Sunday, February 18, 2018

Zuma's removal was a masterstroke: can it be repeated for the economy?

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Negotiation was key to convincing Jacob Zuma to step down as South Africa’s president.
Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

The removal of South African president Jacob Zuma will be remembered for several reasons. One may be the gap between reality and what reporters, commentators and those who shape the national debate say happened.

There have been two South Africas over this period – one created by the echo chamber which dominates the public debate and the other in which millions live. There is no sign that this gap will narrow soon and so what South Africans read and hear will not be what most people experience.

This is a problem for the economy because business decisions which influence people’s ability to meet their needs may be taken on the strength of messages which are believed not because they are true but because they are the only story told.

The echo chamber insisted that a weak and vacillating ANC leadership allowed Zuma, a president widely rejected by citizens (the ANC’s vote share has declined by more than 20% under his watch), to dictate how and when he should go. It did this by trying to negotiate his departure rather than simply telling him to go.

This ignores the constitution and the real world of ANC politics.

On the first score, South Africa is a constitutional democracy, not a one party state. Presidents are chosen and removed by a Parliament elected by the people, not a committee of the governing party.

The ANC can ask a president to go but if the incumbent says no, only Parliament can force them. South Africa’s Parliament begins sitting in the second week of February; until then, the ANC could not remove Zuma. He was gone little more than a week after his removal by Parliament became possible.

If a company did something major which needed doing in little over a week, it would be hailed as a model of efficiency.

On the second, Zuma would not have been removed by the ANC unless those who wanted him out negotiated with him. Negotiation was essential because it was the only way in which to build enough support within the ANC to force him to go.

A point which seems lost on the echo chamber is that the ANC is deeply divided: two factions compete for power. One has supported Zuma avidly, the other wanted him gone. The new leadership was divided almost equally between them – those who wanted Zuma gone may have enjoyed no more than a two-vote majority in the ANC’s national executive committee, which runs it between conferences. A divided organisation which fires a president by a two-vote majority will face years of trouble and so Zuma could not go unless a much bigger majority was built on the national executive committee.

Factors that made things difficult

Two factors made this more difficult. Many in the ANC remember President Thabo Mbeki’s removal in 2008 as a traumatic event: it prompted a split and began the ANC’s slide at the polls. Even some who opposed Zuma may have baulked at treating him in the same way as Mbeki.

The ANC also spent decades being harassed by the apartheid government. This produced a tendency to stick together in the face of outside threats and to settle disputes internally. Using Parliament to throw out its own president does not fit well with this. Some national executive committee members who did not support Zuma may not have wanted Parliament to remove him.

So those who wanted Zuma out could not simply pass a resolution and be done with him. They needed a national executive committee majority so big that Zuma would be taking on not a faction but most ANC leaders. They could rely on some support from members who switched sides in the hope of gaining positions after Zuma went. But far more was needed.

Negotiation was the key. It impressed waverers by showing reluctance to repeat the Mbeki trauma. More important, Zuma’s opponents may have realised that he was likely to negotiate in a way that would alienate support. They presumably expected him to put himself before the ANC and the country: the more he did this, the more support would grow in the national executive committee for his removal and the more his options would narrow.

So it proved. Within the ANC, negotiation strengthened the anti-Zuma faction’s claim to care about the organisation. It revealed Zuma as a leader who cared far more for himself than the ANC. By the end, some of his most committed supporters were begging him to go.

There is nothing weak or vacillating about this. The faction which wanted Zuma gone read their options accurately and did what they needed to achieve their goal. They have also achieved changes –- a commission of inquiry into state capture, a board for the power utility Eskom which is widely agreed to want to run the company, not loot it, and police action against people accused of abusing public money, which few expected to happen this soon.

Hints of how the country will be governed

Why is this important for the country and the economy? The politicians who removed Zuma are likely to be running the government for the next five years. Current events were their first test and so they give a hint of how South Africa may be governed.

The echo chamber says they show that government will be weak and incompetent. The evidence tells a different story.

This does not mean that South Africans now know that government will do what needs to be done to restore the economy to health and improve living standards.
Current events do raise a crucial question about the new ANC leadership’s approach to the economy, but it is not the one which exercises the echo chamber. The question is not whether it can work out what is needed and get it done – it has shown that it can. It’s what it thinks is needed and what it is willing to get done.

The new leadership has shown great interest in the insider agenda – tackling the threats to the market economy which worry those who shape the debate. This means restoring the economy to the state it was in before Zuma: ensuring that government and markets operate as the rules say they should.

