NHI blues

Reforming public health systems is hard. Perhaps it is little wonder that government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) proposals have generated so much confusion and alarm.

By playing with people’s emotions, however, the big political parties are sabotaging much-needed public deliberation about the future of health care.

The DA sounds very much like a party funded by the private health-care industry. Its reflex has been to “protect” the 15% with private care against the 85% without — and then to wonder why it commands the support of so few potential voters.

Meanwhile, health costs for its base are rising rapidly, alongside shrinking benefits. The DA seems to have forgotten that information asymmetries in the health sector result in waste, spiralling health-care costs and higher premiums.

If debate is to be productive we can all learn from a new international consensus about health care. As the pro-market Economist magazine famously observed in April 2018: “Universal health care, worldwide, is within reach: the case for it is a powerful one — including in poor countries.”

We have always known that poor health care undermines education. Now economists have confirmed that improved health encourages entrepreneurship, higher worker productivity and faster economic growth.

There are plenty of real and contemporary reform cases to tap for lessons. According to The Economist, Thailand’s universal programme, spending $220 per person per year, produces health outcomes on a par with those of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) zone. Chile and Costa Rica enjoy life expectancy of about the same as the US on an eighth of the expenditure.

However, it is necessary to concede openly that there will be losers and to affirm that this is not a matter for glee. Public health insurance requires cross-subsidies, and healthy, richer and younger people must be forced to pay through general taxation or mandatory insurance. Rich urban health professionals will have to work more productively for less.

This will not result in any fantasy world of equality of treatment — and not just because politicians and senior public servants will continue to enjoy access to medical schemes that provide the best possible treatment at public expense.

Any revised health-care system, whether supposedly “universal” or not, will continue to favour the middle classes and urban citizens. The key will be to provide an ever-wider range of services to the population as a whole in a relentless and cost-effective programme of change.

Then president Jacob Zuma sensibly pledged in 2009 that NHI would be introduced in “a phased and incremental manner”. NHI, of course, cannot be purely incremental — it requires major structural change. But its initial thrust should be to ensure universal coverage for a relatively narrow range of benefits.

Basic problems of mismanagement and corruption, moreover, will not dissipate as a result of NHI. As many observers have noted, the current proposals are likely to invite more of both.

The government cannot afford to allow the current combination of public confusion and fear to persist, problems made worse by secretive policymaking and the ANC’s ludicrous moral self-righteousness about this issue.

The DA has drawn its own ill-advised battle lines, and the heavy artillery of the insurance and health provider sectors will protect its flanks.

Under a hard-headed and astute health minister, the public deserves both reason and humility from the government. After all, the ANC is the party that brought us a great emotion-fuelled HIV/Aids debacle. Instead, the ANC has doubled down on its approach that NHI is a moral crusade. Since the government has set up an NHI “war room”, it is safe to assume that it thinks it is engaged in a war — and perhaps not just against capitalist health providers.

Since the rise of the EFF, the ANC has started to treat squealing and panic among middle-class whites as an accomplishment in itself, rather than as an unfortunate side-effect of necessary policy change. On such a battlefield, costly and counterproductive outcomes for both sides are likely to be the result.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Presidential appointments

Cyril Ramaphosa speaks after taking the oath of office at his inauguration as South African president at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa May 25, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Cyril Ramaphosa speaks after taking the oath of office at his inauguration as South African president at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa May 25, 2019. Picture: REUTERS / SIPHIWE SIBEKO

In the national and provincial elections in early 2019, many ANC voters believed they were delivering a “mandate” to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ANC had little option but to place corruption at the centre of its campaign. Continuing the narrative that helped Ramaphosa to secure the ANC presidency in December 2017, he was portrayed as the leader of the “Good ANC”. This grouping, whose boundaries and membership remained uncertain, was ostensibly determined to end the rot left by the “Bad ANC” of the Jacob Zuma years.

The presence of so many members of the Bad ANC on party candidate lists was audaciously incorporated into the ANC’s campaign narrative. Finding itself in the electoral last-chance saloon, the ANC proved that a party really can campaign against itself and win. It is unsurprising, therefore, that public attention has been focused on Ramaphosa’s promised clean-up. At the centre of his difficulties has been his use of presidential powers of appointment.

