The king is dead, long live the king! Now that the Jacob Zuma years are thankfully over, what will the Cyril Ramaphosa era bring? The old left disdainfully regards Ramaphosa as too much of a moderate centralist, the right wing views his unionist genealogy and social democratic tendencies with suspicion and the nationalist populists consider him to be the arch-disciple of “white monopoly capital”.
And now the Zuma supporters will be out to exact revenge for his defeat of, first, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ) and then her former husband.
South Africa’s new president will not be short of enemies and critics. So it is just as well that the departure of JZ will provide a useful tailwind to propel Ramaphosa and his new administration into the inevitably choppy waters that lie ahead.
Although I argued last time I wrote in these pages that it would be unfair and unreasonable to judge Ramaphosa on the one-dimensional basis of how quickly and efficiently Zuma could be removed — it was always going to be a messy and protracted process — it is certainly true that his elimination helpfully clears the way for the real work that must now be done to restore the integrity of state institutions hollowed out by the state capture project, rebuild battered confidence in the government’s ability to run critical agencies such as social welfare, and reinvigorate the quest for the elusive nirvana of “inclusive economic growth”.
Coming into the year, Ramaphosa faced a twin-peak strategic imperative: first, to draw a line under the disreputable Zuma years and to put clear blue water between himself and his predecessor — ideally by an early and decisive move against Zuma — and second, to begin the task of reuniting a deeply divided ANC.
These were, and to a significant extent remain, irreconcilable objectives. The centrifugal pull of raw power has undoubtedly drawn some Zuma supporters towards the new ANC president, as reflected in the strongly pro-Ramaphosa balance of power in the party’s 20-person national working committee (NWC) elected by the national executive committee (NEC). Yet the fact remains that there is a nationalist Zuma-supporting rump in the ANC’s new leadership that cannot be ignored and will require deft political management.
That is why Ramaphosa and his deputy, DD Mabuza, have already deployed substantial political capital in KwaZulu-Natal — not forgetting that the top six of the ANC unprecedentedly lacks any representative from that province.
Mabuza is keeping out of the limelight, and probably for good reason — the Zuma faction regards him as a treacherous fellow, responsible for NDZ’s loss. But he will continue to be a critical ally for Ramaphosa in the short to middle term as the two leaders seek to impose unity upon a restless, febrile organisation.
The CR17 campaign’s most brilliant accomplishment was to hive Mabuza off from the “premier league” triumvirate, thereby dividing and weakening the faction and securing victory in the presidential race.
But Mabuza was just as big a winner and, playing a very long game, now has a big stake in ensuring that the ANC renews itself sufficiently to remain in power long enough for him to be president in 10 years’ time. That is why it is unlikely that Mabuza will want to do anything other than base himself at Luthuli House for at least the next six years. It is hard to see him in the east wing of the Union Buildings, playing the unforgiving role of deputy president and overseeing the technically detailed work of the department of monitoring, performance and evaluation. Far easier to see him working the length and breadth of the ANC and consolidating his power across the provinces and branches, which will suit Ramaphosa just fine for now and give him a free hand to make his first significant Cabinet appointment: that of deputy president.
The smart money is on Lindiwe Sisulu, in recognition of her status in the ANC and her gracious handling of her unsuccessful campaign for deputy president at Nasrec, though my preference would be for Ramaphosa to stick with the person he announced (to the surprise of many) as his formal running mate last year – Naledi Pandor. Unlike Mabuza, her character would be well suited to the technical demands of the role and to restoring the National Development Plan as the pivotal guiding policy framework for the government, which is certainly Ramaphosa’s intention.
Wholesale changes in the membership of the Cabinet or, equally important, in its size and structure will probably have to wait until the ANC has settled down and the Zuma faction has been brought to heel, or until Ramaphosa has secured a fresh mandate in the 2019 national elections, whichever comes sooner.
