Here we are, at the beginning of 2018, with so much promise in the air. After eight lost years of the Jacob Zuma presidency, finally it seems that the country is on the verge of solid leadership and economic stability.

In years to come, the election of Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa as the 13th president of the governing African National Congress (ANC) in its 106-year history may be seen to have been a major turning point in our fortunes as a country. Unlike his predecessor – who is likely to have been ejected from office by the time this issue of SEIFSA News is published – Ramaphosa can legitimately be described as a man of integrity who works hard and leads by example.

Uniquely among his fellow contestants for the position of ANC president ahead of the organisation’s 54th national conference in Johannesburg, Ramaphosa combines experience and expertise in labour, business and government. He has a firm grasp of how the economy works and knows and appreciates the fact that it is business that creates jobs, and not governments, and that South Africa is involved in a never-ending competition for foreign investment with many other countries around the world.

He enjoys widespread respect both here and abroad, and has served on the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company’s International Board of Advisers, among other senior positions. Among his many achievements, his co-architecture, along with Roelf Meyer and others, of South African’s Interim Constitution during the multi-party talks in the Convention for a Democractic South Africa (CODESA) and of the current Constitution that was subsequently adopted by the National Assembly in 1996 must rank among the highest.

Following his election as ANC president in December, Ramaphosa now stands a good chance of becoming South Africa’s next Head of State, should the organisation win in the forthcoming national elections next year. Among the seven  individuals who contested the ANC presidency, he it was who stood the best chance by far of stanching the organisation’s recent haemorrhaging of votes. While in recent years and months it looked like South Africa was heading for an opposition-led coalition government next year, Ramaphosa’s election may well see the ANC narrowly winning the 2019 elections.

Were he to emerge as South Africa’s President next year or sooner, Ramaphosa will have accomplished his long-held dream – which, in subsequent years, even he would have begun to think unattainable – and the ambition that democratic South Africa’s Founding Father, Nelson Mandela, had for him.  After all, it was Ramaphosa that Mandela wanted to appoint Deputy President of the country when the latter became our Head of State in 1994, but he was strongly prevailed upon by those in the ANC who had been in exile to go with Thabo Mbeki, instead.

Cyril Ramaphosa, then, is a man in whom the saintly Madiba had lots of confidence.

His final election as ANC president has marked the end of a terrible chapter in our democratic era and the beginning of a new one. Unlike his predecessor, he is a constitutionalist who is actively championing good governance and a meaningful partnership involving the Government, business and labour. An astute businessman, he has placed a deserved emphasis on growing and transforming our economy.

Immediately after Ramaphosa’s election as ANC president, many commentators expressed legitimate concerns about the composition of the leadership surrounding him in the ANC top six. Some of the individuals surrounding him are not exactly known for their shining credentials as anti-corruption crusaders, and some have featured prominently in the recent Gupta-leak e-mails. They are, therefore, unlikely to share his enthusiasm to throw the book at those allegedly behind our rampant corruption.

I argued elsewhere at the time that, while legitimate, those concerns should not be exaggerated. I pointed out that the ANC leadership is made up of more than just the five men and one woman at the apex of the organisation. It also comprises the 80-member National Executive Committee (NEC), which is the highest decision-making body between conferences. I added that there are men and women on that structure who are just as keen to rid the organisation and the country of corruption and who would like to rescue whatever equity remains of Brand ANC.

The narrow margin by which Ramaphosa won the contest against Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – who was volubly supported by some of the most disagreeable and controversial characters in our politics – also raised the understandable concern that there were almost as many delegates at the ANC’s 54th national conference who were opposed to him as those who supported him. It was understandable that some people would worry that Ramaphosa would not find the kind of support within his organisation that he needs to redirect the country’s fortunes.

While understandable, that concern ignored the fact that, according to various surveys conducted across the country in the run-up to the conference, the vast majority of ANC members in all nine provinces preferred Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency. The small margin of his victory was indicative of the determined efforts by those with vested interests who were threatened by the prospect of a Ramaphosa presidency, among them Jacob Zuma, who worked very hard to persuade as many ANC branches and delegates as possible not to support his candidature.

As I predicted at the time, now that a Ramaphosa presidency is a reality, many of those who were successfully lobbied against him have begun to turn their backs on Zuma, who is now yesterday’s man, and are actively seeking to be in Ramaphosa’s good books. In the weeks and months to come they will work even harder to ingratiate themselves to him and his fellow officials in order to improve their chances of deployment into cushy positions in government, the public service and State-owned companies.

As often happens in the ANC, in the coming months and years those to be elected onto the leadership of the various leagues – Women’s, Youth and Military Veterans – and provincial structures will most likely be made after the image of the leader. That means that, in the months and years to come, the number of overtly pro-Ramaphosa individuals in strategic positions within the ANC will increase, thus making it possible for him to re-orientate the organisation and, hopefully, to advance South Africa’s interests.

So far, Ramaphosa and his team have made a most encouraging start. Not only have they insisted on the prosecution of those against whom allegations of State capture and general malfeasance have been made, but they have also made wholesale changes to the Eskom Board of Directors, on the eve of the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland. They have made it abundantly clear to Zuma and his remaining defenders that the ANC leadership is the centre of authority, with Zuma and others in Government having to implement ANC policy.

In other words, although at the time of writing Ramaphosa was still Deputy President of the country and Zuma was President, there is no doubt at all that, as of 20 December 2017, Ramaphosa is Zuma’s boss – including in Government. For as long as he remains our Head of State, Zuma has to take instructions from Ramaphosa, as has happened in the case of the appointment of the Ngoepe judicial commission of enquiry into State capture.

Notwithstanding some controversial resolutions adopted at the ANC conference, such as on land restitution without compensation, there is no doubt in my mind that a Ramaphosa-led ANC will do everything possible to revive the economy and to forge a working partnership involving Government, business and labour. I am confident that he and his team will do everything possible to undo the damage done to South Africa by his predecessor and to win back the civilised world’s respect for South Africa.

There is a good chance, therefore, that, while correctly insisting on the need for “radical economic transformation”, the Government will be much more sympathetic to business’s concerns and more accessible for meaningful engagement. It is important that business should not be found wanting in this regard.

SEIFSA will, on its own and through Business Unity South Africa, take full advantage of the blowing winds of change in order to engage meaningfully with policy makers.

Kaizer M. Nyatsumba

Chief Executive Officer