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People expect a season of hope

February 2018

MPUMELELO MKHABELA, Department of Political Sciences, UNISA and a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation at the University of Pretoria

What can we expect from a Cyril Ramaphosa-led ANC and possibly country? The question assumes Ramaphosa’s style of leadership will by and large set the tone for the governing party’s direction. 

It’s not an unreasonable question. In our short history as a constitutional democracy, political leadership has been responsible for setting the tone of governance, a key part of political culture. Previous president Nelson Mandela’s reconciliatory leadership spread its tentacles in government and society, laying the foundation of nationhood. 

Former president Thabo Mbeki’s technocratic and institution-building leadership style consolidated Mandela’s reconciliatory leadership while predominantly focusing on statecraft. 

Little, if any, can be said of the former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s legacy between September 2008 and May 2009. He was never president of the party, but was elevated president of the country as part of the Zuma-led ANC strategy to prematurely get rid of Mbeki. 

Motlanthe’s legacy is that he helped to usher in the fundamentally corrupt Zuma leadership that sought to dismantle key elements of the Mandela and Mbeki legacies. But Motlanthe realised his complicity to this political horror while he was already too deep into it. His failed bid to oust Zuma in 2012 helped him redeem whatever might have been left of his political integrity. Since then, he has played the role of a statesman. 

Courted by the Zuma grouping, Ramaphosa took the opportunity to fill in the position left by Motlanthe who could no longer work with the boisterously anti-constitutional president that he had helped put into power. 

Ramaphosa accepted an invitation to join Zuma as he served his last term, but there was clearly no agreement about the future beyond the Mangaung elective conference in 2012. He planned the long game: Work with Zuma, build support within the party and take over when Zuma’s second term expires. 

Zuma’s camp had their own plan: Appropriate Ramaphosa to compensate for the lack of integrity in Zuma, the governing party and government, and immediately start campaigning for former minister Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma, the preferred suc­cessor. The ANC’s 54th conference held in Nasrec, South of Johannesburg, vindicated Ramaphosa’s political game. 

The question about what we can reasonably expect from him is one for which all South Africans wish they had a precise answer. One cannot blame them for the anxiety. After a decade at the helm of the governing party and almost nine years as head of state, president Jacob Zuma has starved the country of much-needed good governance and sound leadership. South Africans are hungry for both. 

Instead of providing what citizens wanted and deserved, Zuma and his cronies regularly supplied their trusted staple of corruption, state capture, incompetence, selfish leadership, irrationalism, anti-constitutional attitudes and so on. Their diet contained the listeriosis version of leadership and governance. 

Now that Zuma is no longer head of the ANC, and Ramaphosa, whose campaign for the leadership of the party was anchored on being against what Zuma stood for without directly attacking Zuma the person, it makes sense for people to expect a season of hope. 

The leadership crisis of the Zuma years gives Ramaphosa a low threshold to achieve the status of a better leader. Without having done anything, the stock and currency markets have already welcomed him. Civil society groups and investors have responded positively. That should give him a political honeymoon and space to work out what needs to be done. 

However, the honeymoon will be short. He would be mistaken if he thought it could last for too long. Being a recipient of well wishes from stakeholders does not in itself constitute action. It merely provides positive condition for action to be taken. His leadership skills as head of the governing party are yet to emerge. 

Although not always the best indicator for quality leadership, his rhetoric suggests that he wants to curve his own leadership style, very different to Mbeki’s and Zuma’s. He seems to have high level of tolerance – an attribute that can be good if he is expected to endure difficult moments, but it can be terrible when circumstances demand swift action. 

He has shown signs of willingness to engage with Zuma in a civil way rather than humiliating him to ensure his smooth departure from office. He clearly wants a less confrontational transition on his path to power to ultimately lead the country as head of state. This is a function of his leadership style as it is of the manner in which he rose to power where his victory was far narrower than that of Zuma against Mbeki in Polokwane. 

There is a lot he must do to win over many of those who didn’t vote for him at the party conference. This not-so-easy rise to the leadership comes with policy compromises that will also put his leadership to the test. For example, the ANC adopted a policy to expropriate land without compensation. Pushing for this policy position were the supporters of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. 

However, Ramaphosa’s supporters managed to win a concession to the effect that expropriation of land without compensation must be done in such a way that it won’t affect other sectors of the economy. It should also not have a negative impact on economic growth and food security. 

This significant qualification would make it impossible to expropriate land without compensation. By its very nature the policy is inimical to investments and has the potential to destroy the financial sector as banks are heavily exposed in farm debt that runs into billions of rands. 

The fact that the resolution as it stands is ­unimplementable, provides Ramaphosa with space to fast-track land reform and to prove that it can be done without tinkering with the Constitution. His leadership skills will have to emerge when he has to convince investors, commercial producers, banks and relevant state institutions to fast-track land reform and provide support to black farmers in a manner that benefits everyone. 

Of course, land reform can be fast-tracked without attempting to change the property clause of the Constitution. The risk of expropriation without compensation, which requires a constitutional amendment, could be the subject of a lengthy litigation, policy uncertainty and a decline in agricultural investments. Such policy uncertainty could amount to the continuation of the Zuma legacy. 

Indeed, policy uncertainty was the hallmark of the Zuma administration on land, mining, fiscal stance, international relations, corruption, state-owned enterprises, higher education funding, poverty alleviation, and so on. 

The sooner Ramaphosa demonstrates his leadership on all these other policy areas the better. ANC policies are crafted in such a way that their implementation is dependent on the qualities of the leader at the helm of government.

Publication: February 2018

Section: Relevant