/OPINION: Changing the narrative of the new dawn and corruption in South Africa

OPINION: Changing the narrative of the new dawn and corruption in South Africa

2019-08-21 15:50

Though understandable, the constant discussion about South Africa’s problems risks cementing an image of South Africa as perhaps one of the most corrupt countries in the world, writes Thembinkosi Gcoyi.

The emergence
of the “new dawn” in December 2017 was supposed to be the panacea to
South Africa’s growing economic and social problems. Billed as a new beginning
for the country, its disciples hoped that the narrative of a new dawn would
communicate once and for all that South Africa has turned a corner.

No greater
action could signify the change in direction than the recall of former president
Jacob Zuma in February 2018. This event was billed as the killer move in a
pincer movement designed to squeeze out the bad elements and put South Africa
on a firm path to recovery. It was also the move that was designed to signal to
South Africans and the international community that President Cyril Ramaphosa
and his team would deal a decisive blow to corruption, maladministration and
the general rot that had afflicted South African institutions.

The president took
decisive steps to root out corruption by instituting commissions of inquiry to investigate
wide ranging allegations of corruption and maladministration across the South
African state. These include the Zondo commission, the SARS inquiry, the PIC inquiry
and the Mokgoro inquiry. He also authorised the Special Investigating Unit to
perform investigations into corrupt activities of state-owned entities and a
number of municipalities.

All of these
were decisions not only to deal with corruption, but to also assure South
Africans, investors, ratings agencies and the broader international community
about the business unusual approach of the new government.

Perhaps in a
moment of triumphalism, Ramaphosa declared the nine years under Zuma the “wasted
years”. The jury is out on whether this is a fair categorisation of that period,
though a lot of wrong did happen. In subsequent speeches, the president has
continued to drive home the message about the level of rot in South African
institutions and extolled the virtues of his team to bring a change to this
state of affairs. He has also worked diligently to assure investors that the
South Africa he is in charge of is a different place to that run by his
predecessor. Herein lies the difficulty of messaging.

Though entirely
understandable, in a sense the president and his team have cornered the country
into a problem of credibility with their endless talk of corruption in the
country. Conducting a podcast interview with the CEO of the South African
Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Alan Mukoki, he made the point that the new dawn
leadership may be overstepping the mark in their quest to distance the 6th
democratic administration from the bad decisions of the past – a past which
President Ramaphosa was an integral member of.

understandable, the constant discussion about South Africa’s problems risks
cementing an image of South Africa as perhaps one of the most corrupt countries
in the world. This may even be true. However, it hardly gives confidence to
investors and the broader international community when leaders tailor their
messaging around the maladies of their countries, rather than focusing more of
their efforts towards extolling the opportunities that the economy offers.

The truth, according
to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2018, is that
South Africa is not counted amongst the most corrupt countries in the world. Certainly,
its ranking of 73/180 is highly problematic. However, this is a better outcome
than its Brics peers, with Brazil (105), Russia (138), India (78) and China

Outside Brics,
the country still compares favourably to Turkey (78), Argentina (85) and
Ethiopia (114). Of course, these economies are very different to one another.
Other than being emerging economies, if China still deserves that moniker,
these are widely different and run on differing platforms of governance. The
critical thing to note is that the leaders of these countries are not using
global platforms to highlight how rotten their countries are. Rather, their
messaging is clearly focused on profiling opportunities for investment and
highlighting key reforms taking place.

It may be time
for the president and his team to cool the “South Africa is so bad”
narrative. Every observer has probably gotten the message that a lot went
wrong. Now is the time to focus on what is working and not what does not. Even
better, the president should focus his energy on the major reforms that his
government intends to embark on in the immediate future.

The current
tinkering is clearly not achieving a major impact in bringing investment,
reducing unemployment, reducing poverty and bridging inequality. Until this
happens, South Africans will continue to wonder why the rest of the world takes
a dim view of the country despite the tangible progress being achieved in
turning things around.

– Thembinkosi Gcoyi is the managing director of Frontline Africa Advisory. Follow him on Twitter: @tgcoyi

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