South Africa – Now for the hard part as ANC must step up

Gary van Staden | NKC African Economics

One sorry chapter in the recent history of South African politics has thankfully come to an end with the resignation on Wednesday night, February 14, of President Jacob Zuma.

President of South Africa Jacob Zuma addresses the nation at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on February 14, 2018. South African President Jacob Zuma addressed the nation on February 14, 2018, saying that he resigns ‘with immediate effect’. Photo: Getty Images.

While the bane of the countless talking heads will continue to pollute the political environment for some time, the focus must now shift to the new leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) to stand and deliver.

It would be gratifying to see the dedication and purpose the ANC put into ridding itself of Mr Zuma now directed into rebuilding the national economy, dealing with the rampant corruption still residing in the ANC which cannot all be blamed on Mr Zuma, improving its shoddy governance record, and serving the people.

Financial markets, investors and business owners are not going to be distracted by the early removal of yet another sitting president for much longer, and the attention will turn to what the new order intends to do and when it will do it.

The state of the nation address (Sona) and the national budget that follows next week will prove to be important indicators of just how the new brooms will be judged.

While the media fascination with the former president will undoubtedly continue for some time, the real issue is that he is now just another South African citizen with some legal problems and of no real concern to where the country moves next.

We have relied too long on explanations of how apartheid was to blame for everything the ANC did wrong and we cannot afford an ANC that will now blame all its ills and all its shortcomings on Mr Zuma. The ANC of President Cyril Ramaphosa must step up and step up quickly.

There are several cabinet ministers who received a stay of execution when Mr Zuma resigned rather than go the route of a no-confidence vote that would have forced all of them to quit with no guarantee they would be reappointed.

Now Mr Ramaphosa must do the dirty work himself and will need no guidance from us as to where the sword must fall.

But just in case he thought Mr Zuma was the only problem, here are a few others: Malusi Gigaba, Faith Muthambi, Bathabile Dlamini, David Mahlobo, Ebrahim Patel, Lynne Brown, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Mosebenzi Zwane, Nomvula Mokonyane, and probably some others but they can wait.

As for policy issues, the new leadership needs to address the following:

  • a mining charter that is a disincentive to investment;
  • it must kill off once and for all the idea of a Russian-sponsored nuclear programme and hope Moscow does not react too badly to the news;
  • the idea of a ‘developmental state’ must go and privatisation needs at least a return to the agenda, even if just as an option;
  • State-owned enterprises (SOEs), or whatever government chooses to call them, must add value (either monetary or in terms of service delivery improvements) or be sold off or just shut down; and
  • clean up corruption and unbundle state capture.

The ANC must also address some internal issues that have tended to become everyone’s problem – such as the fact that the gap between the ANC national congress, where new leaders are elected, and the next scheduled national elections is problematic and almost designed to generate uncertainty and the unconstitutional concept of a ‘recall’.

While countries like Botswana manage this issue of ‘two centres of power’ without tensions or cutting short the tenure of the national president, it seems the ANC is not able to manage the arrangement.

We have yet to have a serving president see out the full two-term limit – one by choice (Nelson Mandela who took only one term) and the next two by party skulduggery. As things stand, and assuming electoral success, Mr Ramaphosa is guaranteed only 1.8 terms in office.

There has been much hand-wringing over the impact of ANC attempts to cut short the term of office of the national president when there was no visible difference in the quality or lack thereof of functioning government and State structures.

The removal of Mr Zuma was an unseemly, distasteful charade fed by an often disillusioned civil society that seemed to believe once Mr Zuma had been lanced like an infected boil from the body politic, all would magically be well.

That is not going to be the case, and unless the new ANC leadership urgently and consistently walks its recent talk, we can expect little more than a honeymoon in terms of financial market response and economic progress.

A long, hard walk to progress lies ahead. However, it is important to note that once again a powerful president has been removed from office without recourse to violence or the threat thereof.

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