A perfect platform
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.