EDITORIAL: Buoyed Ramaphosa must use it or lose it
The president should use his edge from the ANC’s NEC meeting to deliver on long-promised reforms
Depending on who is asked, the outcome of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting over the weekend was either a turning point in Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency or a non-event.
Those who profess the latter will argue that a rebellion led by Tony Yengeni with the endorsement of Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, never had a chance. As it is, Ramaphosa carried the NEC and scored some victories, most notably over fighting corruption among its ranks.
The rebellion didn’t come to anything and Ramaphosa has now emerged with as strong a hold over the party as he did at any point since narrowly winning its presidency at Nasrec in December 2017. This should neutralise his opponents within the ANC and pave the way for him to pursue his corruption-fighting and growth-boosting agenda.
Unfortunately, we’ve been here before.
Heading into the May 2019 elections, some analysts argued that a strong showing for the ANC would strengthen his hand.
That proved to be optimistic and the ANC’s internal fights over crucial policy returned in no time. It wasn’t even a month after the elections that the secretary-general, Ace Magashule, popped up with a curious reading of the ANC’s position on the role of the Reserve Bank, calling for “quantity easing” for “developmental purposes”.
Initially, it was left to finance minister Tito Mboweni and Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago to push back against the call, which knocked the rand. When Ramaphosa got involved, he also seemed to close the debate about the nationalisation of the Bank by saying such a step wasn’t prudent.
The ownership debate may well be back in play again, not because it has suddenly become a good idea, but because, like everything else of national importance, it has become a proxy for other battles within the ANC. The same applies to land, and even the management of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Having gone through the early phase of Ramaphoria and glimpses of its return during the lead-up to the general elections, it would be prudent to ask if it will be different this time? Ramaphosa has bought himself some political capital. Will he use it to concentrate on issues that concern the country as a whole?
There is certainly much to do and SA cannot afford more ANC distractions, though people facing prosecution over corruption allegations will want to revive the distractions as part of a survival strategy.
With what’s going on in the governing party, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that SA is in the midst of a health and economic catastrophe. Covid-19 may not be hoarding the headlines as much as it did five months ago, but trends globally show this is no time for complacency or a lack of leadership.
While most of the economy is opening up, there is no sign that the government is making any plans for opening the country to foreign travel; bad news for a tourism sector that is about 9% of GDP and has been the biggest victim of the lockdown.
How to open up relatively safely while the northern hemisphere heads into winter and potential Covid-19 spikes should be among the key issues occupying Ramaphosa’s and health minister Zweli Mkhize’s minds, not utterances by Yengeni or the Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina.
While the rand has been volatile as always, the bond markets provide a more accurate barometer of where investors see SA heading. The message is clear: SA is running out of time to get the economy running and fix its finances.
To borrow for 10 years, SA has to pay 2.5 percentage points more than Turkey. When one considers that investors have to pay a fee for Germany to hold their cash for a decade, SA’s 10-year yield of 9.3% tells a sad story.
Ramaphosa had better strike on long-promised reforms while the iron is hot, or he will lose momentum again.
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