Jacob Zuma’s late-night resignation as president of South Africa underlines Cyril Ramaphosa’s significant political skill.
He achieved Zuma’s exit in less than two months, without (according to Zuma) even having to explain the reasons.
Hopefully this skill will allow further aggressive and much-needed action to start repairing the huge damage we suffered under Msholozi’s rule.
I hope that one of his first agenda items, as president of the country, is the replacement of Malusi Gigaba as finance minister. Although Gigaba seems to have changed his spots in recent months, he remains a Zuma deployee and this will taint his actions for the foreseeable future. Gigaba is furthermore hugely implicated in the erosion of good management at the SOEs during his damaging tenure as Minister of Public Enterprises.
It is critical that a person, who is above reproach, with no historic links to Zuma and his cabal, takes the reins at National Treasury – preferably in time to table the budget next week. Several names are being whispered, most notably the name of Lesetja Kganyago, the current governor of the Reserve Bank. He would be an excellent choice. Not only does he have the stature to boost confidence, but as a previous director general of Treasury, he understands the terrain well.
Another name that is being bandied about is Mcebisi Jonas, former deputy minister of finance who was sacked alongside Pravin Gordhan. And then Ramaphosa went jogging with Trevor Manuel on the promenade in Cape Town on Thursday morning….
Bearer of bad news
Whoever presents the budget will be the bearer of bad news. The message will be that South Africa has edged closer to the fiscal cliff and that taxpayers will bear the brunt of this. There will however be a difference in the core message if a new minister delivers the speech. If Gigaba takes the podium, he will be seen as being party to the political decisions that led to the dire position the country finds itself in. A new candidate, with a clean slate, will be given the benefit of the doubt when sketching a plan to remedy the mess the Zuma administration left the country in.
This may even stave off a downgrade by Moody’s, the only remaining ratings agency that has an investment grade rating on South Africa.
Ramaphosa should also replace Sars commissioner Tom Moyane as soon as possible. He was also a Zuma deployee and, under his watch, Sars’s abilities as a world-class revenue service have been systematically crushed. Failures within the organisation under Moyane probably also contributed to the deteriorating fiscal position the country finds itself in.
If one pushes the envelope, Ramaphosa should also fire Mosebenzi Zwane (mineral resources), Bathabile Dlamini (social development), David Mahlobo (energy), Faith Muthambi (public service and administration) and Nomvula Mokonyane (water).
They are incompetent (and possibly corrupt) Zuma deployees who have brought significant harm to their ministries or former ministries and helped to drive business, investor and consumer confidence levels to an all- time low.
Ramaphosa should appreciate that not many newly-elected presidents have the opportunity that sits before him. He has ignited a resurgence in local and international confidence in a matter of weeks and if he can continue to ride this wave, he can cement his legacy as the person who oversaw South Africa’s return to growth. Hopeful words, I know.
They say the first 100 days of a presidency give an indication of the potential success of that person’s tenure. That day will be May 25.
What Ramaphosa needs to accomplish is much easier said than done. Despite achieving a lot in two months at the ANC helm, the wheels of change in the ANC have always turned very slowly. The developments of the past few weeks are an anomaly and he will face resistance from within ANC ranks. Hopefully Ramaphosa’s political skill can also overcome this challenge.
But let’s see. The next 48 hours will provide an indication of his ability to effect swift change. A good start would be the sacking of Gigaba.
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