Beyond a great speech, a bigger test awaits Ramaphosa
We can forgive the gaps in our new president's Sona, for how he selects his Cabinet of the Capable over the next few days will be key to his success or failure
South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, delivered an inspired and inspiring state of the nation speech on Friday. It was always going to be inspiring. First, Ramaphosa is an astute, talented and empathetic leader. Second, it is not very hard to seem a genius after the disastrous tenure of the shockingly ill-equipped and malevolent Jacob Zuma.
Ramaphosa’s speech is therefore a success in lifting us all up and reminding us what it was we were trying to achieve in crafting the 1994 breakthrough, of which Ramaphosa was a key architect. It was a rallying cry for each and every South African to give of themselves and their talents to a new dawn and a new society.
Many said they had tears in their eyes when Ramaphosa quoted the Hugh Masekela song that entreated all of us to say: “Thuma mina – send me.” We all probably had a little tear there.
Ramaphosa and his team turned that speech around in a day. I am therefore forgiving of the many gaps in it. His silence on the burning Zuma obsession (nuclear power build) is telling. He will need to pronounce on this issue soon.The greatest disappointment of the speech, in my view, is that Ramaphosa chose to follow in the footsteps of Zuma by saying he would convene at least four talk shops (a jobs summit, an investment conference, a youth working group and a Digital Industrial Revolution commission) to discuss the way forward. There would also be a presidential economic advisory council hovering around him.
We are a country that seems to only do one thing well: meet, talk and produce reports that are then left to gather dust on shelves in government offices. We don’t need more talk. We need action on the many incredibly good plans we have. Among these great plans is one that Ramaphosa himself helped give birth to, the National Development Plan. The summits he has called for are more than adequately covered in the NDP.
That said, it was still a great speech. The nation needed it. Now the hard work begins.Ramaphosa has displayed incredible political dexterity in being able to fire Jacob Zuma just two months after a very slim win at the ANC conference in December. With a fractured national executive behind him, he showed extraordinary skill in painting Zuma into a corner the notorious Houdini could not escape from. Even with the likes of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and his deputy Jessie Duarte working for Zuma behind the scenes, Zuma was dislodged. That is an incredible achievement.The cabinet that Ramaphosa will announce over the next few days will be key to his success or failure. We all know who should go. Mosebenzi Zwane is not just an incompetent, he is a criminal. It is incredible that the man was not charged by the Hawks last week alongside his masters the Gupta family. Des van Rooyen and Lynne Brown are nothing but Gupta employees. They should go.
Bathabile Dlamini, Malusi Gigaba and David Mahlobo have nothing to show – except scandal and sloth – for their years in cabinet.
Of course, Ramaphosa is a politician, so he will also be aiming for unity of the ANC and for power (for himself and his party) in the longer term. We should therefore be mindful of the fact that he has to appoint people who fought bitterly against him in the run-up to December.
That doesn’t mean that they would be bad at their jobs. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, despite her horrific Gupta-inspired politics of the past year, was not a total washout as a minister. If she does not go, as reported, Ramaphosa is likely to appoint her to a senior ministerial position.
A Cabinet of the Capable will be nothing without a Finance minister who is committed, knowledgeable, talented and trusted by the people and the markets. Ramaphosa has to decide whether the young, energetic, politically talented Gupta stooge that is Gigaba is rehabilitable, or he fires him. He should do the latter, but it is possible he won’t. He would be doing himself a huge disfavour.
Ramaphosa has inspired the country over the past two months. His cabinet choices have the potential to begin the turnaround that this country has so desperately craved.