Former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel says Cyril Ramaphosa faces a tough job rebuilding the state after the “total disaster” of Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
Mr Manuel was the keynote speaker at the Archbishop Thabo Makgoba Development Trust Public Lecture at the University of the Western Cape, on Wednesday May 16.
“I make no apologies for sharing my view that the Presidency of Jacob Zuma was a total disaster for South Africa,” said Mr Manuel.
“His legacy has left us with the biggest challenge yet since democracy, and these challenges will arise in an ongoing way. One only has to assess the extent of destruction of key state institutions, especially in the criminal justice and state security institutions,” he said.
Mr Manuel said that while President Ramaphosa was determined to reverse the destruction of the state, and with a parliament that had found its voice after being in slumber for nearly a decade, the problems would not disappear.
“Rebuilding the capability of the state is going to prove much more difficult than what it was the first time, because the gift of patience granted by the people since 1994, has been withdrawn; and the state has been corroded by poor governance and maladministration. It will take considerably longer to rebuild than it took to destroy its inner workings,” he said.
Delivering basic services and tackling inequality were compromised by the vast sums of money needed to prop up bankrupted state-owned corporations.
“Already, we have seen that the spending available per capita in both education and health care has fallen quite rapidly. Hospitals are not functioning properly, school feeding programmes in many districts have been discontinued, and we still have children relieving themselves in the veld outside the school because there are no toilets,” said Mr Manuel.
“We have seen incompetent ministers appoint unqualified director-generals, happy that competent and dedicated professional public servants had been driven out.”
Mr Manuel said the president had an exceedingly difficult task.
“His victory was on a slender margin in December, and he has a compromised national executive committee made up of too many individuals who will try and throw concrete into the mechanisms to prevent the wheels of justice from turning. Why? Because they have much to fear and too much to lose in their quest for personal enrichment.”
The solution, in part, lay with a present and conscious leadership, supported by active citizens ready to call for positive change and condemn wrongdoing.
“These facets in combination are what we need, and then a commitment to rebuild the social partners and to make agreements stick. Most importantly, to hold those who serve to account,” said Mr Manuel. “Matters, such as the availability and quality of public services, are not a given, nor is the notion that there will be constant improvements.”
He said there had been a constant decline in quality in South Africa.
“From time to time, there are policy discussions, but then there is very little relation between the policy resolutions adopted and what happens in people’s lives. It would make a difference if there were more open communication, and measurement that is actually understood by the people who utilise the services.
“The public representatives should be seen to hold public servants to account, and the communities must, in turn, hold their public representatives to account. It is the accountability chain that must be a permanent feature, and not merely something raised on the eve of an election.”
UWC chancellor Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said the lectures were about fostering critical dialogue on integrity and leadership.
“If our society is to overcome its challenges, we need to build trust,” he said.