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OPINION: Cyril Ramaphosa’s de-emphasis of social welfare

BUSINESS LIVE / 16 JANUARY 2018 - 10:40 / MOHAMED MOTALA

The new ANC president focused on how government and business efficiency could be improved, but ignored a role civil society could play.

The ANC’s newly appointed national executive committee (NEC) released its January 8 statement last week. The statement formed the basis of a speech delivered at the party’s 106th birthday celebration in East London at the weekend by its new president Cyril Ramaphosa.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC January 8 statement celebrations.

Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

Given that it was a birthday speech being delivered to thousands of ANC supporters in a festive mood, it is unsurprising that Ramaphosa did not read the NEC’s January 8 statement verbatim.

What was intriguing about his delivery, however, were the elements of the statement that he glossed over and omitted. These omissions palpably reveal his biases.

The ANC’s January 8 statement is comprehensive covering growth, development and redistribution. It specifically highlights radical economic transformation, land redistribution without compensation, free higher education and black economic empowerment as important areas for intervention. It identifies mechanisms to accelerate the realisation of these objectives. But, in delivering his speech, Ramaphosa watered down some of the more fundamental demands of the NEC’s statement by emphasising gradual realisation.

He chose to talk more about investment, growth, facilitating cleaner business with government and more competitive enterprise development, paying a great deal of attention to how government and business efficiency could be improved, while ignoring a role for other stakeholders, notably civil society.

The NEC’s statement actually talks about "strengthening organs of civil society, including street committees and other community-based organisations, understanding that they provide the means through which people can participate fully in changing their lives for the better". The party seems to understand that working with civil society and communities gives meaning to democracies that seek to give their citizens agency. The same cannot be said about their president.

Ramaphosa’s failure to reference civil society, as featured in the NEC’s statement, is a stark indicator of his bias. It exposes him as someone who needs to get back in touch with the mass based organisations and constituencies he once served as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and as a leading personality in the mass democratic movement against apartheid and now, as the president of the ANC.

Poorer South Africans should be concerned that the change of guard in the ANC is not a development that signals significant change in their lives.

It is of huge concern that Ramaphosa glossed over welfare and social security issues that directly touch the lives of the constituency the ANC claims to serve. These are also areas that civil society works in.

For example, Ramaphosa failed to highlight the NEC’s emphasis on health interventions, such as HIV, cancer, lifestyle choices (smoking, alcohol and sugar consumption) and listeriosis in its January 8 statement. These have become diseases of the poor, further highlighting the systemic failure of the governing party to provide secure and safe shelter and sanitation to large numbers of South Africans.

Of most concern is the ANC’s neglect of the National Health Initiative (NHI), both in its January 8 statement and in Ramaphosa’s speech. The NHI is an important intervention that would improve the lives of millions, if implemented properly. It is widely acknowledged as a policy instrument with important redistributive qualities.

The ANC has the opportunity to continue with a narrow interpretation of the Constitution where progressive realisation of access to a decent life means continued poverty, unemployment and increased inequality for a longer time or it can fully harness the noble intent of our Constitution to bring about structural and systemic change that will resolve SA’s crushing inequality with greater urgency.

All in all, party unity was the lodestar of Ramaphosa’s speech. A united and renewed ANC is not a bad thing, but this cannot be an end itself. Hopefully this time sijike izinto (things must turnaround), unity, renewal and service will extend beyond Luthuli House and large corporations.

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LINK : https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/2018-01-16-cyril-ramaphosas-de-emphasis-of-social-welfare/

Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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