Ramaphosa could be the SA poor man’s Roosevelt
Like Roosevelt in the '30s, Ramaphosa is left with no option but to implement policies that will take the country out of the economic jam, for the benefit of all.
Cyril Ramaphosa looks on during his inauguration as South African President, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, on May 25, 2019. (Photo by Yeshiel PANCHIA / POOL / AFP)
Determined to pull his country out of the devastation of the Great Depression, former United States president Franklin D Roosevelt came up with the New Deal – a mixed bag of programmes that sought to revive the ailing US economy between 1933 and 1936.
When Roosevelt took the oath of office, Americans lived under a crumbling economy: mass unemployment, declining wages and profits – factors SA is currently facing.
As the US economy hit bottom, farm income had fallen by over 50% since 1929, and an estimated 844 000 non-farm loans had been closed out between 1930 and 1933.
The story goes that due to fear of a revolution, Joseph P Kennedy Senior, who remained wealthy during the depression, remarked in later years: “In those days I was willing to part with half of what I had, if I could be sure of keeping, under law and order, the other half.”
In the New Deal, Roosevelt focused on public works projects, financial reforms, conservation, agriculture, industrial recovery, social security, unemployment and safeguards on banking institutions during his first term.
Rallying all behind the implementation of the mammoth turnaround-strategy, Roosevelt passed laws. Like President Cyril Ramaphosa, he had detractors.
The Republicans were split, with conservatives opposing the entire New Deal as being hostile to business and economic growth, but liberals in support.
With SA’s agenda clouded by political posturing and pettiness, earnest debates about the economic outlook have taken a back seat.
To score cheap political points, politicians have been throwing stones at each other to gain mass support.
Discussions on how to pull the country out of the economic quagmire, have taken a back seat.
Against this gloomy background, the National Planning Commission (NPC) this week met with Ramaphosa to assess the impact of the National Development Plan (NDP) – a document which has for seven years been gathering dust.
The NDP, which sets government’s socio-economic objectives, has been hailed as one of the great documents to come out of the post-apartheid South Africa. The country is never short of policy documents and an abundance of thinkers. But we are seriously lacking implementation.
The presidency has come out in support of the NPC’s undertaking to review the NDP.
Areas under review include tracking progress in such areas as job creation for young people, unemployment rates, township and rural enterprises, acceleration of land reform, climate change and the restructuring of Eskom.
State-owned enterprises (SOEs) like Eskom and SA Airways having become bottomless holes that guzzle billions of taxpayers’ money. The time has come to bring equity partners to help turn around the loss-making SOEs.
Referring to problems at Eskom, international ratings agency Moody’s has conceded that – although government’s support was right – a successful turnaround required a “significant external support”.
While labour may be opposed to partial privatisation of SOEs, the reality is that we are swimming against the tide. And, like Roosevelt, Ramaphosa is left with no option but to implement policies that will take the country out of the economic jam, for the benefit of all.
Ramaphosa no longer has the luxury to “fiddle while Rome burns”, lest we all perish.