The past week has been a strange and peculiar one in the history of our young democracy in South Africa. We saw a president who remained deviant until the 11th hour and a liberation movement dumbfounded on how it got played by one man’s political wit! Yet here we stand!
We stand now in a period where the African strongman President Jacob Zuma added the title “former” to his name and Cyril Ramaphosa ditched the description I laid a few weeks ago as the man “who would be king”.
He is now the fifth democratically elected President of South Africa in accordance with section 86 of the constitution that places the mandate on the national assembly to elect a president upon the vacancy of the presidency due to various reasons of which Zuma’s resignation suffices.
However, while the Zuma presidency ended, what so his era? Yes I know, you may be thinking “but if the personality is no longer at the helm, his era has ended” and to that I would say it is not such an easy conclusion to make. President Zuma presided over a period where South Africa’s economy experienced its worst economic trajectory, aided yes by a global economic downturn, the government failed to address the most pressing structural challenges our economy faced.
Many pundits spoke of the reforms that would have better eased the pain of the global recession but also that would ensure a more certain economic recovery. Under his presidency key institutions were turned into political slaves under his whip and government blew up to accommodate many of his friends who helped propel him to power. Moreover, Zuma presided over the weakening of the most primary institution that ought to hold the executive accountable, Parliament.
With Members of Parliament (MPs) having to defend the indefensible Nkandla scandal. Our democracy was pushed its limits, when the courts as the final custodians of our constitutional order, had to preside at times over matters that would see them almost risks the violation of separation of powers. It is a man, whom under his watch the Parliament channel became the most entertaining channel as MPs showed us that age is no guarantee for maturity.
Lastly, it is under him that business stopped being the shadow behind political power but came to the front of the stage and arrogantly exercised constitutional prerogatives given only to the president of the Republic, in the form of state capture. Perhaps most painful it is that under him that 30.2million people are living under poverty!
President Ramaphosa faces an even greater challenge then removing Zuma from the presidency, he must now deal with an era that remains engraved in the fabric of not only our memory but reality. This path is one where I would warn him may see him face the executor’s blade, as he seeks to untangle the long webs of corruption that have eaten at the soul of the ANC and state. Some of those lie in the very NEC in whose confidence he must keep. The likes of Bathabile Dlamini, Faith Muthambi, Nomvula Mokonyane and Bongani Bongo to name a few. For us to rise, they must fall, yet they form part of the Zuma network of influence that will forever remain a thorn in Ramaphosa sight. He must pursue a technocratic cabinet and unify some departments and let go of the deadweight. All of this will come at a cost of making even new enemies but this is the resolve he will need to get us out of a dark era.
In addition, his choice of finance minister, economic development minister and trade and industry minsters, will be crucial in driving the kind of reforms and policy implementation we need to energise growth. Zuma’s government has often been seen as the centre of job creation, which has led to a bloated wage bill and fiscus gasping for air.
Given the pronouncements on free education (a Zuma legacy he cannot get rid of), Ramaphosa and the national treasury will either have to cut expenditure to other departments or they will have to increase tax. The latter would impact disposable income and economic growth. However as VAT increase of 2%, however, painful could ensure we are able to service our debt faster, reduce the deficit and finance free higher education, whose economic benefit need not be debated.
Moreover, the moral deficit the ANC has remains the Kilimanjaro that will test him. ANC under the last 10 years has not been the moral beacon of the Republic and this has led to even a global perception that country that was once the human rights star of the world, can no longer claim that soft power.
Alas, he, Ramaphosa finds himself in a catch 21 situation, all of this will take more than the 18 months to the elections but should all of the challenges that are born of the Zuma era remain, they could see him being the first ANC elected president to lose a national election. So yes, Zuma is gone but his era will continue to define Ramaphosa’s own political legacy as president of the Republic of South Africa.
Good luck Your Excellency the President and God bless Africa!