A radical approach needs to be taken to drastically reduce a bloated Cabinet, perhaps by returning to the idea of a “politburo” council of “superministers” to oversee smaller clusters of portfolios such as national security and intelligence; social welfare and health; education and skills development; finance and public enterprises; trade, industry and sustainable development (including energy and water); international affairs and regional trade.
In the immediate short term, the obviously dodgy residue of the Zuma-enabled perfidy should be excised without delay: Energy Minister David Mahlobo, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Public Service Minister Faith Muthambi, State Security Minister Bongani Bongo, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Co-operative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen.
The trickiest decision will be what to do with Pravin Gordhan, who is playing a crucial role behind the scenes in Ramaphosa’s transition team. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, you really want to play him in every position: Should he be sorting out public enterprises (because of his fury with the misgovernance of state-owned entities), or fixing intelligence (because of his inside knowledge of how Zuma uses intelligence operatives from their days together on Operation Vula), or back at finance to restore morale at an under-siege treasury?
My solution: make him an American-style chief of staff, with all the delegated power and authority of the president to traverse government — a ruthless clean-up fixer, like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.
Aside from the Cabinet, there are four even more important appointments he must make as soon as possible. First, Tom Moyane must be extracted from the South African Revenue Service and replaced by someone who can quickly replenish the stock of capable senior managers and investigators that was so damagingly depleted in service of Zuma’s patronage network.
Second, a credible, tough and experienced national director of public prosecutions must be appointed, the courts having rather conveniently done the dirty work of purging Shaun “the sheep” Abrahams from the picture already.
Not only must the new prosecutions boss be capable of prosecuting Zuma for the outstanding 783 corruption charges arising from the arms deal, but he or she must also be able to unrelentingly pursue justice against those responsible for capturing the state with such ruinous effect, as well as rebuild the shattered criminal justice system.
Ramaphosa’s third new appointment must be the head of the Hawks and the fourth, a new head of the intelligence agency.
Then there is the fiscal crunch the government faces. It will be tough budget speech that will have to make tough political choices about public expenditure and revenue-raising — regardless of whether Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba gives it or not.
In this process, Ramaphosa will have to skillfully and decisively finesse the poisoned chalice of fee-free tertiary education that his predecessor so recklessly bequeathed him. The treasury is clear: it simply can’t be afforded right now. At best, it must be brought in progressively — as Ramaphosa must carefully and lucidly explain. Get that wrong and he will create a rod for his back, a rod that the Economic Freedom Fighters and their populist fellow travellers will beat him with until the elections.
Last, there is the “vision thing”. Ramaphosa must present his worldview. And, whether he calls it a “new deal” (as he did during the latter part of his campaign last year) or a new “social pact” (as he did when setting out an initial personal manifesto in his clear January 8 statement), he must explain what he means by inclusive economic growth and how he intends to drive it strategically.
The State of the Nation address is the moment to do this. And Ramaphosa must give the performance of his lifetime, evoking both the one-nation sentiment and atmospherics of a Nelson Mandela and the focused, strategic leadership of a Franklin D Roosevelt.
He must tell this precarious society that his government will focus all its efforts on jobs, jobs and jobs, and that he expects everyone with wealth and power to join forces with him to reduce unemployment and inequality by sharing their wealth and making the necessary sacrifices in service of a fair and decent society.
None of this will be easy. The honeymoon will be short. Tensions and tempers will rise, especially as election year approaches. His critics and enemies will be champing at the bit. And the opposition — especially Julius Malema — will be desperate to land some early blows, now that they have been deprived of their greatest electoral asset, Jacob Zuma.
Ramaphosa faces a formidable task. But he has given himself the opportunity to lead, and leadership is what South Africa urgently needs. It is an inflection point for South Africa as well as for the man who has waited two decades to take his place at the helm of the republic.
Richard Calland’s latest book is Make or Break: How the Next Three Years Will Shape South Africa’s Next Three Decades (Penguin Random House)