Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascent to the top job in the ANC is the culmination of a long, patient journey whose forced 20-year detour into the corporate world has no doubt only served to further equip him with the skills he will desperately need for as troubled an economy as ours.
Being president of the ANC makes Ramaphosa the de facto president of the country and reduces the incumbent Jacob Zuma to a lame duck who must now carry out the instructions coming to him from Luthuli House.
Ramaphosa has no time to waste on being the nice guy. He is inheriting an economy badly damaged by his predecessor. SA can afford neither further damage nor economic stagnation.
The record high unemployment rate of 27.7%, with its attendant explosively high youth unemployment, is a time bomb waiting to explode. The absence of growth demands urgent and drastic intervention. Patience is an unaffordable luxury right now.
"Your election presents an opportunity to renew confidence in SA, internally and externally," wrote Nedbank CEO Mike Brown in an open letter to Ramaphosa.
There are far too many easy wins that Ramaphosa can quickly grab to build on the trust his constituency has in him and the goodwill shown by the markets. Doing so may help the most immediate of our problems — fighting further credit rating downgrades, corruption and chronic unemployment.
Other than drastically slashing the obviously and unnecessarily bloated executive of almost 80 ministers and deputies, appointing more trustworthy and capable ministers than those in the finance, energy, social development and the public service administration portfolios will be just the start. SA urgently needs to demonstrate its commitment to prudent financial management.
Only credible leaders — and they must be credible in the eyes of investors — can deliver that outcome.
Ramaphosa must grab the opportunity he was handed by the courts to appoint a competent and professional national director of public prosecutions. To achieve that, he has to get the ANC’s national executive committee to instruct Zuma to drop his appeal against the high court judgment that gave the task to Ramaphosa two weeks ago.
Other law enforcement and security agencies, such as the police and the SA Revenue Service, are crying out for dedicated and efficient professionals. Even appointing such people would just be the start of a long, hard rebuilding exercise.
Enforcing the rule of law is just the foundation, the first block in the construction of investor confidence. No nation may climb up the ladder of prosperity without firmly planting its feet on this first step, the rule of law.
Incidentally, the rule of law is good not only for investors, but also for worthy citizens to raise families secure in the knowledge that not only are their own assets protected, but so are the most vulnerable members of society.
Only when these measures are in place can SA achieve its full economic and social potential, and embark firmly on the path to self-reliance. But for these to happen, Ramaphosa must recognise that the same mindset that created our enormous problems is incapable of resolving them.
In the rebuilding effort he will not be alone.
"There is much goodwill both locally and internationally to assist in the effort," as Brown points out. The Financial Mail and many others stand ready to join the whole nation in the essential rebuilding effort. Ramaphosa dare not squander the goodwill.