Growth means unpicking the knots of ANC collectivism
Deploy political capital to drive implementation and change into growth-boosting policy, that’s all we ask
The real question at the heart of what comes next for SA is: what does the neo-patrimonial majority within the ANC’s NEC do?
This disparate grouping is split but with a sufficient number supporting President Cyril Ramaphosa to bring him to power at Nasrec and then bring him to the presidency. They will stick with him, and their numbers will grow if he can deliver an electoral narrative that keeps the ANC in power and rent extraction running.
However, as the taps get turned off and the clean-up progresses they will be forced away and will support alternatives into the 2022 ANC elective conference.
These two-way forces will dictate what comes next. The ANC decided at Nasrec (just) that politically it needed new appeal through a shift in personality. A slow but steady clean-up (that maybe is selective), combined with the advantages of incumbency, will likely mean Ramaphosa survives until 2022.
However, Nasrec did not change direction in terms of ANC policy to ensure its electoral success. Indeed, this election was incredibly dull for the lack of policy contestation. Sure, there were stand-and-deliver speeches on policy, but it never felt like there was a true battle of ideas and head-to-head comparison of alternative visions. Instead it was a clash of party machines and emotions.
Nasrec shifted policy towards populism (and rent extraction) with Reserve Bank nationalisation, prescribed assets and land (as conceived through the need for a constitutional amendment as opposed to fundamental institutional change).
We know that Ramaphosa can give amazing state of the nation speeches and can crowd-source ideas for policy. Implementation, however, has shown no urgency until a crisis – such as Eskom – becomes apparent. Unemployment and inequality clearly don’t count as crises.
The deployment of political capital to move the levers of state and sweep out vested policy interests was certainly not evident in the past year. Presidents do not implement. They provide the leadership that puts systems in place so others around them can drive implementation and change.
This means capable proactive ministers and advisors. Hence the first test will be the choices for cabinet (and for committee chairs in parliament given that it is an increasing route for policy formation). If this is not gotten right then what follows stands a much lower probability of success.The ANC’s parliamentary list unfortunately did not contain a strong list of policy wonks (those generating policy for change) nor managers to get things done. One can probably count on one hand those that tick both these boxes. Problematic debates over credible succession options for ministerial posts such as finance and public enterprise speaks to this capacity constraint.The complex interwoven web of the ANC’s factions, but also the political and ideological forces within Ramaphosa’s own faction, are a key constraint on policy and potential growth. More so is a generalised mindset of state-is-best and a distrust of business and the private sector.This mindset has been evident through the campaign – most alarmingly about renewable energy (sceptical of the private sector’s involvement) and coal (supportive of the status quo against the international direction).Mindset change will have to come from the top, clearing away the factional and ideological web that is wrapped up in collectivism. Collectivism can be used by Ramaphosa’s opponents to wrap him in knots.
Jacob Zuma wrapped his opponents in the ANC’s collectivism – tying them down and allowing him to do what he wanted to construct state capture. He turned collectivism back in on itself – it was the way he wielded power and survived so long in the face of the obvious.
Ramaphosa needs to be the other side of the coin. Turn ANC collectivism inside out: be a loyal cadre of the party, but be a powerful deployer of political capital to drive implementation and change into potential growth-boosting policy. Now if it actually happens, that would be exciting.
• Peter Attard Montalto is head of capital markets research at Intellidex.