Picture: Since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 State of the Nation address, many people have given their critical assessments of how he is not living up to his promises. Critics, such as former president Thabo Mbeki, say that Ramaphosa doesn’t have a plan to respond to South Africa’s economic challenges. Ramaphosa and his advisers would do well to expend more effort to formulate a clear statement of purpose for the government between now and the election in 2024 and set forth a strategy to translate the statement into actionable plans, says the writer. Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA)
By Professor B Dikela Majuqwana
In his 2022 State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa gave details of the challenges faced by his government, new and old.
Among the new was the fire that destroyed Parliament and the challenge of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. He heaped praises on the Solidarity Fund set up to cope with the pandemic, including contributions by about 300,000 individuals and 300 companies. This perhaps gives a proper background to the kind of response the government can marshal against the problems of the country.
He went on to state: “The key task of government is to create the conditions that will enable the private sector – both big and small – to emerge, to grow, to access new markets, to create new products, and to hire more employees. The problems in the economy are deep and they are structural.
“When electricity supply cannot be guaranteed, when railways and ports are inefficient, when innovation is held back by a scarcity of broadband spectrum, when water quality deteriorates, companies are reluctant to invest and the economy cannot function properly.”
All this is against a background of escalating unemployment made worse by the effects of the pandemic. Since Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address, many people have given their critical assessments of the president and how he is living up to the promises made in the Sona.
Former president Thabo Mbeki is among the most prominent people to voice their concern, saying that Ramaphosa has no plan to respond to the challenges. Several commentators and analysts are equally harsh in their criticism, to the extent of declaring him unfit to lead South Africa for another term.
Economist Duma Gqubule says the government has many plans to boost the economy but none has produced the expected results, according to set targets. Gqubule says government plans and social compacts fail because they are not aligned with macro-economic policies. He said: “GDP growth and job creation were subordinate to other macro-economic policy goals such as debt reduction and inflation. The Treasury focused only on debt. The South African Reserve Bank focused only on inflation. Nobody was responsible for achieving the NDP (National Development Plan) targets.”
What Gqubule is alluding to is a severe lack of co-ordination of government work, from goal setting to execution, monitoring and evaluation. If that is so, it is hardly surprising that Ramaphosa has no plan, as Mbeki asserted.
It is also not surprising that there is no consistent effort to work on targets and to achieve them with available resources. The result of all this is wasted effort that is covered up by making one promise after another. Regarding engagement with the range of stakeholders that can make a social compact a feasible proposal, the Nedlac process, since its inception, is not famous for producing results.
Nedlac has emerged as an effective platform to help thrash out these issues and others, including brewing protests by labour in response to the rapidly rising costs of living and high food and fuel prices since the war in Ukraine began.
Ramaphosa and his advisers would do well to expend more effort to formulate a clear statement of purpose for the government between now and the election in 2024. They should set forth a strategy to translate the statement into actionable plans and identify key people who have the competence to make a difference.
The NDP appears to be in limbo, as illustrated by Gqubule’s views. That’s why it might help greatly if government efforts are executed within the framework of the NDP. It is unlikely that the government will be able to deliver on its promises if the state administration, with its high level of corruption and malfeasance, is not up to speed. Since the release of the Zondo Commission report, there does not appear to be much happening to demonstrate that the fight against corruption has begun in earnest. Not long ago, there were media reports to the effect that the Guptas were arrested in Dubai – but nothing much beyond that.
All this gives the impression that the government is only too keen to appear to be doing something and nothing more. If Ramaphosa desires to gain the confidence of delegates at the ANC’s December conference and voters in 2024, he needs to live up to public expectations. Ramaphosa has been ambivalent in his statements with regard to the role of the state in the economy. At one point, he says the state is there only to create a favourable environment for the private sector. At another, he bemoans the state of public enterprises and poor levels of maintenance over the years that have led the of Eskom to strangle the economy because of electrical power failures.
Ramaphosa is correct about the effects of poor maintenance of utility infrastructure in South Africa. However, he falls short of sharing his strategy and a timetable to overcome South Africa’s maintenance backlog. If I were his adviser, I would encourage him to treat the maintenance of infrastructure as priority number one. An appraisal of the importance of maintenance of infrastructure will show that it is a major source of jobs and technical innovation.
Some estimates suggest that at least 10 percent of the total value of new physical assets is the correct level of spending on maintenance – and that anything short of this leads to long-term decline of the integrity of assets.
To arrive at a correct approach to deal with the problem, the government will need to produce an evaluation of its total assets and avoid proceeding piecemeal.
* Prof Majuqwana is head of Engineering at the University of Zululand