Sun, Sep 03, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Zuma’s successor needs to take radical steps, but will be hamstrung

The candidate to take over when South African President Jacob Zuma steps down in two years will need to revive the economy by building trust, as the government is low on cash

By MICHAEL COHEN  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: June hsu

Anyone who believes there is a quick fix for South Africa’s political and financial malaise when South African President Jacob Zuma leaves office in 2019 needs to think again.

His successor will inherit an economy that slid into recession in the first quarter, mismanaged state companies that are bleeding cash and a network of officials implicated in looting taxpayer funds.

Efforts to reignite growth and rein in a 27.7 percent unemployment rate will be hamstrung by the South African National Treasury’s commitment to curb public debt, which has more than tripled to 2 trillion rand (US$153 billion) since Zuma came to power eight years ago.

“The whole process of fixing South Africa is probably going to take the best part of a decade,” said Andre Duvenhage, a political science professor at North-West University in Potchefstroom, west of Johannesburg. “This is not going to be an easy job. We are in for a long, difficult struggle.”

Zuma’s second and final term as president is due to end in 2019, but his political clout is waning as he prepares to relinquish leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) in December and, depending on who replaces him, he could be forced to step down early.

Most investors are rooting for South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former labor union leader who helped draft the nation’s first democratic constitution and made a fortune in business.

His main rival is former African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife. Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa have also said they intend running for the post.

On the campaign trail, Ramaphosa, 64, has emphasized the need for economic growth, while Dlamini-Zuma, 68, has echoed Zuma’s calls for “radical economic transformation” to address racially based income disparities that date back to white-minority rule.

Whoever wins has to halt the plunder of state resources, according to former South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who Zuma fired in March in a move that prompted two ratings companies to downgrade the nation’s foreign-currency debt to junk.

DAMAGED ECONOMY

“You can talk about radical this or radical that, it doesn’t really matter. Every single day that we allow the current trajectory to continue, there is huge damage that is caused,” Gordhan said in a panel discussion in Cape Town last month.

With a different leadership approach “we can turn this country around in six months, not in terms of achieving five percent growth, but building a platform on which that process can actually begin,” he said.

The central bank expects the economy to expand 0.5 percent this year and 1.2 percent next year.

Zuma’s successor could lift the growth rate to 3 percent within two years by bolstering investor confidence and addressing regulatory uncertainty, but the state will have little scope to provide stimulus itself, said Lumkile Monde, an economics lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

“The new administration will have to adopt very prudent fiscal policies to ensure that we can service the debt we have accumulated and also send a message to society that we cannot live beyond our means,” he said. “It’s going to be a long haul and will require lots of sacrifices and bold leadership, not only from the state, but also from business and broader society.”

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