In 2018, before he had secured his ostensible mandate, he moved very slowly to appoint new heads of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the police and intelligence institutions. Ramaphosa was careful to justify his decisions using commissions of inquiry (SA Revenue Service), high-level panels (intelligence) and ad hoc appointment structures (NPA).

In cabinet, despite widespread predictions that he would be obliged to find room for the likes of Nomvula Mokonyane, Supra Mahumapelo and Mosebenzi Zwane, Ramaphosa banished such figures to the outermost margins of political power: the parliamentary committee system. Why then does Ramaphosa so often seem to be in office, but not really in power?

One problem is that the Good ANC versus Bad ANC narrative has outlived its campaign origins. The deeply enfeebled remnants of the Zuma clique are scarcely engaged in a fightback, but they are waging a war of attrition to make the costs of their prosecution on charges of corruption politically prohibitive. Some Zuma factionalists enjoy the shelter of entrenched offices that are rightly designed to protect their incumbents against easy eviction, notably the secretary generalship of the ANC and the office of the public protector.

There is a deeper concern that Ramaphosa is a reforming president without a central reforming team. Who are the key figures who can elaborate Ramaphosa’s reform strategy in the presidency itself, given apparent weaknesses at the centre? Equally importantly, where are the enforcers who can instil fear of consequences in those who obstruct or even ridicule him? Ramaphosa’s deliberative approach to appointments is a complement to his natural caution. In the absence of loyalty in today’s ANC, he will need also to harness fear.

On occasion, it seems Ramaphosa is not making speedy and appropriate appointments because he is not really clear what he is trying to accomplish. The botched and belated announcements about Eskom’s chief restructuing officer and interim CEO this week have been a case in point. It remains unclear what the incumbents’ roles will be, how long they will be in place, who they will report to and — most importantly — what end-point Ramaphosa has in mind when it comes to the Eskom restructuring as a whole.

The appointment situation is entirely recoverable. Presidential power in SA’s parliamentary system tends to be cumulative rather than being built upon an electoral mandate. As Ramaphosa’s appointments spread gradually across the system of government, his authority will grow. There may be a positive lesson in Ramaphosa’s re-appointment of Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago to a second five-year term, announced in July. The presidency simultaneously announced the names of two fresh deputy governors, who started work on Thursday.

These appointments were all made easier by Ramaphosa’s earlier decision to retain Tito Mboweni as his finance minister. Before Ramaphosa made his announcement, meanwhile, social media was full of chatter about monetary policy hawks, quantitative easing and Reserve Bank mandates. Once the state president imposed his authority and made his decision about Kganyago clear, the cacophony quickly fell silent.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Zuma’s poisoned liver

Former president Jacob Zuma’s appearances at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture have left many observers bemused.

Citizens who want to understand where Zuma was heading with his rambling testimony should consult a book by the former gangster turned “entrepreneur”, Gayton McKenzie, entitled Kill Zuma By Any Means Necessary.

This fascinating work was launched about a week before the Nasrec conference of the ANC in December 2017. It was obviously intended to derail Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the presidency.

The lurid title, McKenzie claimed, was drawn from a file he says was first opened by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the late 1980s. It transpires that the CIA does not after all use euphemisms like “terminate with extreme prejudice” to refer to extrajudicial killings.

McKenzie’s Kill Zuma is scarcely the first use of fabricated sources to protect Zuma. It is, however, striking in its breathtaking scope.

The “author” claimed in a television interview with the ANN7 network that the documents on which his book were based were passed to him by a foreign source. He did not specify if the source was an international intelligence operative, a travelling SA politician or an international reputation management organisation such as Bell Pottinger.

McKenzie’s narrative parallels much of Zuma’s storyline on Monday. In one chapter, entitled “Operation Scrum”, he rehashes the tale of Zuma and Thabo Mbeki’s meeting with National Intelligence Service (NIS) agents Mike Louw and Maritz Spaarwater in Lucerne in September 1989.

The upshot of that meeting, according to McKenzie, was a decision by then president FW de Klerk that Mbeki and Zuma were dangerously radical! “A comprehensive and top-secret operation was to be launched to ensure that both men would not emerge as players during the negotiation process.” Operation Scrum was born.

McKenzie notes that “the rich Afrikaners in the room, especially the Rupert family, were particularly worried about their wine farms, which occupy some of the most scenic and productive land in the world”. Military Intelligence “remained the lead” in this grape-protection operation but they sought support “from America’s CIA, Britain’s MI6 and Israel’s Mossad in a plan that ultimately spanned three continents”.

