South African President Cyril Ramaphosa flew to London on Tuesday, becoming the first overseas leader to be feted with a State Visit hosted by King Charles III and the Queen Consort.
It is a remarkable honour for our President and testament to the enduring post-colonial friendship between our two nations that emerged more deeply entwined than ever from the end of apartheid 28 years ago.
For Ramaphosa it is gilt-embroidered opportunity to reinforce South Africa’s status as a leader of the African continent.
The trappings of ceremony serve as a welcome relief for Ramaphosa, whose presidency back home is buffeted by economic decay, social and political unrest, and the winds of corruption – not least the scandal over the multi-million dollar cash robbery at his Phala Phala farmhouse.
The State Visit brings talk of stronger economic ties, shared values on the global stage and of climate emergency commitments.
But Ramaphosa’s most urgent challenge is to deliver the radical political and economic changes required to ensure that South Africa is still open for business to the investors we need for the next generation of our young workforce to prosper.
Our country is at a critical point on the pockmarked road since Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom.
Next month Ramaphosa will – in spite of events at Phala Phala Farm – seek the African National Congress’ backing to remain its leader going into the 2024 General Election.
For the first time since 1994, current polling predicts the ANC will fail to achieve a majority at that election. In some parts of the country, its vote has fallen by over 40 per cent. This is extinction levels of decline.
Whatever its history, no political party can survive without capturing the future.
There are multiple reasons for the collapse in support. The most apparent are systemic corruption, spiralling crime levels, repeated service delivery failures, the cost-of-living crisis and an economy in stagnation, strangled by the national failure to provide reliable electricity supplies to homes and businesses.
Unemployment has soared to 34 per cent; 50 per cent among the young. The wealth gap is ever increasing and growing discontent has been visible with the large scale rioting and looting in July 2021 as well as sporadic countrywide violent protests.
The average age of the population is 28. Yet the senior ranks of the ANC are filled by those in their late 60s and 70s. They, like previous presidents Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and my father Jacob Zuma, were all part of the liberation movement.
The leadership is still spending too much time fighting old wars and tribal battles. Failure to add newer, younger post-apartheid blood into the ruling echelons of the party serves to ignore the core voter base of the lowest income earners, the peri-urban and rural poor.
Little wonder that of the 10 million people who failed to register to vote at the last election, the vast majority were the youth.
I believe there are three critical challenges Ramaphosa and the current ANC leadership must meet.
Firstly, to deliver on social justice through economic prosperity. That means the right to proper healthcare, to a decent well paid job, to a home, to feeling safe from crime, and to the elimination of food and energy insecurity.
To achieve this, we must empower a multifaceted middle class to build businesses and good work. And we need to recognise that South Africa operates in a global marketplace and therefore encourage and support inward investment whilst simultaneously enabling growth in the domestic business sector.
Crucially there needs to be complete transparency in how the state attracts and procures services from abroad. Any candidate seeking to stand for the ANC leadership role should support an absolutist policy of procurement transparency which must, in turn, be rigorously invigilated by outside independent scrutiny.
Secondly, we need a new vision that harnesses and empowers the disadvantaged and alienated younger generation. When a majority of the population were born post apartheid, South African needs to move beyond the narrative of liberation struggles.
Younger generations need to lead that new journey into the future, with fresh ideas, a digital-first mantra and a renewed ideology that reclaims the spirit of 1994.
Political reform at national level and within the ANC will play a key role. The ANC must move away from the current system of recycling old leaders which resembles a retirement scheme for the politically connected.
Thirdly, our education system needs a root and branch overhaul. Far too many of our schools and colleges are second rate. We must reform the curriculum and teacher training, invest in a massive vocational training programme allied with major infrastructure projects, and give people free access to online learning and upskilling.
These are the tests and challenges that the ANC faces today. Instead of leadership paralysis and discord, we need sharp and concise policy and efficient implementation. We need a new contract of hope and aspiration with the people.
Nobody understood better than Nelson Mandela that our dreams must be bigger than our fears. Since his passing, our fears have been allowed to ferment again.
It is time the Rainbow Nation learns to dream once more.
~ Duduzane Zuma is a businessman and Chairperson of ANC Ward 11, eThekwini, KZN.