Funambulism is the technical word used to describe the art of tightrope walking. Metaphorically it is used to depict a situation where a person is trying to balance two opposing views with limited room for compromise. Nothing could better describe the position that President Cyril Ramaphosa finds himself in currently.
To remain at the helm beyond the election and for the full term of the 6th Parliament, Ramaphosa must continue to walk a delicate line, balancing his ANC party’s populist rhetoric and the concomitant policy positions emerging out of their Nasrec conference against not only securing but maintaining the investor confidence necessary to turn South Africa’s economy around in order to deliver on grass roots promises.
He must also manage his party’s own internal contradictions by getting his entire National Executive Committee, including Ace Magashule and David Mabuza, to sing from the same hymn sheets on key policy positions, in the public arena. Not only does this tussle for the heart and the soul of the ANC threaten Ramaphosa’s tenure, but it will also hinder any legislative agenda that Ramaphosa may want to drive in the 6th Parliament. We have just this past month witnessed the manner in which Luthuli House undermined Ramaphosa by flip-flopping on key policy issues. The ink was hardly dry on the President’s State of the Nation address when the Secretary General of his party disowned the President’s key announcement on the restructuring of the beleaguered ESKOM. This month’s spectacular volte face on the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, in stark contrast to the assurances given to the international investor community at Davos, was no doubt driven by the same consideration.
The President has also had his hand forced when it comes to the appointment of sullied stalwarts into key governance positions, such as his placement of the chronically corrupt Mabuza at the helm of the Eskom restructuring ship. The recently released lists of the governing party also don’t work in the Presidents favour. They appear to have been entirely dominated by the Magashule faction and by some of those implicated in state capture. This is not a good portent and will make Rampahosa’s uphill clean-up battle a great deal steeper.
On the other hand, there are select places in which Ramaphosa can exercise some degree of autonomy. His appointment of the new National Director of Public Prosecutions, Adv. Shamila Batohi, brings new hope to the NPA and can perhaps be viewed as an attempt to rebalance the scales of justice and purge the ANC of corrupt elements over the course of the next few years – something only a strong NDPP can effect. Given the evidence that has emerged from the Zondo commission of enquiry into state capture, it will be important for Batohi to start racking up some high profile prosecutions if the President’s claims to fight corruption are to be bolstered.
Key appointments at SARS, the PIC and a host of other bodies and boards are also going to be an important arena for Ramaphosa to stamp his authority on the ship of state. Making the right appointments based on competence and ability to do the job, will go a long way to restoring confidence and accountability. There is no doubt that the President has done a fantastic job in turning around investor sentiment, and succeeded in staving off a previous ratings downgrade. To shift the sentiment into investment, economic growth and sustained confidence, he is going to have to start dealing decisively with some of the fundamental impediments to economic growth. A growing economy, growing jobs and a surge of investment will be Ramaphosa’s best antidote to any moves against him. It will enable him to speak to the country over his party and give him a freer hand in moving forward with greater confidence.