Zuma found out about all this when he returned to SA from exile and was passed the file entitled “Kill Zuma By Any Means Necessary”, which fortunately had a CIA logo on it. This “prepared him to take extra precautions, which is probably among the reasons he is still alive today”.

Protecting vineyards and removing Zuma were not the only alleged objectives of Operation Scrum. It was also tasked with rigging Codesa, dismantling SA’s nuclear weapons stockpile, shredding incriminating documents and deploying “infiltrators” to positions of authority.

McKenzie claims that “Chris Hani had a similar file” to Zuma’s, and he was soon dispatched by violence. “As for Jacob Zuma,” McKenzie notes, moving to his central theme, “he would not need to be shot to be removed from the picture. In his case, all that was required was a man named Cyril Ramaphosa.”

In an interweaving of fact and fiction that would have made Bell Pottinger proud, Ramaphosa is presented as merely “an apparent champion of the working class”. “In Ramaphosa”, McKenzie claims, “white capital had their perfect weapon.”

McKenzie is a comic genius, albeit unintentionally so. In one hilarious scene, an unidentified member of the ANC’s top six (guess who!) tries to persuade Zuma to eat a dish of poisoned liver. Zuma is saved by Jesse Duarte, who rushes to the Luthuli House kitchens and discovers that the chef had not cooked liver that day.

Zuma’s Zondo commission “revelations” about MK veteran Gen Siphiwe Nyanda and former mineral resources minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi were evidently a desperate man’s attempt to threaten others.

The frankly ludicrous claims about Nyanda are prefigured in McKenzie’s book. Perhaps Zuma has been reading the volume to assist him with his ailing memory. If so, his remarks at the commission were intended as a warning signal to Ramaphosa: be careful or you will be next.


• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town

Avoid presidential elections

The contest for the leadership of the UK’s Conservative Party has proved controversial — and not just because of the alarming cast of characters involved. A relatively small number of activists from just one political party will shortly decide who will become the next prime minister of their country. The skewed nature of the internal party electorate — relatively elderly, anti-European, and penetrated by hard right elements — is dragging political argument dramatically to the right and increasing the prospects of a disorderly Brexit.

In SA, many citizens also believe the people as a whole should take part in the election of their country’s leader. In their view, citizens could grant President Cyril Ramaphosa the mandate and authority the ANC supposedly denies him. The reality, however, is almost certainly otherwise. A cursory survey of the world’s current national leaders reveals a frightening array of populists with “personal mandates”. In the world’s richest country, a dangerous buffoon is on course for a second four-year term.

It is true that Indians have just returned a Hindu nationalist party with a strongman leader — and theirs is a parliamentary system. But SA has avoided the worst excesses of contemporary global politics in large measure as a result of its avoidance of direct presidential elections.

A presidential system — one in which the people directly elect the president — superficially promises accountability and “strong government”. In a properly functioning presidential system, however, there is a fierce separation of powers, with a separately elected legislature that shares power. This can result in gridlock between branches, or in a desperate party fragmentation, which forces a president to buy his way to legislative compliance.

Worse still, many presidents use their personal mandates to override checks and balances, often stoking their support with racial, ethnic, or nationalist appeals to “the people”. Where parliamentary systems in postcolonial Africa have adopted direct presidential elections, for example in Zambia and Kenya, hard authoritarian presidencies have invariably followed.

The organic link between parliament and the executive is the governing party — here the ANC — and this certainly brings some problems with it. MPs suffer tight party discipline and parliamentary oversight committees are mostly neutered. The party leader, who automatically becomes president, is rarely obstructed — or really even interrogated — by parliament. Moreover, because SA’s head of government is also head of state, he can draw on a well of national symbolism and authority.

The problem with Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma was not that they lacked a personal mandate to lead, and so lacked power. Indeed, they accumulated power at an alarming rate, and both were reticent to relinquish it when their terms drew to a close.

Yet Mbeki and Zuma were both dispatched by their own party, with the implicit threat of a motion of no confidence sufficient to bring about their resignations. This is the beauty, not the curse, of a parliamentary system.

The media refrain about Ramaphosa’s weakness is overdone. First, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was certain to defeat his challenge at Nasrec. Then Zuma was sure to serve out his full term as state president. As the national and provincial elections drew near, Ramaphosa was reportedly vulnerable to a postelection recall.

