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Unpacking Ramaphosa’s economic promises as D-Day approaches – Poplak

CAPE TOWN — With his usual cynical wit and a razor-sharp intellect, Richard Poplak, unpacks just what Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to bring to the table should he manage to outwit, outlast and outplay the thieving, snouting Zuptoid multitudes in a fortnight’s time. It’s a piece worth braving, if not for pure entertainment, then for a reprise of some harsh economic and political realities that the reformists would have to face. Poplak unravels some of Ramaphosa’s less meaningful rhetoric – and the likely implications of his carrying out some of the ANC’s more favoured policies, many with much bone and little meat. That’s not to say he thinks we won’t be better off. Part of the message reminds me of what Madiba once said to me when I asked him about PAC-stoked mass expectations for free housing just a few years into his presidency. He said one of his main intentions in his historic speech from the steps of Cape Town’s City Hall upon being released from Victor Verster prison on February 11th, 1990, was to lower expectations. So much hope had been so pent up for so long, that it was simply an imperative. Ramaphosa would do well to remember that. The Zuptoids have managed to put the lid well and truly back on. (This piece is published here with permission from Daily Maverick.) – Chris Bateman

By Richard Poplak

It’s been a great week for the maligned whites of southern Africa, no question. First, Zimbabwe’s new president, the suddenly statesmanlike former alleged mass murderer Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised former Rhodesian farmers that they’ll be back on their John Deeres as soon as the ink dries on his new contract. Meanwhile, across the croc-infested Limpopo, the wonks insist that Cyril Ramaphosa leads the ANC succession race, a market-moving prophecy that saw the rand ignore recent ratings agency downgrades and rally towards a sylvan future managed by a businessman/politician who recently launched an R850 book about artisanal cattle-rearing.

Cyril Ramaphosa addressing closing of the third Presidential Local Government Summit on 7 April 2017.

As it happens, the vast majority of the population in both countries is comprised of black folk, and it’s how they fare in the coming months and years that will determine the political health of their respective leaders. Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa are ruthless party operatives with long histories, and while the former must find a way to grow a GDP the size of the average Mugg & Bean franchise, the latter must navigate a slightly different milieu. Thankfully, the South African deputy president and his handlers have taken the time to develop a set of policies that we might describe as Ramaphosaism, which doubles down on the centre-right social democratic stance the ANC promulgated in its National Development Plan 2030, since 2012 the party’s guiding policy framework.

Ramaphosa’s principal opponent, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has famously touted her commitment to radical economic transformation, an important economic term which has yet to receive a commensurately important, or precise, definition. It’s best described as a zealous adherence to the architecture of the “developmental state”, driven by State-owned Enterprises and their attendant tender-hungry pilot fish, while more vigorous wealth redistribution shall occur via nationalisation programmes in the financial and mining sectors, along with some form of land reform that no one has bothered to work out the particulars of. Because this faction of the ANC is allergic to both process and expertise while being corrupt as fuck, NDZ’s position serves as an energetic path to a structural adjustment package, dispensed by grim former colonialists in chilly northern capitals.

On the other extreme, if you want to call it that, there’s Ramaphosaism, iterated first during a speech at the Orlando East Community Hall on 13 November, and repeated everywhere to everyone by proxies like former finance minister Pravin Gordhan. They call it the “New Deal for Jobs, Growth and Transformation”, an ostentatious nod to the post-Depression social and economic reordering of the United States by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But what is the New Deal, and from whence does it come from? In a revealing act of excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta during Daily Maverick’s The Gathering last week, and in response to a minor provocation from Democratic Alliance President Mmusi Maimane, Gordhan insisted that Ramaphosaism is not lifted from DA policy, which of course means that it’s lifted from DA policy. In the event, he needn’t have bothered: Helen Zille’s DA actually endorsed the NDP, and there really is no difference between the outlook of ANC constitutionalists and the DA’s federal executive.

Which should not always be confused for a good thing.

It’s nonetheless tempting to commend Cyril Ramaphosa and his team for developing a detailed economic policy position, regardless of the particulars and whom it may have been appropriated from. That said, the party has so many colliding policies, all of which remain unimplemented, that clarification should be the price for being taken seriously as a candidate. But a more unserious joint than the ANC you will not find, and Ramaphosa is clearly trying to look competent by local standards, even though his team are probly aware that factional battles in a patronage system aren’t resolved by the finer points of economic wonkery, to say nothing of competence.

In short, like all campaign initiatives, Ramaphosaism is all things to most people. On the surface, it doesn’t eschew the rhetoric of RET, but in Ramaphosa’s case the term refers to accelerated economic inclusion for poor black South Africans via mainstream, constitutional means. In this, Ramaphosaism is ballasted by a very narrow reading of the Freedom Charter, which elides the commie flimflam in order to highlight the following humanist injunction:

“The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people.”

South African president’s radical economic transformation. More magic available at www.zapiro.com.

(By the way, these left/right tensions have always been inherent in the ANC, but it’s worthwhile acknowledging that the hard socialist National Democratic Project has always bowed before centre-right pragmatism. This is just the khongolose’s way.)

At the heart of Ramaphosaism’s New Deal is an acknowledgment that most post-apartheid advancements, at least in the economic sphere, have stalled in recent years. Zuma has gutted the state completely, and a bridge-building effort is required – remember, Ramaphosa is the Great Negotiator – that will unite “government, business, labour and civil society in a meaningful and effective social compact to construct a prosperous, just society founded on opportunities for all.”