The ConversationThat is essential. But far more is needed. Unless the new leadership tackles economic exclusion, the problems South Africans associate with Zuma will remain. The key question is whether the new leadership believes that negotiating ways to include millions more in the economic mainstream is worth the same effort as removing Zuma – and whether they are up to this more difficult but more important task.

Steven Friedman, Professor of Political Studies, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

What Ramaphosa needs to do to fix South Africa's foreign relations after Zuma

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Cyril Ramaphosa being sworn in as the President of South Africa by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa sits down to brief a newly appointed Minister of International Relations and Development, he might wonder what to say.

Here are three suggestions which could help guide the conversation.

Strengthen diplomatic service

Extensive evidence suggests that a professional and well-trained diplomatic service is vital for the success of any country’s foreign policy. During the Zuma presidency South Africa’s diplomatic service has been aimless at best, and sometimes simply embarrassing.

Some of this has been caused by a failure to focus on the needs of professionals in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. So, this will be a good place to start.

Since the Mandela presidency, transforming the diplomatic service has been a priority. This has succeeded in terms of racial equity, although some work remains to be done on gender equity. But this is not a straightforward issue. Not all countries are keen to receive women as foreign representatives.

Of course, this is no excuse: thinking and planning around this issue, especially at the managerial level, has to match the requirements for gender transformation within the country.

An effective diplomatic service needs a continuous training programme. Language and career-level training does take place within the department, but long-term career preparedness – from entry into the service to exiting it – has dropped away. Unfortunately, diplomatic training has been merged with policy planning , which has led to mission drift.

But the biggest obstacle to the development of a professional foreign service remains the issue of political appointments. All countries make these. But the operating principle is that they are limited, and made for strategic reasons – say, a well-connected individual appointed to a particular country to handle a specific issue.

In South Africa’s case, though, this has gotten entirely out of hand. Estimates are that some 80% of senior positions in South African missions abroad are occupied by ‘external non-career’ appointees. Many are casualties of the squabbles within the ruling party, the African National Congress.

Whatever the reason, the outcome has placed limits on the career prospects of the professional diplomatic corps.

Even more worrying is that many of these appointments have been made without due diligence. In the past few years, the dodgy backgrounds of a number of senior appointees have come to the fore. Besides embarrassing the country, it has undermined the professionalism of career diplomats.

Making use of a public process to select heads of diplomatic missions – along the lines of the Judicial Services Commission for the appointment of judges
may be a way forward on this issue.

Take BRICS seriously

The opportunities that the idea of BRICS – the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – offers the country is poorly understood. As a result, BRICS gets a bad press, especially in establishment foreign policy circles.

This is a mistake, and needs to be changed, because BRICS offers new ways to think about – and engage with – the rise of new powers in a changing world. For good or ill, the liberal global order that was established in the late 1940s has given way to new ways of managing world affairs.

Many obstacles stand in the way of BRICS as a political project, but the idea has opened up a pathway to a non-Western-centred way of understanding international politics. South Africa can help to shape this new thinking about the future, which should draw on the spirit of the decolonisation debate.

The issue of where South Africa fits into BRICS and what this means for the world should be steered by a Minister (and Ministry) who understand that the country must help to make international rules, and not simply abide by them.

The region matters most

Southern Africa remains the formal focal point of the country’s foreign policy. Unfortunately, this is not always acknowledged.

The politics of each individual country in the region weighs on the fate of this country. A simple measure of this is the number of citizens from the region who are living and working in South Africa.

The following example carries the point. In some circles, it is thought that millions of Zimbabwean are living in South Africa. The figures for the citizens of other countries in the region are probably in the same ballpark.

South Africa must respond to the migration issue by accommodation, not the fierce acrimony that has emerged elsewhere. The hard fact is that the country’s borders cannot be sealed off from its neighbourhood, the only solution on offer by security-centred analysts who, unfortunately, dominate the debate about the region.

Foreign policy is not only about security: it is mostly about listening and understanding.

For the region to be at peace, South Africa has to recognise that the borders that divide its people are, after all, colonial constructs.

Foreign Policy begins at home

These three issues may seem banal – after all, the debates about South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy have largely focused on big-ticket items like the African Renaissance, making peace in Africa, and reforming the United Nations.

The ConversationBut these high-flying ideas have missed an old truth, namely that foreign policy invariably begins closer to home.

Peter Vale, Professor of Humanities and the Director of the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS), University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The Ramaphosa moment: how many Messiahs can one country take?

