Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

With the transition from Jacob Zuma’s disastrous presidency to the election of Cyril Ramaphosa a little more than three months ago, it is understandable that the focus has been very much on personalities.

It would not be controversial to assert that Ramaphosa has emerged as a clear winner and seemingly can do no wrong, even if some have at times mistaken his attention to detail and obsession with procedure for weakness, most notably in dealing with the North West.

It does not appear that the population at large has such reservations, with the Sunday Times reporting that he enjoys approval rates of nearly 80%.

Ramaphosa has injected a new sense of hope and enthusiasm in SA and his regular walks among communities around the country have been a big hit.

The performance of the rand, even in the wake of wobbles by emerging markets more generally, signals that the goodwill is not limited to the local population. The major global ratings companies may not be in a rush to restore the nation’s investment-grade credit rating, but talk of further downgrades deeper into junk status are a thing of the past.

It also seems the president understands political careers tend to peak early, and the window for taking difficult decisions can only narrow from here, although he could plausibly argue he has more time with his first election for a national mandate not due until 2019

While it is assuring to have a president that the country and, seemingly, the investment world has faith in, it is increasingly clear Ramaphosa understands that what will cement his legacy is not his personality but the energy and drive he brings into restoring faith in the country’s key institutions.

Presidents come and go and the challenge is to ensure that institutions, from law enforcement to energy generation, are durable and able to implement their mandates. It is within this context that it is hard to overstate the importance of steps taken in the past week.

It also seems the president understands political careers tend to peak early, and the window for taking difficult decisions can only narrow from here, although he could plausibly argue he has more time with his first election for a national mandate not due until 2019.

Eskom, so much a symbol of what was wrong during the Zuma presidency, is slowly being cleansed, though there is a long way to go to see how to get its balance sheet to financial health and sustainability, or get its operations to be efficient.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has confirmed Phakamani Hadebe’s appointment as Eskom CEO, after holding the position in an acting capacity since January.

The appointment has been broadly welcomed and Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago was especially effusive in his praise. He should know, having worked with Hadebe at the Treasury in the early years of democracy.

Gordhan, removed twice by Zuma as finance minister, has been refreshingly frank in his assessment of what has happened at state-owned enterprises, describing them as being characterised by "deep and widespread" corruption, which lasted until a few months ago.

After years of political appointees with questionable qualifications, the government last week appointed advocate Godfrey Lebeya as the new head of the Hawks. This is another sign that skills and due process, rather than usefulness to the executive, will guide the allocation of leadership positions at key institutions. Add to this the appointment of new boards at Transnet and Denel, and a more optimistic picture emerges.

Ramaphosa — and to some extent reformers such as Gordhan and current Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene — does not inspire confidence because he is a messiah or superhero who will singlehandedly solve all our problems.

His greatest achievement so far is to give the country the confidence that it has a leader who is committed to its wellbeing and reviving a political culture that will ensure key institutions thrive long after he has gone.