The new president, we were told, could never appoint his own cabinet: the ANC would force him to retain Zuma-era relics, such as Malusi Gigaba, Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini. And the midterm national general council would anyway see to his ousting.

This week we have even been enjoined to fear the elevation of Supra Mahumapelo to the lofty position of chair of parliament’s portfolio committee on tourism. All this amid a media rumpus about the hitherto completely ignored position of “chair of chairs”. Whoever knew that the incumbent, Cedric Frolick, was such a towering force in the land?

The resignations of so many of the Zuma undead from parliament reflects the truth that in a parliamentary system the National Assembly is not really a site of power and opportunity. Mahumapelo’s new appointment is a personal humiliation rather than a threat.


• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Cabinet is likely to veer left

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet reshuffle has been widely greeted as “balanced”. The relatively sanguine assessment from analysts, however, may underestimate the possibility of a leftward shift in policy over the medium term.

Several factors have distorted analysts’ perceptions. Disproportionate attention has been focused on the fate of a small number of Zuma-era malfeasants. Many observers believed Ramaphosa would be forced to reappoint ministers such as Malusi Gigaba, Bathabile Dlamini and Nomvula Mokonyane to the cabinet because they featured high on ANC candidate lists. The fact that Ramaphosa swept them aside was a step forward, but only starting from a position of low expectations.

The “good ANC” versus “bad ANC” narrative that was central to the movement’s election campaign continues to shape analysts’ expectations. Theuns Eloff, chair of the FW de Klerk Foundation’s board of advisers, calculated in this spirit that only five out of 28 cabinet ministers “are known Zuma supporters … this implies that Ramaphosa has more than 80% of his cabinet not in opposition to him or his plans”. This rather depends on what his plans may be.

The rumpus over Pravin Gordhan’s reappointment to cabinet was overdone. His retention scarcely demonstrated the “firm hand” some observers discerned. Ramaphosa’s reappointment of the market-friendly Tito Mboweni as finance minister at the same time gave cabinet a misleading appearance of ideological balance.

In reality there is a growing concentration of leftist actors in economic cluster portfolios. Trade union and SACP-sponsored leaders now head three consolidated super-ministries that oversee more than one large department.

Ebrahim Patel is minister of a beefed-up department of trade & industry; Gwede Mantashe, former SACP chair, now rules the domains of energy & mineral resources; and Thulas Nxesi, creator of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and a SACP central committee member, is minister of the conjoined departments of employment & labour. An SACP intellectual, David Masondo, has been appointed deputy minister of finance, and he could well be destined for the top job.

The furore this week over ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s announcement of ostensible changes to the mandate and activities of the SA Reserve Bank was instructive about the fragile balance in Ramaphosa’s cabinet.

On the national executive committee there remains potential for alliances of convenience between the left and the significant enrichment contingent returned at Nasrec. This alliance has previously brought initiatives such as a parastatal-driven developmental state. Both groups have been unified in their castigation of the “neoliberal” Treasury.

Now the shared preoccupations of this unholy alliance seem to be the defanging of the central bank and the reintroduction of prescribed assets. The response to Magashule’s rambling announcement on Tuesday was rapid. Enoch Godongwana, chair of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, reassured nervous investors that no change was anticipated. Finance minister Tito Mboweni weighed in that the government alone sets the mandate for the Reserve Bank and “there is no quantitative easing thing here”. The following day, Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago added that quantitative easing was not an appropriate response to current economic conditions in SA.

What links these three bastions of common sense with the redoubtable Gordhan at public enterprises? They may all be on their way out. Godongwana has long signalled his intention to step down. Rumours that he might play a major role in Ramaphosa’s presidency have so far come to nothing. Kganyago is reaching the end of his term, and it is unclear if he will be reappointed. Mboweni may not serve in office for more than a year or 18 months, and Gordhan has likewise indicated a reticence to remain in office for long.

Ramaphosa doubtless intends to make major changes to the society of which he is now president. However, in a political universe from which Mboweni, Kganyago and Godongwana have departed — and perhaps with finance minister Masondo at the helm — the prospects of major state-centred policy experiments are likely to increase.


• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Ramaphosa’s precommitment strategy

Conventional wisdom suggests that a sensible politician will not tie his own hands. How often have we watched a political leader twisting and turning to avoid making a commitment to which he can later be held? If politics is the art of the possible, why shrink the boundaries of possibility in advance?

In the recent past, however, President Cyril Ramaphosa has deliberately circumscribed his own future freedom of choice. This apparently curious strategy has now begun to pay political dividends.

First, in the campaign for the ANC presidency, Ramaphosa ran a respectful race against his adversary, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. He refused to campaign on the basis of her weaknesses, or the problematic relationship she was widely assumed to have retained with then state president Jacob Zuma. In retrospect, we can see how easily bridges might have been burned if Ramaphosa had exploited the obvious weaknesses in Dlamini-Zuma’s record.

Ramaphosa’s past restraint has enabled him to enjoy a positive relationship with Dlamini-Zuma today. This has undercut claims that the ANC would inevitably split over the December Nasrec outcome. Ramaphosa also enjoys a high degree of flexibility when it comes to the appointment of a deputy state president in the absence of the expected nominee, David Mabuza.

In a second precommitment, Ramaphosa embraced the controversial ANC resolution at Nasrec in support of expropriation without compensation. There were plenty of good reasons to drag his heels or to equivocate, among them proliferating land invasions and nervous international investors.

By unfailingly supporting an explicit right on the part of the state to effect expropriation of land without compensation, Ramaphosa went into national elections undercutting the EFF’s more radical plans to nationalise all SA land. Now the president can manage changes to government policy in a less politically charged environment.

Third, Ramaphosa committed himself last February to reduce the size of the cabinet and undertake a streamlining of the machinery of government. At the time this appeared to be an eccentric decision. After all, as Jacob Zuma demonstrated so amply, adding additional cabinet members and deputy ministers provides a convenient way of dispensing patronage to potential adversaries and buying off discontent.

Now that the election is won, however, Ramaphosa’s precommitment has suddenly become a powerful weapon to wield against his adversaries. Rather than being faced with a tortuous set of negotiations about who is to sit on which chairs around a very large cabinet table, Ramaphosa has the perfect pretext to remove politically inconvenient comrades altogether. Given the strength of his promise to downsize, indeed, he is more or less obliged to undertake a drastic cull.

The binding character of this obligation has now encouraged a number of problematic senior comrades – Malusi Gigaba, Nomvula Mokonyane and Baleka Mbete among them – to jump ship in advance of what had become their almost inevitable exclusion.

Finally, Ramaphosa placed corruption in his own party at the centre of the election campaign. Talking tough about the issue, Ramaphosa repeatedly pledged that action would be taken, and that misdemeanours would not be swept under the carpet.

Continuing a narrative that helped him narrowly secure the ANC presidency in December 2017, Ramaphosa presented himself as the leader of the “good ANC”, intent on uprooting the “bad ANC” that had taken charge in the Zuma years.

Given the absence of any early progress in corruption investigations, and the presence in government of many of those implicated, Ramaphosa was asking voters to take a big gamble on him – and on the ANC. It is in the nature of his precommitment to reform that he simply cannot shift towards politically expedient cabinet appointments over the course of this weekend.

The strategy of binding oneself in the future is counterintuitive for most politicians, and they have often viewed Ramaphosa’s precommitments as strategic blunders. However, as every good constitutional negotiator knows, appropriate precommitments can sometimes be the very essence of political power.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Who was behind Ramaphosa’s rise?

Cyril Ramaphosa’s rise to the deputy presidency of the ANC in 2012 was a surprise, even to many people who knew him well. The immediate circumstances in which he was elected made it even more surprising.

On August 16 2012, in the mining area of Marikana, police units gunned down 34 miners, many, perhaps most, in cold blood. As a major shareholder in Lonmin and a director, Ramaphosa was inextricably tied to these terrible events.

Many South Africans understandably assumed Ramaphosa’s political career was over. However, just four months later he was elected deputy president of the ANC at the movement’s 53rd national congress, held in Mangaung in December 2012.

Jacob Zuma’s campaign managers in 2012 faced real problems finding a suitable “top six” slate for the conference. Zuma’s best option was to retain his current deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, but Motlanthe refused to play ball. He expressed his disdain for the direction Zuma was taking the ANC and the country.