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Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a rally to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s centenary year in Cape Town, South Africa.
Reuters/Mike Hutchings

Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa – forgive me, President Ramaphosa – is self-evidently a private and reserved human being. Since his decision to contest the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), he has been the subject of an endless series of “think-pieces”, more or less informed including by this author, as well as a year or more of attack videos and smears from those he ultimately defeated at the 2017 ANC elective conference. His private life has been examined, and people have tried to double-guess every move he has made, or should have made, or is about to make.

The man must be squirming. Worse than the attention, however, is his recent elevation to Messiah status in the media and the popular imagination. He maketh Zuma to bugger off. He maketh the currency to rise and pessimism to fall; he will cleanse where others defiled; and he may lead South Africans towards the promised land – or, for the non-believers, will it be down the garden path?

Messiahs are an expression of the need for the yoke of oppression to be lifted, by a god-anointed action man (there are precious few female Messiahs in history) who does what mere mortals cannot. Nelson Mandela was South Africa’s first Messiah, but was seemingly born for the role, relished it, and given the massive damage to economy and society in late apartheid, almost everything he did was inevitably positive. The economy grew, rainbows were believed in, the national football team Bafana Bafana were football champions. Anything was possible.

In Ramaphosa’s case, the context is horribly similar. The economy has been smashed by the labyrinthine tendrils of corruption and state capture that have insinuated themselves into every aspect of public life, compounding those already present in the private sector.

For every state owned enterprise there is a private sector player like KPMG, and for every bribe that is accepted, someone else offered it. Zuma tended his corrupt garden well, and South Africa feels like it is the early 1990s again: political killings are rife in KwaZulu-Natal, the economy is in tatters, racial tensions are high, the poor are getting poorer, the rich richer, and the country’s sports people seem unable to win a game of tiddly-winks.

What kind of president?

What kind of president will Ramaphosa be? Will he, like Zuma’s predecessor Thabo Mbeki, gravitate towards foreign affairs, the African continent, and playing a global role in various summits and multilateral bodies? Or will he be more Zuma-like, and regard the secret and security forces as his natural base?

The last 10 days should have answered part of this question. Because of Ramaphosa’s chess moves the country has seen the true colours of everyone in the ANC’s top six leadership and beyond. He and all South Africans now know where many of his enemies are. Those desperate to be reborn Ramaphosa-ites have become visible, and he knows (as South Africans do) who can be trusted and who not. He has forced people to play their roles out in public, for all to see and learn, and better to understand the challenges he faces.

More importantly, the state utility Eskom has been completely reconfigured with a new board, and fear has begun to percolate through to all those eating South Africa’s public funds.

But the most significant moves were left to the very end. Zuma’s last day as president – not in any way coincidentally – began with the news that the home of the powerful Gupta family had been raided and arrests had been made.

The second masterstroke was to allow Zuma to show his true colours in a rambling interview on state television to the nation. Everyone was given a taste of what Ramaphosa has had to deal with.

Once Zuma knew that his time was up – his Gupta buddies being arrested, his son Duduzane being looked for and some of his lieutenants deserting him – he declined into self-pity.

Zuma myths

For years the world has been fed several myths about Zuma. That he was steeped in strategy and that he was a master tactician. There was also the fable that he had dirt on everyone and would never be outmanoeuvred, that even a wounded lion is dangerous, that he may be down but never out, and so on.

Instead, the terrible sadness of a crumpled bully was in evidence on SABC TV. He spent 30 minutes spinning silly yarns about the lack of accusations or evidence against him, insisting he was innocent, trying to blame anyone but himself. It laid bare the truth – Zuma is merely PW (Botha) rebooted. Apartheid president Botha, nicknamed the Groot Krokodil (big crocodile), was a hardliner who refused to leave office and alienated everyone even in his own National Party.

Zuma’s incoherent television appearance was an old jackal meeting an old krokodil. Each filled with a sense of victimhood, denying any wrongdoing, both responsible for destroying the economy, the social fabric, and any number of lives. Ramaphosa left Zuma to show all South Africans his overweening vanity, his inability to distinguish right from wrong, and his arrogance. Shakespeare could not have plotted it better. Ramaphosa emerged as the true strategist.

A mere mortal

Ramaphosa is no Messiah, and when the post-Zuma champagne corks stop popping, South Africans need to assess him as a mere mortal. One who is inheriting a country laid almost as bare as the country Mandela inherited in 1994.

Ramaphosa has a massive job ahead of him, in trying to reignite national pride, self-belief, and mutual trust. He also has to salvage the ANC’s reputation and win the next election in 2019, no mean feat in itself. It would also be nice to win a match or two.

