Interesting times

Phew! What a month it’s been! The speed with which anti-Jacob Zuma sentiment gathered momentum within the ranks of the ANC, and which preceded his recall by the party, which in turn preceded his rather undignified public resignation and disappearance from public life was positively breathtaking to see.

That, and the speed with which the Hawks have started to round up the state capturers and looters, were instructive illustrations of “how the worm turns”.

And so South Africa has a new president and, by the time you read this, probably a new cabinet as well.

And the change in national spirit on the weekend immediately after Pres Ramaphosa’s first State of the Nation Address was almost palpable.

With the exception of a couple of churlish opposition commentators, the general sentiment on the State of the Nation Address was positive. Ramaphosa’s emphasis on unity and renewal was well received by all South Africans who hark back to the halcyon early Mandela years when we as a nation appeared united and unbeatable.

And if nothing else it was a pleasure to hear an articulate president fluently deliver a speech full of more than just cliches, with passion and with humour, and especially pleasurable to listen to the obvious barbs being hurled at some of Zuma’s useless cabinet ministers, many of whom looked decidedly glum.

And so Ramaphosa spent his first weekend riding a wave of popularity and enthusiasm that he will probably not enjoy again.

For within his upbeat speech were the snippets of ANC policy which his government wishes to address, and which, in some cases are unworkable and badly thought through, and in other cases which will simply be thoroughly unpopular.

And so, as he tries to implement those policies Ramaphosa will find his popularity waning.

Three bits of policy in particular come to mind.

  1. Land expropriation without compensation. While the need to speed up and properly implement a land reform programme is not in question the idea of expropriating land without compensation is as bizarre and poorly articulated as it will be destructive if ever it comes to implementation. And the history of this idea within the ANC is instructive. For years it was actively denounced by the more level-headed members of the party as being unworkable. Then Julius Malema broke away from the ANC, formed the EFF and appropriated the idea as EFF policy. Then, late on the last night of the ANC conference in December last year the idea of expropriation without compensation reappeared and, probably because delegates by then were tired and frustrated, it was quickly voted in to the organisation’s policy once more. Whether Ramaphosa actually sees the idea as a good one and has a sensible implementation plan only time will tell. He is a businessman and farmer in his own right, after all, and in his heart of hearts may see it, as we do, as unworkable, illogical and destructive.
  2. Jacob Zuma’s free tertiary education for the poor. This was actually Zuma’s swansong, which he foisted on the government in the most cynical and stupid of his many cynical and stupid moves. At this stage it has been watered down to free tertiary education for first year students of families earning less than R350 000 a year. That in itself will cost R50 billion which the government will need to find.
  3. The National Health Insurance scheme. While in the health portfolio Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is undoubtedly the most qualified cabinet minister of the lot he has fixated on introducing this scheme in the misguided belief that it will improve health care for the poor while not impacting upon the healthcare which the more well-heeled pay for through expensive medical aid schemes. His scheme, details of which will be announced shortly, will lead to higher costs and worse health care for all.

Thus, on the basis of these three policy pillars alone, Ramaphosa has a significant burden which will see his abilities as a negotiator sorely tested and may dent is popularity.

But, to be fair, nothing and nobody could have been worse than Zuma and we wish Ramaphosa well in his task ahead.

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