Motlanthe refrained from launching an open campaign for the presidency, and he also did not decisively rebut Zuma’s advances. His strategy left the Zuma camp bemused. In March 2012, nine months before the elective conference, the Sunday Times ran a story suggesting that Zuma wanted Motlanthe as his deputy — but only if Motlanthe agreed not to challenge him for the presidency.

Zuma’s lieutenants were also keen to establish greater market credibility. It was safe to assume Ramaphosa’s arrival would reverse some of the deterioration in investor sentiment. Ramaphosa could also potentially address some of the ANC’s wider electoral troubles. Luthuli House strategists felt the ANC would be damaged in the 2014 elections if it had Zuma as its sole figurehead.

One other factor, however, towers above all these: Ramaphosa’s prospects of eventually succeeding Zuma seemed to be exceptionally slight. It would be wrong to say he had absolutely no constituency, but he did not possess an organised network in the provinces to challenge for the succession.

Recall that Thabo Mbeki probably chose Zuma to be his deputy because he thought he could never become his successor. Mbeki’s first preference was apparently Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Subsequent events proved Mbeki wrong: Zuma was not so easy to sweep aside after all.

What, then, about Marikana? Here there is an apparent twist of history. In Zuma’s eyes, the shadow of Marikana made the case for Ramaphosa stronger. A presidential commission of inquiry appointed by Zuma, the Farlam commission, was already interrogating Ramaphosa’s role in those tragic events. It is easy to see how Zuma could use such an investigation to undermine his deputy at a time of his choosing. Such were the perverse implications of the Marikana massacre: by rendering Ramaphosa more deeply vulnerable, it helped bring about his rise.

Let us return again to Motlanthe. He was not blind to the overwhelming evidence that he could not win the presidency at Mangaung. By resisting calls to accept Zuma’s offer to stay on, but keeping channels of communication open, Motlanthe steered Zuma into the trap of replacing him with Ramaphosa.

Readers may recall a photo of Motlanthe taken by Greg Marinovich at the Mangaung conference, after Zuma had defeated Motlanthe and Ramaphosa had been elected as his deputy.

Motlanthe gave a victory sign. An anonymous informant — a longstanding member of the party’s national executive committee — told me he asked Motlanthe in 2007 why he was not challenging for the ANC presidency. Motlanthe said another leader — Ramaphosa — was “coming up”.

In his farewell address to parliament in 2014, Motlanthe said that “at some point, serving leadership must give way so that new blood, fired up with life-changing ideas, can take society to a higher level of development”. He quoted HG Wells’s advice that leaders’ ashes “should not choke the fire they have lit”. Motlanthe continued: “I would not let my ashes choke the verdant future that is beginning to assume some discernible outlines on the horizon.”

There is little doubt that Ramaphosa played a “long game” with regard to the ANC presidency. My suspicion is that his ambition was so deep and relentless that he was always trying to discern a route to the summit. But in politics you need others to work alongside you. Motlanthe and Mantashe were both vital parts of the collective that brought about Ramaphosa’s rise.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town. This column draws on his latest book: Cyril Ramaphosa: The Road to Presidential Power.

Magashule has to go

President Cyril Ramaphosa had a good election campaign. Whatever the final outcome of the national and provincial polls, he ran well ahead of his party in every credible opinion survey. Nobody can doubt the contribution that he has made to the ANC’s victory margin.

While he waits along with the rest of us for the final results to be announced, he is almost certainly wrestling with major decisions on two fronts. The first broad front concerns government. In February, soon after he assumed office as president of the country, he made a promise to reduce the size of the cabinet and to restructure central government departments. This was a substantial and high-profile commitment and he cannot now easily backtrack on it.

Last week, the ANC reiterated as a matter of fact that section 84 of the constitution gives the president a “prerogative to appoint and dismiss ministers … the issue of the cabinet is solely a presidency matter”.

Ramaphosa also told the party’s Siyanqoba rally at Ellis Park last weekend that cadres found guilty of corruption would not form part of his government. While he may yet insist on waiting for the Zondo commission to conclude its meandering deliberations, the promised downsizing provides him with a political pretext for pre-emptive removals.

An intriguing suggestion recently circulating has been that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma might be appointed deputy president. This would mend Nasrec divisions, restore gender balance and bring KwaZulu-Natal back into the top tier of leadership. It would also reiterate the futility of the “fightback” allegedly being undertaken by an increasingly isolated Ace Magashule. Dlamini-Zuma herself has confirmed in a memorable soundbite that, “if I’m asked to sweep the floor, I’ll sweep it very clean – whatever I’m asked to do I will do”.