The ConversationThe man, rather than the Messiah, has shown he can move multiple chess pieces at once – and win. The last 10 days have seen him completely eclipse his enemies within, having defeated those without when he was elected ANC president in December. This will be a quiet president, in place of Zuma’s inane giggling and braggadocio that has gone. But as the saying goes, always watch the quiet ones…

David Everatt, Head of Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

South Africa's future hinges on Ramaphosa's strategic skills

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Deputy President of South Africa and leader of the country’s governing party, the ANC.

South Africa’s 2018 State of the Nation address by the president of South Africa has been postponed. This unprecedented step makes it clear that the country is seeing the final days of Jacob Zuma as president although it may take a day or a week or two before things are finalised.

What’s important is that Zuma isn’t allowed to detract from the momentum that newly elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has started to build. This has included a successful trip to Davos where he unequivocally pulled the carpet from under the nuclear power programme favoured by Zuma.

Ramaphosa has been working diligently to corral Zuma’s remaining freedom of action. Zuma was finally persuaded to establish a commission of enquiry into state capture and Ramaphosa started restoring credibility to the management of state owned enterprises.

The momentum built by Ramaphosa seems sufficient to avoid the most pressing concern, the spectre of a downgrade of South Africa’s long term local currency debt rating by the rating agency Moody’s. Such a step would trigger South Africa being excluded from Citi’s World Governance Bond Index. RMB Morgan Stanley projects a potential outflow of US $5 billion if this happened.

But his freedom of action is severely constrained by his narrow victory during the ANC’s leadership elections and the divisions within the party’s top leadership. The party has no choice but to design an early exit strategy for Zuma, or suffer significant political damage during the 2019 elections.

A downgrade would constrain growth and severely affect the ANC’s 2019 election prospects. Ramaphosa needs his own mandate, which only the 2019 national elections can deliver.

Economic growth

In November last year Ramaphosa outlined an economic plan aimed at generating jobs and economic growth and tackling inequality. The plan set a growth target of 3% for 2018, rising to 5% by 2023.

For its part the Reserve Bank has forecast the economy will grow by a measly 1.4% in 2018 and 1.6% in 2019. The International Monetary Fund is even more pessimistic, forecasting growth of 1.1% for this year.

Nothing is more important for South Africa – and Ramaphosa as the country’s incoming president – than growth and translating that growth into employment creation. That, in turn, requires foreign and domestic investment, which is only possible with policy certainty and rapid movement to a new leadership. It also requires a positive partnership with the private sector.

Assuming Zuma’s exit is imminent, serious consideration needs to be given to the team that Ramaphosa must put in place to help him achieve the economic turnaround he envisages. This brings us to the need for a cabinet reshuffle, including the appointment of a credible minister of finance.

Next steps

South Africa has a cabinet which is double the size required. A few ministers, such as Rob Davies at trade and industry and Naledi Pandor in science and technology, have established their credibility. But a large number of the current cabinet shouldn’t be considered for inclusion under a Ramaphosa administration.

The most important post is the minister of finance. Given the fact that former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene seems to have moved on, it is likely that either Pravin Gordhan or his then deputy Mcebesi Jonas will be invited back.

Ramaphosa needs to turns his narrow victory into a positive outcome. And he must convince non-voting ANC supporters who abandoned the ANC under Zuma to return to the fold of the governing party in 2019.

It will also depend on legal processes – such as the various probes into corruption and state capture – to strip out the internal contradictions within the top leadership of the ANC.

Long term voting trends indicate declining support for the ANC and as things stand, a divided ANC remains a plump target for opposition parties. It could see support decline from its current 62% nationally by around 10 percentage points in 2019 if that trend is not reversed. The impact of these developments were set out in a recent book Fate of the Nation that included political and economic scenarios to 2034.

A more positive party future requires the ANC to rapidly rediscover its unity although this seems unlikely in the short term. And here is the nub – as much as the traditionalist faction is associated with corruption and state capture, it also represents a strong ideological current that could still derail the party and even lead to it splintering.

The ConversationRamaphosa has been dealt a weak hand but he has proven to be a consummate strategist. The next few days and weeks will be crucial and are likely to determine South Africa’s future for several years to come.

Jakkie Cilliers, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Head of African Futures & Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies. Extraordinary Professor in the Centre of Human Rights, University of Pretoria

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

ANC power struggle shows that South Africa is not exceptional (after all)

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Nelson Mandela and his successor Thabo Mbeki presided over the halcyon days of South Africa’s new democracy.

