Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: VELI NHLAPO/SOWETAN
Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: VELI NHLAPO/SOWETAN

This time last year there was so much hope. Cyril Ramaphosa had been president of the republic for just over a month. The rand was surging and confidence among businesses and consumers was on the up. It was a period that became known as Ramaphoria.

It was always too optimistic of course, but for most people, after a decade of universal gloom during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, this was a welcome change. With all the tales of state capture and corruption, having someone who was one of the authors of the constitution also gave rise to optimism that the rule of law would once again prevail.

On the economy, the promise is far from being fulfilled. In fact the expansion in 2018 was less than what was achieved the year before, when Zuma was still in charge.

It has been equally gloomy in the early stages of 2019, with business news headlines filled with the struggles of retail companies, signalling that consumers are stretched, with Eskom’s load shedding set to impose more pain on sectors across the economy.

The picture from the property sector has not been encouraging either, with the head of the country’s biggest listed real estate company, Growthpoint, saying potential tenants were unwilling to make long-term commitments, leading to landlords slashing prices.

“There is zero business confidence in SA.” Perhaps alluding to debates around the Reserve Bank’s independence and other divisive issues, Growthpoint CEO Norbert Sasse said “ongoing political rhetoric” was not helping.

His comments came the same day a quarterly report by Rand Merchant Bank and Stellenbosch University’s Bureau for Economic Research showed that confidence among business had sunk to the lows reached in those days of unpredictable Zuma cabinet changes, including the firing of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister in 2017.

Considering what he has achieved so far in first exposing corruption through the various commissions, and then seeking to revive institutions like the National Prosecution Authority (NPA), Ramaphosa may feel hard done by. He also hosted successful investment and job summits in 2018. These will only bear fruit in the longer term, according to RMB chief economist Etienne le Roux, so the president probably has a strong argument for patience.

The problem for the country is that the politics always gets in the way, whether it is debates about land or the independence of the Reserve Bank, meaning we get distracted and take the eye off the things we need to do to boost confidence.

The release of the ANC’s potential MPs ahead of the May elections is a case in point. It has already attracted much commentary with its inclusion of figures seen to be central to the rot of the Zuma years.

Bathabile Dlamini, minister of women in the presidency, was found to have possibly lied under oath when dealing with the Sassa debacle in 2017, and the Constitutional Court ordered that the national director of public prosecutions make a call on whether she should be prosecuted for perjury, a matter the NPA is still looking at.  

Nomvula Mokonyane, the minister of environmental affairs, has been blamed for the chaotic state of her previous department, water and sanitation, and has featured prominently in allegations surrounding the disgraced facilities company Bosasa. Elsewhere this paper carries more allegations, emanating from the Zondo commission into state capture, about the role of former minerals resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane in aiding the Gupta family.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule may not be concerned about the hit to the party’s reputation, but Ramaphosa should be. His pitch to the voters has been based on his promise of renewal and that has led to people who would not normally consider voting for the ANC to say they might consider it this time, as a way of strengthening that agenda.

What we know so far, with the full list still to be made public, might make them think twice.