People have been waiting for two years for President Cyril Ramaphosa to roll back the rot of the Zuma years — to no avail, the writer says. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
People have been waiting for two years for President Cyril Ramaphosa to roll back the rot of the Zuma years — to no avail, the writer says. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

President Cyril Ramaphosa will celebrate — or mourn — two years as ANC president in a few days. In February 2020 he will also celebrate two years as president of our fine republic. It seems like such a long time ago when he ascended to the presidency with a nation’s collective optimism buoying him up. The rand strengthened to R12 to the dollar!

Ramaphosa is now a man who is haunted by negative sentiment. He is stalked by a phenomenon that plagues foreign investors, his own friends and comrades, and citizens alike: they still doubt his ability to deliver.

Two years after his narrow win at the ANC’s Nasrec conference in Johannesburg, it is still unclear to many whether he has won over the many forces within his own party that want to perpetuate the ruinous Jacob Zuma era, or whether he is flailing. Wherever one turns these days, the doubts that prevailed before Zuma left and after he was pushed out still remain.

Scenes such as the ones we saw this week as ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule (dogged by allegations of major corruption) stood triumphantly at the side of the new Joburg mayor Geoff Makhubo (dogged by allegations of corruption), and received accolades and applause from the ANC caucus, bring to the fore the question: was the Ramaphosa renaissance a wish rather than a real possibility? Was it that too much hope and too much expectation was placed on “the forces of good” in the ANC when in fact they are just too few and too weak? Or is it, as so many now contend, there were never two ANCs? The “good” are bad and the “bad” have some good?

The two institutions are saying they are in deep doubt that Ramaphosa is winning the battle to implement the reforms he has spoken about persuasively here at home and on the world stage

It doesn’t really matter now. Doubt has set in and it will play havoc with Ramaphosa’s administration for as long as it is not addressed seriously by him and his lieutenants. Everywhere now there is doubt. If I am going to fly to Cape Town over the festive period, will I fly SAA when I know that it may very well keel over? Doubt. If I want to build a shopping centre in Hermanus, can I tell potential investors that there will be electricity when out of the blue, in the middle of summer, the debt-laden Eskom says that it is moving to stage four load-shedding? Doubt.

The ratings agency Moody’s gave us some breathing space last month, but that is likely to be closed in a few months. They, like so many others, doubt that the president has a grip on his wayward ANC and its many leaders who are doing their damnedest to stymie a progressive reform programme from being mounted.

Consider what Standard & Poor’s said when it changed its outlook on SA’s sovereign credit rating to negative two weeks ago: “Factional disagreements within the ruling ANC party threaten the reform momentum crucial for kick-starting growth…. Ramaphosa is also likely to face further struggles from factions within his party, which have recently blocked key reforms to the labour market and non-financial public enterprises.”

On November 25, the IMF concluded its visit to SA with the words “time is of the essence”. It said that a “more decisive approach to reform is urgently needed…. Impediments to growth have to be removed, vulnerabilities addressed, and policy buffers rebuilt.”

The two institutions are thus saying they are in deep doubt that Ramaphosa is winning the battle to implement the reforms he has spoken about persuasively here at home and on the world stage.

Doubt is a terrible thing. It makes investors wait. It makes consumers wait. Everyone waits to see what will happen next. In Ramaphosa’s case, people have been waiting for two years now. They are doubtful. No-one can remove that except the man himself.

He faces a formidable task. The Zuma era has a long shadow. The near-collapse of SAA and its placement in business rescue last week demonstrates that the dominoes set off in the period from 2009 are still falling. We are living through the consequences of the Zuma years. The SAA debacle is just one of the consequences of those wasted years.

Bleating on about Zuma, Ace Magashule and the ANC’s internal politics will not solve the problem. Ramaphosa has had a very reasonable time to demonstrate that he is in charge of party and state. That is the message he needs to not only articulate but demonstrate in the very short time he has between this week and his state of the nation speech on February 13. He can do so through his January 8 statement, the ANC lekgotla and the cabinet lekgotla announcements.

Doubt is Ramaphosa’s enemy. He should remove it.

This article was first published by Times Select.