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The old New Dawn was a failure: South Africa needs a new New Dawn

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Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, management consulting, advisory and private sector. The focus of his work is about enabling equity, justice and leveraging public policy effectively. He is an Atlantic Fellow, Obama Africa Leader, Mandela Washington Fellow, Mandela Rhodes Scholar and WEF Global Shaper. He had a stint in the South African party political environment, and found the experience a deeply educational one.

The general mood of South Africans as 2020 draws to a close is one of jaded disillusionment. Millions continue to be excluded from economic activity and the economic repercussions of Covid-19 have continued to push many more millions into the exclusionary cycle of unemployment and poverty. It’s time for action, not words.

A question that bothers all South Africans is simply whether life is better today than it was a year ago, especially at this time of year. The administration of Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa has struggled to fulfil the promise and expectations of the New Dawn.

The ascent of Ramaphosa within the African National Congress was never about providing a compelling proposition for the ANC branches, but rather about the desperate need within the governing party to find a reasonable alternative to Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Mhlanganyelwa Zuma. 

The deal-making and manoeuvrings of that national elective conference within the governing party inevitably led to the executive leadership structure being a reflection of the indecision, inaction and myopic outlook of a splintered political party.

The impact of Covid-19 and the economic repercussions continue to push more people either into poverty, or further entrench inequality, poverty and unemployment in South Africa. 

After a bruising economic year, coupled with a health crisis, South Africans are confronted with the collective reality that life is in fact worse today than it was a year ago.

The power and authority exerted by former presidents of the governing party, and exemplified by Zuma during South Africa’s lost decade, provide all the political power and cover to effectively make decisions not only binding on the party itself, but also on the machinery of South Africa. 

Unfortunately, Ramaphosa has been unable to consolidate authority and power, coupled with the moral authority and urgency of the New Dawn, and South Africa continues to be hobbled by this ineffective leadership.

South Africans are constantly reminded of Ramaphosa’s narrow victory at that elective conference – a slender margin of 2,440 votes to 2,261 – and the need to compromise, to build unity within the party and to play the long game. 

After a lost decade, coupled with malfeasance, grand-scale corruption and looting, South Africa was never going to be able to play the long game.

During those lost years, the republic was eroded at every institutional level in order to further the machinations of the State Capture machinery. 

The rebuilding of government’s ability to deliver, and to do so effectively and responsibly, continues to be hobbled and inconsistent – particularly highlighted by the graft and incompetence around procuring goods and services in response to Covid-19 issues.

The Ramaphosa administration may have continued to build capacity and space for the National Prosecuting Authority and South African Revenue Service to rebuild and reposition itself in order to serve the interest of the country. However, the need for compromise has meant that questionable and compromised characters continue to collect hefty salaries as Cabinet ministers and has delayed the ability of the national government to direct a meaningful and collective agenda.

Ramaphosa has been too slow in removing ministers found wanting, and he should be bold and confident enough to exert the authority and moral imperative required by all South Africans. 

For as long as the Cabinet continues to house bloated ministries, ineffective functionaries and ill-disciplined colleagues, South Africans will continue to suffer the consequences of Ramaphosa’s lack of confidence.

The likely outcome is that Ramaphosa will continue to play the long game in order to manage the deep divisions and political agendas within the governing party, but the space and time for that within the country has already run out. 

The governing party will continue to fray internally, with rebellious and ill-disciplined members, which will in turn threaten the stability and foundations of the country.

Today, the consequences of not acting will be far more serious than the consequences of committing to cleaning up and rooting out those who must be removed from public office, public service and the governing party itself.

The crisp and simple agenda of the lost decade was founded on self-interest, capture, erosion of state capacity and the deployment of aligned individuals and actors to fulfil the desired outcome. South Africans may have elected a new Parliament and executive, but we do not have a consistent and collective vision of how South Africa will rebuild.

In part, the paralysis resides at the doorstep of a society that continues to struggle to find a common vision or compact, a society that is fractured, broken and disconnected, and where millions remain excluded from participation at all levels.

The Ramaphosa administration, as it considers the resurgence of Covid-19 across the country, and particularly in the Eastern and Western Cape, must begin to articulate a real vision – one that is both tangible and effective – for South Africans to rally around. 

The work ahead for the Ramaphosa administration will be fraught with challenges and obstacles, and the past months have highlighted the challenges for the government to meet even the most rudimentary requirements.

The mood of society at large is jaded and disillusioned. 

Millions continue to be excluded from economic activity and the economic repercussions of the pandemic have continued to push many more millions into the exclusionary cycle of unemployment and poverty.

The Covid-19 health crisis has affected South Africa’s ability to deliver on the critical work around issues of HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, and highlighted most strikingly how the poor are disproportionately affected by a broken society.

South Africans need elected representatives and public servants to collectively work towards providing a real and meaningful vision that charts the path the republic must embark on. 

Government programmes and budgetary spend must be realigned to an ambitious agenda of rebuilding and reconstructing society at large.

If Ramaphosa, his colleagues in the Cabinet, members of the sixth Parliament, and the respective political actors within the governing party take their jobs seriously and want to rebuild trust, they will have to get on with the real work of governing and making decisions that serve the country and its people. DM

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  • One would imagine that for this to happen, the very first thing is to have a cabinet including people who are competent and dedicated to the goodwill of the country as a whole within their portfolios. The stress of lockdown showed clearly that if there is no common thread for good governance, and partisan interests get precedence, then governance organs merely get hijacked at the in- infighting stage and the people are left to deal with the bloody wounds of the country.

  • Greg Mills is saying it is not just the politicians. The electorate has to hold their politicians to account. As he says identity politics remove any constraints from the politicians. I always thought that the Agang policy was to build an informed electorate.