It’s in the middle, Cyril


The big question on everybody’s mind is how long can the policy contradictions continue to disrupt the reform agenda South Africa so desperately needs? What has become abundantly clear over the course of the last year is that President Ramaphosa has been boxed in completely, not by his political opposition, but by his detractors in his own party. Ramaphosa’s reform agenda has been reduced to the proverbial eunuch in the brothel, possessing all of the desire but none of the ability.

The latest welcome reprieve from rating agency, Moody’s, has given a small breathing space. It does however contain some very stark warnings for the Ramaphosa administration and it ignores these at its own peril. Moody’s has cited continuing policy uncertainty, slow implementation of structural reform and the dogged determination to continue bailing out failing state owned entities rather than deal decisively with the spectre of Eskom.

The brutal truth is that whilst Ramaphosa may be in the driving seat in the Union buildings, he is clearly not in the driving seat in Luthuli House where the faction led by Ace Magushule and Zuma proxies clearly rule the roost. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the bizarre reaction of the governing party to a discussion document recently released by finance minister, Tito Mboweni. On the whole the document provides a sound analysis of the restraints on economic growth and sets out some sensible remedies to them. Instead of welcoming this illumination of an economic path forward out of the darkness of painfully slow growth, crippling public debt and horrific unemployment, the reaction from within the governing ANC has been schizophrenic at best with some senior leaders in the governing alliance completely disowning the minister and the document.

What this points to is the trend that the schisms that exist in the governing party are widening rather than narrowing. This is evidenced on nearly every single major issue facing the country, from the debate on expropriation without compensation, the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, prescribed assets and the approach to Eskom. Given the dire situation that South Africa finds itself in, with dwindling confidence in the economy and outbreaks of violence across the country, the time for dithering and vacillation has long passed. It’s time now for President Ramaphosa to make his move and drive through the bold reforms that are required to pull the country and our economy out of the dive. The continued to and fro in the government is a luxury we simply cannot afford.

The centre of the ANC cannot continue to hold as these stark contradictions are laid bare. To move South Africa forward something has to give, the final showdown between the enemies of growth and the reformists within the governing party is fast approaching. The time for Ramaphosa to strike is now, he must move quickly before he is moved against. The faction of rent seekers surrounding Ace Magashule is determined to isolate Ramaphosa, recapture the state and get their hands on the spoils.  If Ramaphosa moves decisively in the direction of growth-oriented policies he will gather up the support of the rational centre of South Africa across the spectrum.

And perhaps that is just what South Africa needs, a break in the stale logjam of our politics. A new majority positioned at the rational centre of politics, with the best from all parties coming together and uniting around a common set of values and a decisive reform agenda that can bring change and set South Africa on a new trajectory of growth and opportunity. This will provide a solid bulwark at the centre of South African politics against the radical tendencies of the rabid left and right parties that threaten to tear our economy apart. It is hard to be hopeful and look for positives in the difficult days South Africa is living through, but maybe, just maybe, this will be the catalyst for a political realignment and readjustment that can offer hope and change to a country so desperate for it.