A per­fect plat­form

Finweek English Edition - - Cover Story - TROYE LUND troyel@fin­week.co.za

IF CYRIL RAMAPHOSA needed a plat­form from which to re-launch a for­mal po­lit­i­cal ca­reer – if not ul­ti­mately a bid for the pres­i­dency – the Na­tional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion (NPC) is it. The bot­tom line is the NPC isn’t go­ing to come up with any­thing new. In other words, there’s noth­ing out there need­ing to be dis­cov­ered about what needs to be done to get South Africa’s econ­omy to grow at the much talked about and an­tic­i­pated 6%/year.

But what is needed – such as tack­ling SA’s labour unions, con­fronting a lethar­gic pub­lic ser­vice and ac­tu­ally do­ing what it takes to am­plify for­eign in­vest­ment – re­quires some po­lit­i­cally tricky de­ci­sions and fol­low-through.

For that rea­son Pro­fes­sor Robert Schrire, of the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town, says: “The NPC is only go­ing to be as good as its po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tion.” When it comes to po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tion, says Schrire, the min­is­ter in charge of the NPC – Trevor Manuel – is a spent force. As Wits Pro­fes­sor An­thony But­ler notes, Manuel “can no longer be de­scribed as a po­lar­is­ing fig­ure: ev­ery­body now claims to hate him”.

But Ramaphosa, who was ap­pointed to the NPC as Manuel’s deputy, has man­aged to re­tain po­lit­i­cal cred­i­bil­ity and clout. While he’s also a grandee in the ANC’s ex­ec­u­tive ech­e­lons his ku­dos and in­flu­ence ap­pear not to be limited to any par­tic­u­lar fac­tion in SA’s rul­ing party. This means there are a few ways in which you can look at Ramaphosa’s in­clu­sion in the NPC. For ex­am­ple, Ramaphosa could – if Manuel ends up leav­ing Govern­ment – be groomed over the next few months to take over as chair­man. But even if that sce­nario doesn’t ma­te­ri­alise, Ramaphosa is likely to find he en­joys more real in­flu­ence than Manuel on the NPC any­way.

“There will al­ways be a nat­u­ral ten­sion be­tween the min­is­ter in charge of the NPC (Manuel) and the in­de­pen­dent thinkers on the panel. That may make Ramaphosa the real in­flu­ence,” adds Schrire, who says that’s made more pos­si­ble by the fact Ramaphosa is a “su­perb” diplo­mat, build­ing con­sen­sus and steer­ing groups in the way he wants to go.

Ul­ti­mately though, what­ever plays out Ramaphosa’s new role will for­mally rein­tro­duce him to po­lit­i­cal life. All this from a po­si­tion that’s right at the cen­tre of the pres­i­den­tial and State ma­chin­ery.

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