On the steps of Cape Town City Hall on 11 February to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in Paarl, African National Congress president Cyril Ramaphosa promised: “a new beginning” for the party and the country under his watch.
But Ramaphosa will be in the state presidency for less than a year before the 2019 national elections, and this means he will have to choose carefully the priorities that will deliver maximum impact over a short period.
There are some critical immediate steps Ramaphosa will have to take to kick-start such a new beginning and deliver a real a break from the corruption, public service failures and incompetence of Jacob Zuma’s era. The first will be to get a new cabinet team: fresh ideas, energy, and confidence are critical.
This may not be so straightforward, however. Support for Ramaphosa and the Zuma camp are about evenly split, so for the sake of unity Ramaphosa will be under pressure to include members of the Zuma faction in his cabinet.
At a minimum, Ramaphosa will have to take control of the economic, justice, security and intelligence, infrastructure, mining and energy clusters of the cabinet. It is not only the ministers in charge that should be replaced, but also the executive management.
As he makes new appointments, Ramaphosa should bring talents from the wider ANC and non-ANC communities – for example, experienced cadres such as former finance ministers Pravin Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene, and former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas.
Zuma has blocked investigations into his own corruption and that of his allies by controlling the crime, intelligence, prosecuting and revenue services. Zuma loyalists in these crucial agencies have also tripped up critics of the President, conscientious employees and whistleblowers. This means that Ramaphosa will have to bring honest managers to run these agencies from top to middle management.
The South African Revenue Service has been particularly gutted under Zuma. Ramaphosa may have to appoint a big-hitter such as Nene to run the agency in order to restore public confidence.
Ramaphosa will have to be seen actively dealing with widespread corruption that erodes state efficiency, crushes investor and public confidence, and depresses the economy.
Although prosecuting Zuma for grand corruption, incompetence and abuse of his power is an obvious pillar of the anti-corruption fight, there are a number of Zuma’s powerful cabinet, ANC national executive committee, government and business allies who are deeply implicated in wrongdoing. Of them, the Gupta family are just the most publicly talked-about individuals linked to corruption.
Ramaphosa will also have to bring down a couple of untouchable ANC and business figures to show the public his anti-corruption fight will not only focus on the small-time criminals. He should seriously consider establishing a truth and reconciliation-like commission to tackle pervasive corruption in the public and private sectors.
Ramaphosa will also need a big-bang plan to improve execution of key government programmes, projects and public services. One way to do this is setting up a government-wide task force to monitor delivery bottlenecks in priority programmes, infrastructure projects and public services that are critical to lift growth, create jobs and boost development.
Ramaphosa will also have to clean up the governance, corruption and inefficiencies in the country’s money-guzzling state-owned enterprises (SOEs), especially the large, growth-critical ones such as state energy utility Eskom, logistics utility Transnet, arms manufacturer Denel and oil company PetroSA.
The procurement chains of these SOEs are particular sites for corruption, wastage and patronage. This will mean firing Zuma-aligned allies on boards and executives, cancelling contracts with their companies and bringing in new fresh blood.
It is crucial that Ramaphosa focuses on boosting investor goodwill. Zuma’s wayward leadership, mismanagement and corruption have eroded business and public confidence. Companies have hoarded savings or invested abroad rather than using it locally to create bricks-and-mortar businesses.
This means he will have to take up the work that former finance minister Gordhan initiated before he was fired by Zuma last year, in building a partnership for investment, growth and job-creation between government, business and civil society. Ramaphosa has already created a platform through his initiative last year when he united business and labour around the adoption of a minimum wage.
Ramaphosa will also have to review the controversial third version of the mining charter – steered by mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, a Zuma loyalist. The charter sets the black economic empowerment priorities for the mining sector and is now the subject of a court battle.
Ramaphosa will have to call a land summit to bring all stakeholders to map out a policy that looks at all three forms of landholdings: state-owned land, communal land under the trusteeship of traditional authorities, and commercial land.
What is crucial is for the government to use state-owned land better and to parcel out communal land that is mostly controlled by traditional leaders by giving it to individual households, to provide the poor with assets.
He will also have to deal with the dramatic decline in public education in black communities – and this will bring him valuable, mass credibility. He will have to organise a summit bringing together all stakeholders, from parents and teachers to communities and students to map out a plan to boost state schooling.
Ramaphosa needs a couple of big symbolic gestures: such as agreeing that all new cars for members of parliament and cabinet ministers would cost, say, less than R400,000 ($33,000); insisting that ministers’ convoys consist of only one vehicle; and ensuring that big government junkets, such as conferences, will take place in ordinary community halls or on government premises.
Finally, it may not be sexy, but Ramaphosa will have to make a big part of his presidential focus just getting the state to do the things it is expected to do, getting current projects and programmes on track. The equivalent of a programme of fixing broken windows in a bad neighbourhood, it is more necessary and will be more effective than coming up with new, big-bang policies, strategies and projects.
*This article was published in The Africa Report. To view the article on their website click here.