This is Cyril Ramaphosa’s legacy moment. He dare not fail

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This is Cyril Ramaphosa’s legacy moment. He dare not fail

On Thursday, the president will unveil his economic recovery plan, an important milestone in his tenure

Executive editor: opinions and analysis
Then deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and former president Jacob Zuma during the budget speech in parliament in 2014.
AT THE HEIGHT OF KLEPTOCRACY Then deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and former president Jacob Zuma during the budget speech in parliament in 2014.
Image: Gallo Images/Foto24/Leanne Stander

Kgalema Motlanthe was comfortably assured of retaining his position as deputy president of the country and the ANC had he not let principle come between him and power in 2012.

The ANC was headed to an elective conference in December and the Zuma grouping was desperate to again have him on its slate as second-in-charge. But this was a time when the state was being firmly captured on all fronts by Zuma’s cronies, and Motlanthe had seen enough to reject a slot on this ticket.

Though anger was growing about Zuma’s leadership, when the scandal of how much we had spent on renovating his Nkandla home was fresh in mind, the then-president still had a firm grip on the ANC and was assured another term as leader.

Motlanthe, however, had seen enough during the first five years under him and wanted out. Knowing well that he stood zero chance of deposing Zuma at the upcoming Mangaung conference, he nonetheless challenged for the ANC leadership post, arguing that electing leaders on a slate was alien to party culture.

“Today in the ANC we take away the right of members to elect leadership, because today we come with slates and we say to members, ‘this is the slate and you must elect according to the slate’.

“When we do that, we are taking away the right of members to elect leaders of the ANC. Now, by taking that right away, our leaders would be weaker. Our leaders would now be junior to the compilers of this slate,” he was reported to have told an ANC Youth League rally in Mbizana, in the Eastern Cape, in November 2012.

Cyril Ramaphosa on the other hand didn’t have a problem being elected on a slate and was happy to accept an offer to replace Motlanthe as candidate for deputy president on the Zuma ticket.

As expected, Motlanthe was trounced at the ANC conference the next month, but left with his head held high, having rescued his legacy from the Zuma kleptocracy.

That he was guaranteed his perks for life as a former president (he was caretaker for eight months between 2008 and 2009) did not hurt either.

Motlanthe left with his head held high, having rescued his legacy from the Zuma kleptocracy.

Ramaphosa knows he is dogged by those five years he served with Zuma, but that was the only way he could become president of the ANC and the country. Eyebrows were raised when, shortly after he became president, he referred to undoing the “nine wasted years”.  Detractors pointed to the obvious.

Because Zuma wrought so much damage on the economy, it is fitting that Ramaphosa should stake his legacy on undoing that damage. That is why the adoption by cabinet of his economic reconstruction and recovery plan, a 48-page blueprint to reignite an economy battered by corruption and Covid-19, is an important milestone in his presidency.

The plan he will be unveiling in parliament on Thursday sets extremely ambitious targets on implementation of structural reforms required to undo the current economic decline and set us on a growth trajectory. These include ensuring energy security, which is an engine for growth; securing funding for critical infrastructure projects that can create mass public employment; increasing revenue collection; fixing ailing state-owned entities; making rail the bedrock of transportation; and reviving the tourism sector. Ministers have committed their departments to tight implementation deadlines, with progress monitored on a monthly basis.

Just as Motlanthe walked away to save his legacy, Ramaphosa must use this moment to emerge from the dark shadow of having been part of a morally bankrupt administration. He dare not fail.