Dawn of a new-era or poisoned chalice?

18 December 2017, a day that South African history books will refer to as arguably the biggest political event since 27 April 1994.

It is too soon to tell whether the story will have a happy or sad ending. In plain sight, it looks a very happy one, which would have been reflected by the market’s reaction. The prospect and announcement of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new president of the African National Congress (ANC) saw the Rand reaching six month highs versus the dollar.

Surely this bodes very well for the economy and one must ask if it could go a long way in helping the nation avoid a double downgrade in April 2018? Indeed it could, which somewhat addresses one of the immediate concerns, however one needs to look at the bigger picture and assess the ANC top six – the key new elected officials - as a whole.

The outcome resulted in a 3/3 split between the Cyril Ramaphosa and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma cabals. The prevailing sentiment across the organisation is that this signifies unity, but does it really? I am not going to question the individual candidates’ credibility. However, in my opinion, Cyril will have his hands full trying to get them to cohesively work together towards the greater good of the nation, never-mind the ANC. The elective conference itself highlighted a few of these possible cracks. There were disputes over the vote count for the Secretary General slot where Ace Magashule narrowly won even after a recount. Has Senzo Mhcunu’s camp accepted this outcome?

On 15 January 2018, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa hinted an early exit for President Jacob Zuma and insisted that whichever way the matter gets addressed Zuma must not get embarrassed. To me, that signifies an individual who has the best interests of the nation at heart. For as long as there are two centers of power with opposing views, there is a strong chance of policy paralysis which would not work in our favor considering the possibility of a double downgrade in April.

On 16 December 2017, President Jacob Zuma went announced free tertiary education. Not so long ago, when the ‘Fees Must Fall’ campaign started, the message from the government was that this is impossible to implement at the moment. So one must also ask, what has changed since then, is this promise genuine and practical to implement? Finance Minister Melusi Gigaba has since made a statement that the cost estimates have been finalized and the plan will be implemented over a period of eight years. Funding details will be announced in next month’s budget speech. Rest assured the world will be tuned in, this could potentially be the most widely anticipated budget speech in democratic South Africa’s history.

Building enough confidence for the ANC to get a downright majority in the 2019 national elections is going to be a massive challenge. Having preached transformation and gender equality, the top six only has one woman and the average age is 60.33 years old. With the average age of the eligible voter significantly decreasing, will the ANC still appeal to the masses?

I had an opportunity to attend a life changing event in 2016 when I was part of the South African group of delegates at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa. A simple yet very powerful statement by the honorable Kofi Annan got my mind racing; “You are never too young to lead”. I looked around in the room and was in awe of not only the greatness I was surrounded by but the age as well. As young South Africans, we need to ask ourselves, “Who are we entrusting with building the future we want to see?” Since then, I look at every conversation with my peers with a different lens and I must say, the youth’s tolerance for incompetence is decreasing significantly and I believe that will be reflected in how they vote.

The youth unemployment rate is amongst the highest in the world, the income inequality gap continues to rise and job creation is as good as stagnant. It is not the wealthiest nation with the happiest citizens and lowest crime rates, but rather those with the lowest levels of income inequality. The Finance Minister recently urged the South African youth to make the most of the state’s Black Industrialists Programme, and come up with innovative ideas rather than chasing tenders or shareholdings at established companies. For this to happen, we need an environment that is conducive for entrepreneurship and an education system that harnesses unconventional ways of thinking and solution finding.

Both corporate and government should be cognizant of the above as it affects them just as much. South Africa is far from the promised-land, but yesterday was yet another display of the maturity of its constitution.

The question remains, is this the dawn of a new-era or has Cyril been handed a poisoned chalice?

Only time will tell. 

Kagisho Masae is a One Young World Ambassador from South Africa working for Investec.