Going forward, if Ramaphosa acts any less than this to any other crisis facing the country, then he is not a leader worth the title, writes Oliver Dickson.
President Ramaphosa announced a set of very welcome measures and actions to respond to the spread of Covid-19 within our borders and the impact it has and will have on the economy, society and households.
Within a matter of days after declaring a national state of disaster, Ramaphosa demonstrated an incredible amount of depth and agility by extending and expanding the actions and restrictions of the state of disaster response plan.
It is important to, soberly, reflect normatively on these actions.
More than that, for the first time since becoming president, Ramaphosa finally demonstrated what sets him apart from President Jacob Zuma, his ability to consult extensively and build a consensus – even though that should not have been hard given that our entire body politic is in panic mode about the spread and impact of Covid-19.
Having multiple press briefings alongside leaders of opposition parties, leaders of faith-based organisations and the business community, this level of consultation was rarely seen under Jacob Zuma’s administration.
In fact, Jacob Zuma famously lamented about the red rape of democracy and once wished we were a dictatorship where the president had absolute power because that would have allowed him to make easier decisions.
Jacob Zuma also famously enacted executive power and decisions and changes without first extensively consulting with the ANC alliance partners, and all other affected and concerned stakeholders.
Ramaphosa on the other hand seems to welcome all of these things as a key feature of the leadership process.
The fact that Ramaphosa pushed back his address to the nation twice, while a display of a poor communications team, also shows that he takes serious the process of consultation as not a mere formality but a process of substance.
It is not far-fetched to say that Ramaphosa’s administration will be judged by how he handles this crisis, and so far he has been judged positively.
Neither is it far-fetched to say this will determine whether or not Ramaphosa will have a second-term presidency.
Ramaphosa’s measures and actions to ease the economic hit by a national lockdown to flatten the curve included a number of things:
- Getting cash into the hands of bottom middle-class and low earning families through a R500 tax rebate to those earning less than R6 500.
- Freeing up cash for small business to medium businesses through allowing them to hold onto 20% of their pay-as-you-go tax contributions to SARS over the next four months for businesses with a turnover of less than R50 million – benefiting more than 75 000 businesses, getting SARS to pay employment tax incentives to business on a monthly basis instead of bi-annually to boost their liquidity.
- Bringing together a small business “bail-out” fund of R2.7 billion (R1 billion each from the Rupert and Oppenheimer families, a half a billion grant for the Department of Small business Development and an additional R200 million grant for the department of tourism to assist businesses in the tourism space that have been impacted as a result of the travel ban imposed on a number a major markets).
This stimulus package aims to get more money into the hands of households and businesses to keep the economy alive.
The agility demonstrated by Ramaphosa in his reaction to the impact of Covid-19 on households, society and economy is proof that the state machinery has the ability and capacity to respond to the crises faced by the most vulnerable of our society in ways that brings immediate relief.
The fact that it took a global pandemic to get Ramaphosa to demonstrate this level of leadership can only be accounted to one of two things.
He either had no idea how to lead up until now or he had little to no political will to address crises of a similar scale facing the most vulnerable and poverty stricken people of our country.
Ramaphosa knew that a national lockdown would adversely impact small and medium enterprises, so if he were to instate a national lockdown, he knew he would have to offer some sort of relief to small and medium enterprises.
Quite literally, overnight, Ramaphosa was able to scramble together R2.7 billion in relief for small and medium businesses.
If you’re a woman in this country, the prevalence and fear of abuse and rape is as big a threat to your life as the coronavirus is.
Yet, it took two massive shutdown protests over two years of Ramaphosa’s presidency by the women of this country to get Ramaphosa to move his feet by making money and resources available to combat gender-based violence, and even then he only pledged R1 billion rand, a whole R1.7 billion less than what he was able to scramble together – overnight – to “bail out” small businesses.
So given that we now know that Ramaphosa is and can be resourceful in a time of crises, why have we not been receiving this level of action in other times and states of crises like rampant unemployment, war zone level murder rates and crime, hourly rape cases and and a continuous ailing health care system?
A possible answer could be that Ramaphosa never has this level of support both in his party and across the opposition benches, including civil society, trade unions and the business community so therefore he has been able to act swiftly.
However, everybody feels helpless and has left it completely up to him to lead.
Any leader worth a vote would have been able to get such consensus and support across the board during this time.
Despite that, some issues have unwavering consensus, yet Ramaphosa acts slowly, if at all.
What surprised me most from Ramaphosa’s measures in the lockdown action plan was that it took a global crisis two years into his presidency for him to realise that he could actually put measures in place to get a roof over the heads of homeless people in this country.
Surely this should have been obvious at the start of him being Head of State in 2018?
Going forward, if Ramaphosa acts any less than this to any other crisis facing the country, then he is not a leader worth the title.
We now know the depth and agility of the state machinery and the apparatus at the disposal of the executive, we cannot demand any less.
– Oliver Dickson is a political commentator and a talk show host at talk radio 702. Twitter @Oliver_Speaking