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Herman Breedt - A Ray Of Hope

Herman Breedt, President of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI).

The ascension of Cyril Ramaphosa to president of the African National Congress and of South Africa has provided business with a ray of hope as he sets out to chart a new course for the economy and forge strategic partnerships to revive growth.

Even in his most recent State of the Nation Address, Ramaphosa sought to instil confidence as he vowed to tackle corruption, support small businesses and create space for investors to see South Africa through new eyes. And while his cabinet shuffle in recent days have marked a clear effort to be as balanced as possible
and manage the various factions within his party more deftly, Ramaphosa has shown courage by reappointing two critical ministers who were fired under former President Jacob Zuma.

The return of Nhlanhla Nene to head up the Treasury is a step in the right direction, and should help placate investors, along with the return of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan to cabinet to lead the highly strategic Department of Public Enterprises.

Ramaphosa is a consummate dealmaker with experience spanning the labour arena, the corporate boardroom and the political front. As he begins to set the tone for the ANC, his leadership is poised to reflect the cumulative understanding of how to leverage these three important sectors to get the economy back on track.

It helps too that Ramaphosa is the architect of the National Development Plan (NDP). And judging from his maiden speech as ANC President, Ramaphosa will more than ever be personally invested in advancing the
implementation of this economic blueprint.

The NDP, as a roadmap, represents what is possible if business and government can put aside their differences and work to put South Africa's economy on a sustainable path through 2030 as envisaged in the plan.

Ramaphosa knows full well that in the past five years the NDP has become synonymous with inaction and confusion even in the ANC circles. But with him now at the helm, there is an expectation that he will ensure
that the NDP gets the attention it deserves to halt the downward economic spiral.

As business, we would like to move swiftly to get into Ramaphosa's confidence since time is of the essence. I reiterate our intent to work with the ANC and its new leadership to create better alignment between policy
and the desired outcomes for investment, growth, employment and transformation.

For far too long, we have relegated our national imperatives to chance. It will be useful to propose a National Economic Conference with Ramaphosa as soon as his schedule allows so that business and other partners can provide perspective to the critical policy pronouncements and resolutions from the 54th elective conference.

That way we can begin to put in place a renewed focus on what really matters. Unsurprisingly, the ANC
conference resolved to pursue radical economic transformation, land expropriation without compensation, eradication of corruption and the provision of free tertiary education as a way to push socio-economic changes.

These resolutions were articulated by Ramaphosa in his closing speech that generally appeared to be a deft act to placate all the ANC factions. Going forward, we expect that Ramaphosa will provide more heft
to his pronouncements and lead with clarity.

The conference resolutions are undoubtedly rooted in the realisation that there is more that needs to be done to fix the economy. But what was expressed at the end of the conference so far represents broad strokes, which still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

So hopefully, if Ramaphosa proves accessible and decisive early on, he can help allay any concerns that business and the investment community might have about how the ANC intends to carry out its policy directives, especially on the land question. But as can be expected, much of Ramaphosa's early days will
be a juggling act. On the one hand he will be preoccupied with housekeeping at Luthuli House, cleaning up the mess that has resulted in the ANC's most serious divisions and factionalism since coming to power in 1994. On the other hand, he will be looking to shape policy implementation, something we feel will be best achieved by harnessing the collective wisdom of all the key constituencies or social partners.

While we understand the need to unite the ANC in the runup to the 2019 elections, we are also very much aware of the immediate dangers confronting business as it grapples with an uncertain policy environment,
a stagnant economy and a governing party seen by some to be at war with itself.

Our hope as the voice of business in key sectors of the South African economy is that the ANC begins to appreciate its collective power to drive meaningful and constructive engagement at all levels of our society rather than expending itself on internal strife.

In his speech to conclude the ANC's elective conference in December, Ramaphosa rightfully acknowledged the need to focus on the economy, saying the party will, "pursue with greater determination a radical path of
socio-economic transformation, premised on growth, job creation and equitable distribution of income, wealth and assets."

He said that the ANC has placed the challenge of unemployment at the forefront of all its actions in the economy, and the policies adopted at Nasrec, "provide a platform for faster and more meaningful implementation of the National Development Plan."

But much of the ANC's policy talk still requires unpacking before there is a wholesale understanding of what the party really intends to do and how. Case in point: The expropriation of land without compensation and
radical economic transformation.

All told, Ramaphosa has his work cut out, trying to unite the terminally fractured ANC and stamp his authority. Ramaphosa's experience, however, should give business a measure of comfort as he settles into his dual role of ANC President and the country. He is familiar with business and its current predicaments. His success or failure will be largely determined by how he resolves them between now and the next general election set for next year

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