OPINION | Cyril needs to seize the Covid moment

President Cyril Ramaphosa Image: Supplied
The small window for President Cyril Ramaphosa and his finance minister Tito Mboweni to get the economic fundamentals right is fast closing. They have to pull the country back from the brink of economic disaster.

The Covid-19 pandemic and Moody’s downgrade of our status to junk is hitting our ailing economy hard and the time for tough decisions is now or never. Ramaphosa has shown courageous leadership in the face of the pandemic and he needs to carry that over to structural reform across the public and private sectors. His powerful leadership has earned back much of the huge public goodwill he lost during his dithering policy of appeasement to those in his own party who had their own interest and not those of the country at heart.

Mboweni’s “hallelujah” to Ramaphosa’s green-lighting of structural reform is all very well, but he has to now find a way to either win over or ride rough-shod over, those in the ANC and the big unions who have different agendas.

Investors and ratings agencies have repeatedly said they are looking for policy certainty that will move us away from the Jacob Zuma years that were characterised by a political and economic environment where state capture thrived.

Ramaphosa’s job was never going to be easy. He has to turn around a country with appalling service delivery, where the economy is contracting, government debt growing, the rich-poor divide expanding and crime flourishing. Add a devastating pandemic to the mix and it could seem all is lost.

But this is not so. If he uses this time where we face almost certain economic collapse to push through a stable regulatory framework, which would include certainty around the mining charter, better support for agricultural and other exports and certainty around land ownership, he would be making strides in the right direction. He also needs to reduce the size of the government and contain state spending while bringing state-owned enterprises to heel.

If former US president Franklin D Roosevelt could craft his New Deal to aid a quick recovery from the Great Depression, there is no reason Ramaphosa cannot do the same for SA.  Urgently needed public works projects such as those introduced during the New Deal could soak up unemployment while he pushes through financial and other reforms.

If Ramaphosa fails to put this country on better economic track, the post-Covid-19 years are going to be dire.  The ANC needs to unite behind him. Never has there been a more important time to put the national interest first.

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