ENOCH GODONGWANA: Ramaphosa's New Dawn makes him the New Deng of our time
Like Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernisations goals for China, Cyril Ramaphosa’s New Dawn has prioritised getting our economy back on track
In a few days South Africans head to the polls in the sixth national elections since we attained democracy. We will be casting our ballots at a time when we take stock of the notable progress the ANC government has made since 1994 in improving the lives of millions of our citizens, especially in the delivery of basic services, housing, health care and social support.
At the same time, we continue to grapple with a legacy of apartheid that has frustrated the government’s ability to decrease poverty and underdevelopment within a relatively short period of time. A lot has gone awry. Our economy has been floundering as a result of, among other things, ill-considered policies of the past, regulatory and other uncertainty and the mismanagement of key institutions such as state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
As we head into an election, we have a politically disaffected citizenry who believe the ANC government has failed to live up to its promise to deliver a better life for all.
Public debt has ballooned and unemployment is at unacceptably high levels, impacting the ability of our citizens to lead quality lives. Moreover, the ANC government is trying to address these challenges in the midst of a trying climate wherein the legacy of the 2008 global economic downturn and a sluggish global economy has left no country immune, especially developing, extractives-dependent economies.
All this has not been helped by the stench of corruption, patronage and graft that has permeated all sectors of governance from local government upwards. This has contributed in no small part to the near hollowing out of the state’s capacity, thereby impacting on the government’s ability to deliver services.
As we head into an election, we have a politically disaffected citizenry who believe the ANC government has failed to live up to its promise to deliver a better life for all. But we are on a slow but steady path towards economic reform and renewal led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who since taking office in 2018 has prioritised getting our economy back on track and getting South Africans working again.
We are witnessing a new momentum and energy in SA today that has galvanised all sectors of society behind a common vision: to realise an SA that is developing, is equitable, and is free from corruption and maladministration. Our people are infused with a new sense of optimism, one the country has not witnessed since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
The current climate — of being on the cusp of renewal and revival, of real change — brings to mind the election of Deng Xiaoping to the helm of the Communist Party of China in 1978. Deng came to power at a time when China was facing international isolation and coming to terms with the effects of policies pursued by Mao Zedong during the Great Leap Forward.
The “opening up” of China’s economy took place in tandem with the so-called Four Modernisations introduced by Deng. The latter’s goal was to revive China’s economy. They focused on reform in the fields of agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology. The overall aim of these two initiatives was to turn China, then an underdeveloped agrarian society, into an economic and industrial powerhouse.
To mobilise support and funding for its modernisation drive, in addition to courting foreign investment, Deng’s China sought the backing of multilateral funding agencies and international development institutions for technical and financial assistance with key projects. The projects implemented under the Four Modernisations, together with a focus on export-led growth, precipitated China’s economic revival well into the early 21st century and transformed it into the world’s second-largest economy.
There are parallels between Deng’s China in 1978 and the SA of today, as there are similarities with the focus and priorities of the government led by Ramaphosa. The economic stimulus and recovery plan laid out by Ramaphosa in 2018; the drive to mobilise investment to the value of R1.2-trillion over the next five years, announced in his first state of the nation address in 2018; and the hosting of the first SA Investment Conference soon afterwards, were as clear an indication as ever that when it comes to getting our economy back on track it would no longer be “business as usual”.
At the heart of the stimulus and recovery plan is the need to get the wheels turning again following a period of protracted economic stagnation, and to create jobs for our people. With its focus on accelerating industrialisation, export-led growth, reviving the agricultural sector and harnessing the power of technology to propel the country into a new century, Ramaphosa’s New Dawn resembles the reforms introduced by Deng. Our president, supported by the able and capable leadership of an ANC in the throes of renewal, is the Deng of our time.
Our government, led by the ANC, has put SA firmly on the road to recovery by presenting clear plans that have already begun to yield results. Investors are returning to our country. Tangible projects are being kick-started. The reform of our SOEs is under way. Critical infrastructure is being upgraded. Corruption is being decisively dealt with through various commissions of inquiry.
Earlier in 2019 ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service maintained our sovereign credit rating at investment grade. This is a barometer of increased business confidence in our country as a result of the reforms introduced since Ramaphosa assumed office.
Twenty-five years since the dawn of democracy we are on a renewed mission to advance social justice in our society, deliver services to our people and deal decisively with the factors that have contributed to the trust deficit in our society. It is time to close the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, between urban and rural, and between government and the people whose interests it serves.
Like the events in China in 1978, this government is on a drive to industrialise and grow our country’s economy, improve the lives of our people and, most importantly, return to them the hope and optimism that defined the early years of our democracy. Carrying forward the gains of our predecessors is the task of a vanguard leadership, and a New dawn, led by Ramaphosa, is indeed upon us.
At the same time, in addressing our weaknesses and rectifying what has gone wrong we will move forward committed to the principle of both collective leadership and collective accountability. The ANC’s fortunes are not tied to an individual; the organisation counts within its ranks capable and qualified men and women who are more than ready and able to take the organisation’s programme of political, social and economic transformation forward.
Reform is not always met with enthusiasm, especially from within. Its most vociferous opponents are those who usually stand to lose the most. This, however, will not stand in the way of the necessity of that reform. As The Economist noted in a recent special report on SA, if we are to turn the country around we will need to restore our institutions, and at the same time embrace radical reforms to the economy and public services.
It is only through implementing such timely and necessary reform that we can build a future of equality and prosperity wherein all South Africans enjoy the benefits of our economy.
• Godongwana chairs the ANC economic transformation subcommitee.