Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

"It’s the economy, stupid."

This phrase, which was coined by James Carville, a campaign strategist for Bill Clinton in 1992, is in the air as President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC now try to turn the tide.

Ramaphosa has to start with the state and its ability to manage the economy. The size of the cabinet is expected to be reduced, to 25 or 27, according to those in the know. The number of deputy minister posts is also positioned for a cut. The economic ministries are set for some tinkering as well, though the National Treasury is still to be bulletproofed and will remain the apex department for fiscal policy.

There is a lot Ramaphosa can do quickly to give credence to the "new dawn" he promised in 2017.

"The ‘new dawn’ is feasible as long as Ramaphosa remains president," says Bank Zero founder Michael Jordaan. "We’ve had a terrible decade under Jacob Zuma: since 2013 economic growth has been lower than 2%, which hardly exceeds the population growth of 1.5% and doesn’t come close to the GDP growth of 4%-5% we need to create jobs in proper quantities."

Ramaphosa provides SA with the opportunity to reverse stagnation by fixing corrupt state institutions and restoring investor confidence.

This starts with the appointment of a cabinet packed with credible people, especially in key portfolios like finance.

Banking Association of SA MD Cas Coovadia says: "The minister of finance has to be absolutely untainted … by what has happened in the past 10 years.

"The person must have global credibility with investors and international business and also the confidence of SA business."

The cabinet needs to be reduced from the current 34, Coovadia says.

Jordaan echoes this view. "Ramaphosa’s priorities are the same as those of any business CEO: to surround himself with a great team and then hold them accountable for results.

"I’m hoping for a smaller cabinet, appointed on merit and not ideology, with a clear instruction from Ramaphosa to get runs on the board, fast."

Says Coovadia: "The question we have to ask is what sort of conglomeration we need to promote investment, to make sure we get our energy mix and our infrastructure issues — rail and road — sorted out."

The broader approach, he says, should be about improving economic planning, right down to city level. And, of course, keeping SA’s ratings stable, or even improving the current situation where only Moody’s has SA above junk status, has to be one of the priorities.