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‘We are painstakingly putting things right’ — Ramaphosa

Talking to nearly 50 members of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), President Cyril Ramaphosa repeated his mantra that the law must take its course when it came to corruption. 

But he did admit to being frustrated at the slow pace of this process. 

“The change that we have all wanted to see is unfolding. It has been a slow burn, but we are going to see change. It is irrevocable,” the president said. 

In recent weeks, the scale of corruption and theft around Covid-19 spending has found a nation angry to have sacrificed so much during the national lockdown while some people profited. The World Health Organisation has called this sort of theft “murder”

Ramphosa echoed this: “I subscribe to the view that this is akin to murder.”

With pressure on the state to prosecute corruption cases, the president said that legislation such as labour law meant due process had to be followed — and that this meant consequences took time. This is in keeping with his presidency, which has tended to favour bringing people together in action, rather than in Ramaphosa taking the outright lead. 

He warned: “When you have a president who goes out, arrests people and prosecutes them then you should run for the hills.” 

Speaking on Wednesday night, a tired-looking Ramaphosa spoke about the challenges facing the National Prosecuting Authority, the Special Investigating Unit and other organs of state that had been “hollowed out” through the state-capture project. He did, however, say these institutions were being capacitated, albeit slowly.   

In a week in which more women were murdered by men, Ramaphosa said: “I’ve never been more serious about anything than addressing gender-based violence. This is why I have taken the lead.”  

The coffers are bare

He also spoke bluntly about the poor economic situation that South Africa finds itself in. “We entered into this coronavirus pandemic on a weak wicket.” Ramaphosa said that he wanted a trillion-rand stimulus package but that the “constrained” economic environment meant he could get only half of that.

To force the economy forward, he said the final recovery plan was being “panel beaten into shape” at the National Economic Development and Labour Council and would be released in the next few weeks. 

This would bring in money from the private sector as well, and would focus on aspects such as infrastructure. But, after statistics this week showed that the economy had dropped dramatically in the last quarter, he said: “Government has, to a large extent, run out of money, so we will have to cobble together.” 

Switching to a defence of his presidency near the end of the second hour of the interaction, Ramaphosa became animated, speaking more with his hands. He talked up the change in the past few years and made an appeal: “One of the best ways to change a nation is to back reformers. By doing so, you egg them forward.” 

Ramaphosa said he would address the nation next week. 

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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