Another Nasrec hopeful, Zweli Mkhize, would be an interesting prospect for the finance department if Tito Mboweni cannot be prevailed upon to remain. He could be supported by former Gauteng finance MEC Barbara Creecy, who would make an admirable deputy.

We might have to wait a little longer for Ramaphosa’s promised central government restructuring. The president has no doubt discovered that state reform has a paradoxical aspect: guidance about how to make the public service more effective and efficient tends to come from ineffective and inefficient sources, such as the department of public service and administration.

When reform comes, it will probably leave the Treasury untouched and rationalise the economy cluster, which has become a mish-mash of competing ministers, policies, and ideologies. Meanwhile, Ramaphosa is sure to beef up the presidency itself, bolstering the planning machinery, developing new policy research capacity and introducing a unit to unblock obstacles to delivery.

The president also has to act on a second broad front, where matters are equally urgent: he has to stabilise the ANC itself. On his way to vote on Wednesday, former president Kgalema Motlanthe told reporters the ANC leadership “is well aware that this is the last chance. Therefore I have no doubt in my mind that soon after the elections they will attend to all the weaknesses in the party.”

The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) has one immediate decision to make, and that is how to tackle the problem posed by its own secretary-general, Ace Magashule. His long history of procedural manipulation in his former province, Free State, suggests he is more than fully complicit in the kind of abuses that the secretary-general needs to correct.

Readers of Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State have waited with bated breath for Magashule to supplement book-burning with legal action. The fact that Magashule’s attack-lawyers have remained in their kennels suggests the secretary-general will sooner or later come to the attention of the criminal justice system.

The ANC will pay a great price in terms of lost credibility if Magashule has to be painfully and embarrassingly removed at a later and less politically convenient time. The NEC therefore has a difficult but inescapable decision to take: it must find a way to remove Magashule now.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Climate resilience

The death and devastation in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape this week have focused minds on SA’s limited preparedness for future climate-related emergencies.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and senior ministers rushed to comfort distraught communities and expressed their sympathy for those affected. The Treasury released emergency relief funds. Co-operative governance minister Zweli Mkhize announced the deployment of a task team to assess the damage caused to roads, bridges and other public infrastructure.

Critics’ voices have been muted, mostly bewailing the underfunding of disaster management agencies and the limited capacity of municipalities to deal with the unexpected challenges they confronted. It is surely time, however, for the government to move away from its traditional dependency on post-impact rescue, recovery and reconstruction interventions.

The president commented that “loss of life is never easy, especially when so unexpected”. This week’s specific events were not predicted, it is true, but growing vulnerability to such climate events is hardly unexpected. Post-impact disaster response is no longer enough. A more comprehensive and proactive approach could reduce the risks posed by climate disasters using prior readiness and mitigation measures.

A good start was made with the national climate change response white paper in 2011. The department of environmental affairs sponsored research into longer-term “adaption scenarios”. Such work tries to capture how the climate is likely to change and explores the impacts such changes might have on human settlements, economic activity and food security. Researchers have also explored the potential incidence of climate emergencies caused by floods, storms and droughts.

This research has been in some respects inconclusive. As climatic conditions have become increasingly variable, it has proved very difficult to predict weather patterns and abnormalities. It has been harder still to use historical data or model-based projections to predict specific impacts in such a way that local disaster relief agencies might plan for them.

There is growing interest among practitioners in “climate resilience” approaches, which emphasise the importance of broader preventative actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change events before they have taken place.

Although one cannot protect every bridge against storm damage, a road system can be designed so that unanticipated weather events are less likely to cut off whole communities from access. Water pipelines can be designed with resilience built in, so damage to one element of the system does not shut down household supplies altogether.

Municipal zoning ordinances can in principle be used to prevent people from building houses on the banks of rivers. Where this does not work, early warning systems need to be in place, so that weather service predictions are translated into urgent warnings for vulnerable households to leave.

For such preventative actions to work, communities and public institutions need to be involved in them. Parents and schools alike, for example, need to know what actions to take to keep children out of harm’s way in the event of a severe weather event.

SA is blessed with a number of energetic environmental activists, in universities, civil society organisations and the government. But one recent colloquium concluded that “knowledge generation and learning exchanges are currently taking place in … nodes of knowledge and sharing that often involve the same people”.