The New Deal will be “concretised in an action plan”, insists Ramaphosa, with “concrete delivery, firm commitments, definite timelines and a new and spirited urgency”. (Sooo much concrete.) With the NDP as its lodestar, the New Deal quickly devolves into a 10-point plan, or 10 key priorities, that riff off President Zuma’s 2015 nine-point plan, recently upgraded by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba to a 14-point plan.

Sooo many points. Sooo many plans.

Anyway, the New Deal’s 10 points, in order of priority: jobs, “unrelenting’ growth and investment’ (a DA-like 5% by 2023), economic participation for the poor, a “macroeconomic” policy geared towards growth and fiscal sovereignty, ownership transference for black South Africans, improved access to “quality relevant education”, an uptick in manufacturing, an uptick in infrastructure, better State-owned Enterprises, and last, an end to the corruption that has come to define the state.

If this seems to you less like a plan than like a shopping list for commonsensical solutions to the total insanity that is late-Zuma South Africa, than you’re right on the money. Freed from kamikaze idiocy and an addiction to patronage, Ramaphozania will no longer be dominated by huge corporates in the financial and other sectors, while being more amenable to public/private partnerships, coquettish towards outside investment but more protectionist of key local industries, and committed to pumping R1.5-trillion into infrastructure without being sidelined by unfeasible, bribe-heavy mega-projects.

It will be focused on (but not obsessed by) resource extraction, obsessed by (but not focused on) State-owned Enterprises, focused on and obsessed by the rise of small and medium-sized businesses funded by a range of institutions, including a women’s development bank or community banks. Ramaphosaism will insist on maths and science until Grade 12 while dispensing free education to the poor, all while being cleaner than a nun’s thong.

This probably seems sweet to investor-y types, which it is clearly by design – there is no other viable mainstream candidate in the ANC. But how does it play to your average delegate in the Eastern Cape, who has lived through almost many years of growth without any trickle-down, and who depends on the patronage system to feed his or her family? Smashing corruption may appear to be a process that requires nothing more than nobility of spirit and a National Director of Public Prosecutions slightly less useless than Shaun Abrahams. But if that were the case, corruption would never occur under the ambit of incorruptible politicians, which clearly it does. Subjugating the rot will require a wholesale reformulation of how the ANC functions, a process that must include arrests, prosecutions, intimidation, suppression, and extrajudicial deal-making which, instead of strengthening democratic institutions, may end up undermining them. 

Anti-corruption inaction figures. More of Zapiro’s brilliant work available at www.zapiro.com.

Besides, what of the high-end whitey-white collaborator types that Cyril will be dragging into the future with him? There is literally no straight player in Ramaphosa’s White Monopoly Capital camp: very few of his pals missed the opportunity to collaborate with the Zuma kleptocracy. South African business is sitting on a mountain of cash that Ramaphosaism insists will be reinvested in the economy. But will it? And what will that money buy? To say that the New Deal is business friendly is like saying the Hulk is green: it offers business more tax incentives to continue unproven capers likes the Youth Employment Services Initiative, while going soft on transformative investment agendas.

To wit: “The established private sector should take the initiative to support the development of black-owned small and medium enterprises,” stated Ramaphosa, “driven by the need to contribute to the nation building projects, rather than being compelled by prescriptive legislative instruments.”

But it gets worse. Like most of the developing world’s mega-plans, the NDP was already out of date the day it was published in 2012. Think about it: the world of work is rapidly being handed over to algorithms and robots, with mechanisation taking over previously inviolable human strongholds like law forms and accountancy offices. Mining, if it ever returns to South Africa, would certainly bring growth – anything would at this point – but it will not bring jobs. Those days are gone.

The future of work. The future of money. The future of party politics. The future of populism. The future of rage.

None of these things does the New Deal address, at least not in a way that points to the genuinely transformative social programme after which it is named.

qnNow, this isn’t a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t – something has to be done to fix this country, and the therapy isn’t likely to be gentle. It’s rather a plea for Ramaphosaism to be more revelatory about the kind of state its leader hopes to run. Dismissive of the press, disdainful of questions, Ramaphosa has begun to cut an authoritarian figure: an arms-length benevolent dictator in a weaponised X5, dressing up in Egyptian cotton safari suits at the weekend, speaking only to snivelling cadres and fellow billionaires about technocratic solutions to problems they haven’t fully parsed.

That said, there are clues, both within the New Deal and elsewhere, which point to what the Ramaphosaism world would usher in. As Thulasizwe Sithole said recently in a BizNews piece, Ramaphosa “envisages the types of strategies that have been used by China in recent decades to pull what was once one of the world’s poorest countries to the top of the global GDP tables”.

Which types of strategies would those be? President Xi Jinping has transformed China into a consumer-based economy while cracking down on corruption, and with his vast cash reserves he has been able to aggressively stabilise a rollicking Shanghai exchange and settle debt jitters, while delicately managing a real estate bubble and keeping Trump and Kim Jong-un from having weird dictator sex live on Fox and Friends. But Xi is not subject to the constraints of a constitutional democracy – the very dispensation that Ramaphosa worked so hard to create would be anathema to him. An iron fist and the subjugation of democratic institutions that remain functional even under Zuma? Is that what South Africans are willing to settle for?

Ramaphosaism suggests that there will be pain ahead; the bulk of the agony will be borne by the usual cohort – the poor. It doesn’t ask enough of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful, which has always been the problem with this place: the randlords always get a sweet, sweet break. But at least Ramaphosa has come cleanish – his foes cannot say the same. And if any change is as good as a holiday, then a few years in Ramaphozania may be just the thing for body and soul. But the boss is not the giggly pushover. He’s easily as tough as the old/new crocodile north of our border. His policies will require South Africa’s poor to be just as hardy. DM

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