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25 years of democracy: What’s next for South Africa?

south african president cyril ramaphosa addresses south africans during his inauguration, quoting pixley seme


Reality is setting in for South Africans as the country returns to normal after the sixth democratic elections that took place on May 8 2019. Many are waiting with bated breath to see just what the new administration will bring to the table.

The citizens of South Africa have patiently played the democratic waiting game after dancing around the ballot in what many saw as the most significant election since 1994. After all the political ploys and impassioned speeches, Cyril Ramaphosa and his ANC came out on top once again, with Ramaphosa inaugurated into office on May 25.

But this was not an easy slide into power, as paratroopers floundered and politicians haggled. It would be a cat and mouse game, and one of strategy, about who would form part of South Africa's latest administration.

While the country's sixth administration is still in its infancy, there have been at least two signals of intent - even if they appear hesitant, or even faint.

The most recent signal was in Ramaphosa’s throat-clearing exercise before the announcement of his cabinet appointment - remarks made before the actual appointments were announced. He emphasised the importance of the renewal and reviving of the country's economy, coupling this with his version of statecraft, or the so-called reconfiguration of the state. This is evident in the cuts made to his executive - 36 portfolios cut down to 28.

The second tell-tale sign was Ramaphosa's May 25 presidential inauguration speech and his choice of quotes, indicating that this presidency was hoping for a different tone to the conversation of nation-building and African unity. He took inspiration from Pixley Isaka Ka Seme’s humanism to announce his continental vision, imaging a glorious rise for Africa and her people.

Sections of this inauguration speech hinted at the possible foreign policy stance of the coming administration, with regional trade seeming high up on the national and continental agenda. Ramaphosa quoted from Seme’s infamous “Regeneration of Africa” to allude to hopes of a vibrant regional economy and bustling commerce.

Taking a leaf from Seme, Ramaphosa said, “The brighter day is rising upon Africa. Already I seem to see her chains dissolved, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abyssinia, meaning Ethiopia, and her Zululand, meaning KwaZulu Natal, the seats of science and religion, reflecting the glory of the rising sun from the spires of their churches and universities.”

Who was Pixley Isaka Ka Seme?

Pixley Isaka Ka Seme was a political activist and gifted orator. His “Regeneration of Africa” speech, delivered at Columbia University in 1906 in New York, earned him the George William Curtis medal - the university’s highest oratorical honor.

Seme was born in the then British colony of Natal in 1882 and received a missionary education before going to study for a Bachelor of Arts in the United States. This was followed by studies in law at Oxford before returning again to Colombia for his PhD.

Seme captivated the world more than a century ago, with the picture he painted of Africa’s entrance into a new life, one that embraced the diverse phases of “a higher, complex existence”. He said “In all races, genius is like a spark, which, concealed in the bosom of a flint, bursts forth at the summoning stroke. It may arise anywhere and in any race.”

That was before the racist policies of Barry Hertzorg in South Africa, Jim Crow in the US and the rise of deadly fascism in twentieth century Europe. This was before apartheid became the official policy of the old South African regime, or the current policy of the Israeli government.

Despite his contribution, Seme remains among the less mentioned of South Africa’s nation builders, while the likes of Nobel Laureates Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli are usually elevated to demigod status. In that way, Seme’s sterling contribution to today’s South Africa is a story that still needs to be explored fully.

For one, he is credited with cobbling an alliance among South Africa’s the different nations of oppressed black South Africans in 1912, in response to their wholesale political exclusion from the newly formed Union of South Africa.

Seme’s grand alliance, which was premised on efforts to end the tribalism among Africans that sometimes descended into deadly rivalry, eventually became the South African Native National Congress in 1912. This was the precursor to the now ruling African National Congress.

Ramaphosa-Seme link

Ramaphosa's choice to adopt Seme’s vision of reimagining a resurgent Africa and booming commerce is telling - especially given the references in his speech to “forging a free trade area that stretches from Cape Town to Cairo”.

Commerce will no doubt prove to be important in Ramaphosa’s Africa agenda. The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement (ACFTA) will be central to this as South Africa tries to reassert its economic importance in the region. Of the continent’s 55 countries only Benin, Eritrea and Nigeria are yet to sign the agreement. ACFTA involves a protocol that will allow the free movement of goods and people across the continent's borders.

On the other hand, South Africa’s ambition for economic dominance on the continent is likely to continue being frustrated by the populous Nigeria with its more than 200 million residents. While Nigeria is not part of ACFTA, the country is the leading exporter to the United States among the countries that qualify under the African Growth and Opportunity Act .

AGOA is a US law that makes allowance for certain sub-Saharan countries to export products to the US duty-free. Nigeria dominates the AGOA group of countries, with Nigerian exports to the US amounting to about $1.38 billion in 2018.

Share of exports to the US under the the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act agreement. Source: Tralac

Political relationships among the Members of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), currently chaired by Namibia, are also complex and marked by numerous reversals. For instance, the Tribunal for the Southern African Development Community, which sat in Windhoek, only operated for five years after being inaugurated in 2005 and suspended in 2010.