The department of environmental affairs, meanwhile, has notoriously limited political power. It has always been viewed as a junior partner by larger departments, whose clients have spewed out pollution largely unchecked. Its current climate adaption strategy depends entirely on the compliance — and the budgets — of other national government departments, and those of municipalities. All of these actors have other priorities. This means climate change resilience has been integrated only nominally into national development planning.

Two decades ago, during the HIV/Aids policy debacle, South Africans learned by painful experience that the government does not always cope well with science. Sometimes a single line department, such as the department of environmental affairs or the department of health, simply cannot solve a wider national challenge alone. Climate change is just as important and just as complex as HIV/Aids policy. It too needs to be driven from the presidency.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

Alex Shutdown

The ANC used to have a state-of-the-art campaign machine. It was professional, made sensible use of research and advertising,  and carefully targeted its appeals to voters.

This week, however, the pressure began to tell. In two key provinces, Western Cape and Gauteng, the ANC has been wracked by tantalising hopes and terrible fears. These provinces represent the future of the country, with their young and growing populations and their vibrant economic activity.

As usual, the ANC’s campaign head, Fikile Mbalula, has rallied prominent celebrities. Actress and model Minnie Dlamini; rapper AKA; seductive lyricist Chomee; hunky actor Ntokozo Dlamini; and celebrity writer and philosopher Peter Bruce: all have rallied to the ANC’s cause.

The ANC’s internal polls, however, suggest the movement is still in danger. It has responded with an uncharacteristic throw of the dice: by instigating protests against the DA-led city governments in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Cape Town.

The “Alex shutdown”, launched more than a week ago, has involved an uneven and mostly unimpressive distribution of barricades, symbolic violence, and political verbiage.

At the centre of the “shutdown” has been a call for DA mayor Herman Mashaba to come to Alex and atone for his alleged sins. Given that there is obviously a plan to hound him out of the township — to “chase him away with his tail between his legs” — he has so far wisely declined the invitation.

On Tuesday, provincial premier David Makhura attended a meeting in Alex with “community leaders” (ANC cronies). He emerged to lambaste the mayor. Busloads of activists were meanwhile laid on in the township to celebrate Thursday’s programme of inauthentic community engagements with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Tshwane shutdown that began earlier this week, and the Khayelitsha shutdown that is currently underway, are likewise based on demands that DA mayors must “account to the community” for their misdemeanours.

Sentimental political activists will find it almost sweet that ANC leaders still think their party is a popular movement of the masses. Unfortunately for the ANC’s top leaders — who must have signed off on the shutdown — the whole fiasco has been marked by extraordinary incompetence. The ANC’s fingerprint on events has been so obvious that no citizen more sentient than a potato could view these protests as spontaneous or organic.

A large number of fake Twitter accounts were created to spread prepared messages about the Alex shutdown. Does the ANC not even have technologically competent people to cover its tracks? Why choose such implausible protest messages? Are “high water bills” really the key political issue in Khayelitsha?

The ANC and DA alike have been toying with “xenophobia” in recent weeks. This is the criminal targeting of poor black people from other countries — and often from the northern provinces of SA — for intimidation, extortion and violence. So concerned was the ANC that its popular rebellion would fail in Alex, that it mobilised xenophobia as the central issue in the shutdown. This is beyond pitiful.

The ANC also failed to anticipate voters’ backlash against being treated like imbeciles. Social media attention understandably turned to the disappearance of the R1.3bn dedicated to the Alex Renewal Project more than a decade ago.

The ANC hoped to exploit a general confusion with regard to the powers and responsibilities of cities, provinces, and national government departments. But most citizens know mayors do not exercise exclusive control over housing, education, and health programmes.

The shutdown nonsense has drawn attention to the failure of the ANC at national and provincial levels to support city projects in DA-run councils.

Worst of all, the liberation movement has been campaigning on the potential change promised by reputable leaders such as Ramaphosa and Makhura. They represent the “good ANC” that is supposedly going to rescue us from the “bad ANC” we have recently experienced.

But these squeaky clean politicians have now played leading roles in a poorly scripted campaign drama that has been based on lies, the terrorisation of foreigners, and the exploitation of the misconceptions of the poor.

This is not a good campaign strategy.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.