to turn the economy around remains precarious as a result.

‘Cosmetic changes’

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party has called Ramaphosa’s interventions to date as “small, cosmetic changes”.

“Ramaphosa is governing on a fragile, compromised mandate, and will never be able to effect the total change that will turn our nation around, eradicate corruption, create millions of jobs, make our country safe, and fix our broken education system,” insisted DA leader Mmusi Maimane in a statement.

While this remains to be seen, Ramaphosa’s efforts so far have resonated with many South Africans intent on believing that he can deliver on the “new dawn” he has promised.

According to a poll conducted by research company Ipsos in late May, 76 per cent of the 2,000 people surveyed said they approved of the job Ramaphosa was doing as president, and 79 per cent said they approved of how he was handling the economy.

Only 6 per cent of those surveyed disapproved of his performance in government so far.

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