Herman Mashaba: We are behind you Mr President, lead us

It is my deepest hope in these times, and against the backdrop of the strong leadership shown to date, that President Ramaphosa will break free of the shackles of factions within the ANC and start getting real about corruption, writes Herman Mashaba.

As someone who could be fairly described as one of President Ramaphosa's greatest critics, I am equally inclined to acknowledge that he has demonstrated strong leadership in the midst of the crisis arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The steps taken are strong, necessary and give the best chance to the people of South Africa to survive this human tragedy that has gripped the world.

There is no question that human life must come first, especially when you consider how so many in our country our vulnerable by the circumstances in which they live.  

I fear, however, that the true scale of the crisis will only become clear in the months and years ahead, long after the medical emergency has passed.

While we may be able to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, doing so will deal a fatal blow to the economy and job creation. 

Last night the President announced the first steps to weathering the economic storm, including the establishment of a solidarity fund with generous contributions by the Oppenheimer and Rupert families.  

While this fund may help to mitigate some of the immediate economic impact of the pandemic, addressing the long-term impact will require substantially greater resources in the face of the expected global recession. 

In the long-term, a massive stimulus package is going to be necessary to ensure that when we emerge from this crisis, our economy is able to survive and our rand is able to able to return to pre-coronavirus levels.

The question is how to fund this stimulus.  

When President Ramaphosa was elected, many South Africans believed that he would begin to clean up the rot in the ANC and deal with the wide-scale looting and corruption in government departments and state-owned entities (SOEs). 

Despite his pledge to fight corruption, the truth is that there is nothing we can point to in the past few years that could lend any confidence to this notion.

Instead of seeing arrests and prosecutions for the billions that have been stolen over the past decade, these cases have been stuck with investigating agencies and the NPA for years without action. 

But, I believe there is an opportunity in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis that I would encourage the President to take with both hands here.  

Last year it was estimated that state capture had cost our economy about a third of its GDP growth over the second term of the Zuma administration – almost R 1.5 trillion.

To date, I am unaware of any recoveries and nobody has been put behind bars.  

While I applaud the business community - including the Oppenheimer and Rupert families - for contributing to the coronavirus fund, this is largely necessary because of a lack of state funds to address this crisis.

State capture is one of the underlying reasons for this shortfall, along with the need to prop up failing SOEs. 

There is a saying that you should never let a crisis go to waste. I would urge President Ramaphosa to take this message to heart. 

In a time when the President finally appears to be finding his voice and demonstrating leadership, let him tackle the corruption problem with the same vigour and resolve he has demonstrated in tackling the coronavirus. 

Instead of once again turning to the business community to bail out the government, let him turn his sights to those who have looted the public purse for over a decade. 

Over the past week we have seen government, the private sector, civil society and ordinary South Africans come together to fight this virus. Across the board, the message to the President has been clear: "How can we help you?" 

Let us use this opportunity to direct similar energy towards efforts to civilly pursuing the money that has been looted in South Africa. 

We have great forensic and legal minds in our country, who I am certain would avail themselves for this task.  

The retrieval of these funds would be a powerful move.

On the first level, it would have the ability to fund significant components of our country’s response to Covid-19.

On a symbolic level it would show the people of our country and the world that we are serious about combatting wrongdoing and that a stronger country will emerge from this crisis.  

It is my deepest hope in these times, and against the backdrop of the strong leadership shown to date, that President Ramaphosa will break free of the shackles of factions within the ANC and start getting real about corruption.

It is the only way our economy will recover and in fact begin to thrive. 

This hope is premised on the idea that we will prevail from this crisis as a people, and we will emerge on the other side of this tragedy.

When we do, we will have the difficult work of rebuilding our country, and this is going to need the extension of the leadership we have seen over the past two weeks, across the board.  

I believe the President would be surprised by the level of support he would receive in this process.

I, for one, would get behind that kind of leadership in a heartbeat, and I think many others would too.  

- Herman Mashaba is the founder of The People's Dialogue