Assessment time: How to write Ramaphosa's presidential report card

Assessment time: How to write Ramaphosa's presidential report card

- With the amount of time a new employee often spends under probation out of the way in his presidency, Cyril Ramaphosa is facing assessments from all and sundry

- Experts and ordinary citizens are all weighing in on how well South Africa’s newest president is doing and reaction is mixed between those who seem to think that he’s doing a great job, and others who are less enthusiastic about his performance thus far

- Mzukisi Qobo deputy chair: SA research chair on African diplomacy and foreign policy, and Matlala Setlhalogile, a politics lecturer, both from the University of Johannesburg have some thoughts they feel South African’s should bear in mind

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Among the matters the pair of experts have said need to be considered in any assessment of Ramaphosa is is that “he took the country’s reins under circumstances that were far from ideal.” has previously reported on the transitional period between the tenure of South Africa's two latest presidents during which period the country held its breath amid postponements of among other events, the national State of the Nation address which Jacobs Zuma was expected to deliver but ended up being delivered by the newly inaugurated, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“Since Ramaphosa was elected to the position by parliament rather than in a national poll, he will be hoping to secure his own full-term, and with good margins for his party, after the 2019 general elections. So far he has taken an inclusive approach to keep the ship steady towards the 2019 general elections,” wrote Qobo in an essay co-authored by Setlhalogile under the headline: “What to look for when assessing South Africa’s president, Ramaphosa”.

The article, which first appeared in The Conversation, a website which provides freely accessible essays and analysis of current events and news under a creative commons license, provides expert opinion into what any assessment of Ramaphosa's performance should consider.

"He is treading a delicate balance between expressing his own distinct leadership and cultivating cohesion within his party. This is not without difficulty, as fissures deepen in the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal province despite Ramaphosa’s quest to achieve unity. He has also failed to assert his will in the North West province, where his party is also riven by tensions."

Advice given

Qobo and Setlhalogile argue in their article that the new president needs to take a firm approach if he is to undo the damage left by what is generally described as the "deeply damaged economy and state institutions," left as a legacy of the Zuma presidency.

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The two argue that Ramaphosa is doomed to failure if "he becomes a teddy bear within his party," citing especially that there is a good chance he will need to face the mobilisation of a pro-Zuma faction in the next ANC elective conference, in 2022.

They also take pains to remind the reader that given the historical truth that no South African president has, since the advent of democracy, completed two terms of office. "Ramaphosa should bear in mind that he does not have much time at the helm of government," they caution.

The 10-point-plan

Qobo and Setlhalogile say the one thing needed most for a successful presidency is a need for better focus, perhaps suggesting the type of words a teacher might offer as a comment on a report card.

They say the rush which was a result of the chaotic state of events leading up to the beginning of the Ramaphosa presidency meant he had to deliver the state of the nation address (SONA), only a day after her had replaced Zuma. They go so far as describing his SONA address which many have applauded as "hastily delivered".

"Ramaphosa presented a 10-point plan that emphasised the economy, renewal, and unity as the centrepieces of his presidency, " they write. "He’s come up with many ad-hoc initiatives and ideas. These include the jobs summit, the investment conference and the special investment envoy. He’s also been talking about reviving manufacturing, supporting black industrialists, boosting youth employment, growing the tourism sector, and a digital industrial revolution commission, among others."

While the high output of ideas and plans are all, as they concede, "sensible and promising programmes," the two experts argue that more focus is needed in order for success to be ensured. They argue that the 10-point-plan needs a means to be quantified in a way to allow success to be measured or the ideas, sensible as they are, might end up "gathering dust in filing cabinets."

"What they need to succeed is better rationalisation, clearer focus, and technocratic finesse."

Good moves

Among the steps which Ramaphosa has set into motion the experts say the moves, which good, might need extra pressure to push them towards bearing fruit.

"On the political front, Ramaphosa has managed to exercise influence over the core of the economic cluster in government. Agencies such as Treasury, Trade and Industry, Economic Development, and Mineral Resources are now steered by figures that enjoy credibility with the public and the private sector."

Institutional leadership

The article explains that some time has been needed to overhaul the leadership and steady the ship at the many struggling state owned enterprises (SEOs).

"Boards at Eskom, Denel, Transnet and SAA Express were replaced with fresh blood and individuals that have experience and integrity. New leadership appointments have been made in the security cluster."

The academics also laud the moves taken to dispatch Tom Moyane, head of the South African Revenue Services who they say is "a known Zuma ally" and indicate "is likely to be dispatched to the wilderness before his contract comes to an end."

Law and order

No assessment of Ramaphosa's first three months of office would be complete without discussion of the efforts to clean up government and deal with allegations of state capture in a variety of state institutions.

"Law enforcement agencies were quickly on the heels of those implicated in acts of corruption. Among those feeling the heat are the Gupta family which had been untouchable due to its closeness to Zuma and their allies like the former minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane. Even the ANC general secretary Ace Magashule is feeling the pressure," write Qobo and Setlhalogile in rounding up their assessment. "Ramaphosa’s short tenure has, no doubt, brought a sense of urgency in cleaning up government and other state institutions. This is something to be encouraged. However, the road ahead requires much more."

Final words

In his SONA address Ramaphosa wooed the country with the feel-good slogan, “Thuma Mina”, describing a mission of activating the citizenry to deal with the many challenges the nation faces. "Beyond a set of programmes and short-term plans, Ramaphosa needs to develop strong signature themes that define his leadership, and not just piecemeal programmes," argue the pair winding up their thought provoking piece.

They argue that Ramaphosa has yet to show his hand as a leader, unlike former leaders like Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki whose "leadership had strong imprints that were felt early on."

They argue that it is the duty of all citizens to keep leaders accountable to the people they lead. "They should not allow themselves to be reduced to applauding spectators."

Arguing that leaders come and go, while the nation made up of its citizens outlives any administration. "They can play a critical part in contributing meaningfully to consolidate the country’s democracy and promoting social change by getting involved in initiatives that seek to address social ills."

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Read Qobo and Setlhalogile's analysis as it appeared on The Conversation.

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