South Africa is in the grip of political uncertainty. That President Jacob Zuma will go before the official end of his tenure after national elections next year is inevitable. But when, how, and at what cost to the ANC and the country?

The current crisis is being framed as one of internal party politics – or the immorality of Zuma and his supporters. In fact, the impact is much bigger and wider, affecting South Africa’s standing in Africa, and in the world.

In 1994 the world, and particularly African countries, looked to South Africa to provide ethical leadership after the end of apartheid. This was boldly depicted in the “African Renaissance” – the cultural, scientific and economic renewal of the continent championed by former President Thabo Mbeki.

For a short time, South Africa occupied the moral high ground and was able to influence the agenda of intergovernmental organisations like the United Nations, the African Union and the South African Development Community.

South Africans were called on to play a key role in a number of areas. Two stand out: conflict management in, for example, Burundi, DRC, Lesotho, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe. And as the “bridge-builder” between the West and Africa.

It also twice took a seat on the United Nations Security Council and was part of initiatives such as the India Brazil South Africa Dialogue Forum. It also became part of the Brazil Russia India China and South Africa (BRICS) association among other international bodies.

But from around 2010 South Africa’s leadership role began to slip. It has now arrived at a point where it can no longer claim to be leading any renaissance. The new reality is that it’s beset with governance challenges similar to many other African states.

The rest of the continent watches and sees yet another example of a dream deferred. The expectations that the country would lead the continent have gone. It, too, is in the throes of regime survival. The lament is:

South Africa has become just another African country.

The beginning of the end

The meltdown of the ANC should not have come as much of a surprise given events over the past 20 years, and the inevitable decline of liberation parties. Pointers to the inglorious direction the country was headed in were evident in the corruption around the arms deal (1999), the fight over Mbeki’s refusal to roll out antiretroviral treatment (1990s), the decline in the economy on the back of a global crisis (2008-2009) and rising unemployment (from 2008). To this should be added the growing appetite of an emerging black elite, whose acquisition of wealth was closely tied to state resources tenderpreneurs.

Then in 2007, buoyed by populist appeal for a change of the guard, Zuma rose to power as president of the ANC. The following year the ANC’s National Executive Committee forced Mbeki to resign. Mbeki had lost the support of the committee over a range of issues including economic policy, his style of leadership, and a focus on continental and international affairs rather than domestic issues.

Mbeki sacked Zuma in June 2005, after the court findings of a corrupt relationship with Schabir Shaik, his friend and financial advisor at the time. The political contestation between the Mbeki and Zuma factions set in, leading to Mbeki’s political demise.

The deepening of the structural roots of the malaise in South Africa has therefore been long in the making.

Conflation of the state and the party, state capture, and patronage politics became the defining features of Zuma’s presidency. And ultimately they became the factors that led to his dethroning. South Africa began to display the stereotypical symptoms of the typical African state:

South Africa’s exceptionalism claim is dead

South Africa’s claim to exceptionalism in Africa has been dispelled. Two decades ago Ugandan academic and author Mahmood Mamdani pointed to the myth of South Africa’s exceptionalism and that it shares the legacies of colonialism and the bifurcated nature of the state that colonialism had bequeathed other African states too. This meant that South Africa was no different in its political and development outcomes.

Leadership is an important mediator for the direction of any country. Visionary and principled leadership led the continent – and South Africa – to liberation. It’s what is sorely needed now across the continent, and in South Africa.

South Africa finds itself in its current situation because the country has succumbed to nationalist, chauvinist, patriarchal and elite interests. But changing the president, though necessary, won’t be sufficient to get South Africans out of this quagmire. South Africans needs new leaders as well as new forms of leadership that understand the driving forces of post-colonial states and their proclivity towards non-democratic forms of governance.

South Africa needs leadership that places it once again in the political and socio-economic trajectory of Africa and fosters a collective responsibility to develop and share its wealth among all who call it home. It must also develop the governance structures that will lead it to that goal. To do this requires moving beyond regime survival towards reinvigorating a visionary pan-African leadership that once again begins to set an agenda of unity, prosperity and dignity.

The ConversationSouth Africa is no longer the beacon of hope for the continent it once was. But South Africans needn’t despair. The recognition of its banality finally presents the opportunity for its people to sit as equals at the table with other Africans and engage in much needed dialogue on the kind of leadership and governance that would take them forward on the journey to an African Renaissance.

Cheryl Hendricks, Professor of Political Science, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.