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Ramaphosa’s socio-political quagmire amid global egos

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Picture: Supplied/ANC – President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the keynote address at a gala dinner held during the BRICS Political Parties Plus Dialogue in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening.

By Khethiwe Gamede

An eventful political quagmire. South Africa’s “safe” positioning in the East vs. West cat and mouse fight demonstrates a much broader political battle Africa will forever find itself in. It is interesting how the impact of the 2007, 52nd African National Congress (ANC) National Conference, rears its ugly head to this day.

One wonders that, had the former President Thabo Mbeki been successful in continuing his tenure as President of the ANC and appointed a successor, given the constitutional limitations, where we would have been as a country.

In 2008, President Jacob Zuma succeeded President Mbeki and over the years under his reign, we saw the realisation of South Africa as a member of BRICS. This could have been regarded as a radical move in as what leftist political populists would allude as the beginning to “breaking the shackles of western colonialism”.

Notwithstanding the immense history and relationship that South Africa has and/or had with the Russian counterparts, one finds it peculiar the complexities of politics and economics, more essentially South Africa’s economic quagmire with global political egos of the west and east. For the better part of 2023, this country has faced a battle of allegiance. In the context of the implications of the 2007, 52nd National Conference of the ANC it propels an assessment of the former presidents and the complexity that the current president of the ANC and the Republic, finds himself in.

What’s interesting about the predecessors of President Ramaphosa is that, relatively they had the somewhat political luxury to shape South Africa into what they deemed as a trajectory of success. Notwithstanding, their differences this luxury propelled to make firm decisions on the policy positions and economic decisions.

President Thabo Mbeki was a pan African capitalist and was criticised for the economic development path he chose that favoured the development of the black bourgeoise. The Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) Macroeconomic strategy, as the anchor of the growth and development trajectory of this country, was fundamentally responsible for the afore-mentioned criticism. It was mainly characterised by neo liberal (as the leftists would allude) interventionists reforms as a means to over-correct the impact of the apartheid regime namely; competitive platform for a powerful expansion by the tradable goods sector; a stable environment for confidence and a profitable surge in private investment; a restructured public sector to increase the efficiency of both capital expenditure and service delivery; new sectoral and regional emphases in industrial and infrastructural development; greater labour market flexibility, amongst others.

This interventionist approach yielded major infrastructure investments, mainly from the private sector particularly the international market and through the formation of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policy, it enabled the development of what is now deemed as the “black middle class”.

President Jacob Zuma’s tenure was myriad and highly masked in elevated levels of corruption and administrative inefficiencies – for instance, the Arms Deal case, State Capture report and the “Nkandla saga” during the tenure of former Public Protector, Prof Thuli Madonsela to name a few. However, his pseudo leftist stances on policies and radical shifts in allegiance from East to West, for instance, shaped the “new” direction South Africa took.

It is imperative to emphasise ‘pseudo’ in describing the tenure of President Zuma because more often than not, despite “soft leftist policy implementation” such as the policy developments on higher education, he inherently kept to the neo-liberal capitalist approach in the policy reformation of the “new” South Africa. It somewhat contradicted the populists’ stances on – for example, radical economic transformation – which have not seen the light of day.

The former presidents laid foundations and established systems and policies that shaped this country with the political luxury of majoritarianism, both in the ruling party as well as the country. President Ramaphosa’s policy position is much more complex, because in as much as he is a liberal and a capitalist, he finds himself in a socio-political quagmire. The current president not only does not have the luxury to make radical decisions without an emanating threat from the ruling party, but he is also incapable of ripping the bandage off and deciding what he deems fit to be the success story of South Africa.

To add on to the complexity, the political environment is now a highly contested terrain, it has unlocked a myriad of new political parties which has seen the reign of the African National Congress dipping below 50% for the first time since the dawn of democracy. Furthermore, it is even at risk of losing its majority at provincial and national level in the 2024 general elections. This provides the context for the difficulties the current South African president faces in decision making.

Ramaphosa appears indecisive, uncertain and more importantly, protectionist of his political standing in the ruling party. The better part of 2023 was characterised by ‘allegiance politics’. Pressures are mounting for a ceasefire in Ukraine. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued a warrant of arrest for President Putin. Most recently, the Wagner Group’s failed attempt at a challenge to President Putin’s power in Russia.

Now, the Palestinians are subjected to an Apartheid regime perpetuated by Israelis at a time when on the global spectrum advocates for human rights and a gun free globe are gaining momentum. Is it hypocrisy, the treatment of President Putin? The United Nations turns its back on war crimes across the globe, mostly emanating from the West and yet each day we are painted a picture of the evil that is Putin. In no way, is this a Putin defence piece, however it is imperative that we recognise this that we’re subjected to – a long-standing ego battle between groups of men who constantly want to prove who can waver the hardest (no pun intended).

With all this irresolution going on, the African child is now found wanting. Some have chosen their stances and the golden child, South Africa, has decided to stay on the fence. To be honest, it is a safe choice and previously it may have worked. However, as mentioned for the better part of the dawn of democracy former presidents have had the luxury of political majoritarianism, which came with decisions and today, the decisions are rearing their ugly heads.

Can one argue that, for President Ramaphosa, the opportunity cost of political protectionism against running a country is higher? The South African economy is currently characterised by low growth and high levels of unemployment. The economy consistently contracts or grows at alarming low levels year on year. The unemployment rate is at its 11-year high with youth unemployment contributing the highest. The Governor of the South Africa Reserve Bank is on a rigid mission to stabilise inflation, despite the prevailing socio-economic conditions. This is the state of South Africa and now, what comes with it is choosing amongst Goliaths who have the utmost potential of destroying the little that is left of an economy.

What would be our stance as a country today from an allegiance point of view had President Zuma not decided to join the formation of BRICS; had the outcomes of the CODESA negotiations turned out differently; and, had President Mandela and President Mbeki laid a democratic foundation of a socialist, leftist reform for South Africa? Would Minister of DIRCO, Naledi Pandor have been so vocal on the hypocrisy displayed by the West? Would President Ramaphosa have been so bold as to lambast other world leaders in Paris over the constant need to reduce Africa to a charity drive?

These are political questions that connect the dots of today’s quagmire and it is a picture of going nowhere slowly and in each political cycle and particularly in each election cycle, South Africa continues to deteriorate. Local government elections, for instance, have manifested a cohort of political bargaining at the cost of service delivery and with the complexities of global politics, can the current state of South Africa survive inconsistencies in political bargaining?

Peace making speeches and demanding recognition from the Goliaths of the world are not solutions to prevailing realities. South Africans demand leaders that are action based, decisive and inherently want to better the state of this country. However, it is unfortunate that President Ramaphosa’ s geo-political standing and his standing with the ruling party leaves him in a tug-of-war between what’s best for his survival as a sitting President, his approach in policy positioning particularly on the global front and his impact on the overall socio-economic disposition of South Africa.