News Analysis

How the South African Church is going to hold Ramaphosa to account

South Africa’s 2019 general election was in many ways unsurprising. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) won a majority, albeit the smallest yet at 57 per cent, with Cyril Ramaphosa likely to be sworn in as president in the coming days. However, the most significant result of this election is yet to come: is Ramaphosa going to deal with corruption as he promised, and start by effectively cleaning up his cabinet?

The country’s new parliament was due to be sworn in on Wednesday, after which the new president will be inaugurated tomorrow, May 25. Ramaphosa will announce his new cabinet shortly afterwards. It is widely expected that the inflated cabinet will be reduced from 35 departments to 25, and that under-performing ministers from the previous administration will get the chop.

Bold actions from the outset of this new presidency will be essential. The removal of tainted politicians, an otherwise obvious move, has previously been ignored in the face of persuasive evidence. Similarly, dealing with Eskom, the country’s crisis-ridden national power company, will also require the new president to act swiftly, taking a very different approach to previous administrations.

But it is this question of accountability that has been largely misinterpreted, or blatantly ignored, by the ANC for too long. Whom should leadership serve first? For the country’s Catholic bishops it is clear: “The citizens should not be taken for granted.”

In a statement released by Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, president of the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the bishops called for the new parliament, and not just the ruling party, “to put the country first and work collectively to develop effective measures to arrest the collapse of the economy and the looting of the state resources, and to spur economic growth so that it creates jobs”.

Ramaphosa has promised to appoint “competent individuals” who have had no role in the decade of wasteful government expenditure. This cleaning up is not only the duty of a democratically elected president, but also an act on which the country’s economic future hinges – something of which the investor-friendly Ramaphosa is well aware.

“Now that the election is over, we expect the president of our nation to dispense with the politics of expediency and show a firm hand in dealing with those implicated in corruption and state capture,” the bishops’ statement said, calling on Ramaphosa to ensure that those suspected of corruption are not appointed to the cabinet or other public offices.

While chivvying poorly performing departments and rectifying the governance of state-owned enterprises are on Ramaphosa’s agenda, it is the appointment of his cabinet that will provide an insight into the country’s future – and this may be a surprise to those who had long since lost hope.