The Tribunal was set up to ensure compliance with the SADC Treaty agreed to by the regional block’s member state and settle disputes that cannot be resolved amicably between member states themselves. The tribunal had jurisdiction to hear complaints by SADC citizens on human rights issues that they felt weren’t being properly addressed by courts in their country of origin.

In December 2018 the South African courts ruled that the participation of then-president Jacob Zuma in suspending the tribunal was unconstitutional, unlawful and irrational. It was the tribunal's ruling in 2008 that Zimbabwe’s expropriation without compensation of private land policies had violated the SADC Treaty that prompted regional kick-back and the eventual suspension of the tribunal.

William Michael Campbell had challenged the Zimbabwean government's acquisition of his 1200 hectare Mount Carmel farm. In its ruling the tribunal said Zimbabwe had violated parts of the treaty that called for democracy, human rights the rule of law.

Ramaphosa has his own land reform headaches - South Africa’s fifth parliament passed a bill expected to pave way for a constitutional amendment on land reform. This amendment focuses on the South Africa’s property clause, and is meant to provide the legal basis for South Africa’s own brand of “expropriation without compensation”.

The domestic policy front

For a while South Africa’s ruling party had fancied itself as building a developmental state — one with a common shared vision. The National Development Plan (NDP) that aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030 is one such vision, and it faces minimal resistance from opposition parties.

Some of the main role players in the plan and its implementation are still active politically, most notably Ramaphosa who was deputy chairperson of the commission that crafted this vision in 2012. The man he deployed as part of a special envoy to woo foreign investment after taking the presidency from Jacob Zuma in 2018 was Trevor Manuel. Manuel, who was Minister of Finance under the presidencies of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, also chaired the the NDP commission.

The values from 2018 to 2021 are a forecast. Source: Statistics South Africa

Ramaphosa re-inherits an NDP in tatters. Economic growth is stagnant, if it exists at all. The South African Reserve Bank recently revised gross domestic product (GDP) growth prospects from

1.3% to just 1%. GDP is expected to rise to 1.8% in 2020 and to a measly 2% by 2021. Unemployment has also risen and now sits at 27.6%.

The South African economy has lacked vibrancy in recent years. Like the floundering paratrooper who landed on a pole during the inauguration ceremony, economic growth has hit a snag and failed to reach 2% since 2015.

The National Development Plan says that in order for South Africa get to the status of the four Asian Tigers, namely Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, the country has to grow by at least 5%. These Asian countries succeeded in rapid growth due to reforms implemented in the 1960s, but South African has not yet managed to implement similar strategies.

The NDP also hopes that by 2030 unemployment will be reduced to 6%.

As a political operator, Ramaphosa has long been known for his negotiation skills. Since the multi-party negotiations prior to the democratic shift in 1994, he has always sought buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders, a style known as social compacting.

The compacts Ramaphosa will want to forge to stimulate the economy will face stark realities. One such reality is that mining production has decreased since October 2018. By March 2019 production decreased by a further 1% compared to the previous year. According to Statistics South Africa, gold production in March had shrunk by 17% compared to the same period last year.

Source: Statistics South Africa

Dealing with graft

The biggest challenge the incoming government will face is that of deep-seated levels of corruption in key state institutions. The number of state officials implicated in wrongdoings in ongoing commissions of inquiry grows by the day. One of these commissions looks into allegations of impropriety regarding the state owned Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which manages government employees pensions.

The PIC is Africa’s biggest investment fund manager, with more that R2-trillion in assets. On May 28 2019 the commission into the PIC heard testimony about approximately R4.3 billion invested for a 29% stake in US oil company, Erin Energy (formerly Camac Energy).

In July 2018 Erin energy filed for bankruptcy and lost its licence to operate in Nigeria due to outstanding taxes owed to the country’s government. PIC’s former CEO Dan Matjila has come under fire for some of these investment decisions.

According to News24, Ndivhuwo Tshikhudo, a specialist in energy and infrastructure, told the inquiry that after being tasked with analysing the investment he concluded that the PIC was "unlikely to earn a meaningful return on investment".

On the eve of Ramaphosa's inauguration, Advocate Shamila Batohi, the new head of the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions, unveiled a new directorate that will focus on cases of serious, complex and high-profile corruption. The directorate will also pay special attention to state-owned entities like the PIC and power utility ESKOM.

The amount of resources Ramaphosa’s new government dedicates to commissions, such as the one investigating state capture, will also be an important indicator of the renewed zeal to deal with graft. The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and is tasked with investigating allegations fraud, corruption and undue influence on members of the executive or other state institutions for private gain.

The State Capture commission has had 102 sessions thus far, with the most recent session on May 30. On this day the commission heard testimony from Thobani Mnyandu from the Mncedisi Ndlovu and Sedumedi law firm, responsible for investigating alleged fraud and corruption that taint the dealings between state-owned rail and port authority Transnet and locomotives manufacturer China North Rail.

The commission is set to continue investigations into state capture, fraud, corruption and maladministration. Under the kind of scrutiny commissions like this bring to the operations of government, the integrity of Ramaphosa's executive for the next five years will be in the spotlight.

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