POLITICS
24/02/2018 07:19 SAST | Updated 24/02/2018 10:02 SAST

Nine Days Of Ramapower: Can The Momentum Continue?

Ramaphosa will have to keep up the momentum if he is to ward off further vote losses for the ANC in 2019.

POOL New / Reuters
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his state of the nation address in Parliament on February 16, 2018.

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He probably hasn't fully arranged his desk at the Union Buildings yet, but newly elected president Cyril Ramaphosa has been shifting political gears in his nine brief days in the hot seat.

From a state of the nation address that aimed to reignite the hopes of South Africans, early morning walks side-by-side with communities, and a revitalised energy in the fight against state capture by authorities, to an uneasy budget speech, it has certainly been a nine-day rollercoaster – one still pushing upwards on the tracks.

READ: Ramaphosa's Promise To Clean Up Government And The Executive.

But how long can Ramaphosa keep up the momentum?

Many thought finance minister Malusi Gigaba's budget speech would bring the nation back to reality – which it did to some degree - but it did not provide enough friction to slow down the Ramaphosa engine.

Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks in Parliament - February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

A day after his inauguration, Ramaphosa delivered the Sona uninterrupted to a full sitting of the National Assembly. He didn't veer far from populist themes, perhaps knowing that tackling issues most prominent in the public discourse would gain him favour.

And it did.

His speech was widely hailed for insisting on land expropriation without compensation (although this remains a hugely divisive policy objective), growing an inclusive economy, creating jobs, fighting corruption and restructuring government.

Opposition parties debated his speech on Monday, focusing more on the technicalities of how he would deliver on his promises, rather than attacking them head on. By covering the majority of national issues, Ramaphosa hadn't given them much space to oppose his address.

On Tuesday, he responded to opposition parties. What we know from this response, is that a Cabinet reshuffle is imminent: government departments – which ballooned under Jacob Zuma – will be downsized heavily, and managerial changes will be made to various state-owned enterprises and Chapter 9 institutions.

READ: Ramaphosa Takes Charge Of The Economy.

Gigaba's speech on Wednesday was never going to be without a significant clapback. The economy, downgraded repeatedly over the past years, would need drastic measures to revitalise it.

But officials with direct knowledge of the budget preparations told HuffPost that Ramaphosa was deeply involved in ensuring the correct messaging was contained in Gigaba's speech, to carry forward the same themes of renewal and integrity as in the Sona.

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Finance minister Malusi Gigaba delivers his Budget address in Parliament - February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The rand and investors responded positively to the speech, even though some South Africans – and opposition parties – were outraged by the one percentage-point increase in Value Added Tax.

All the while, the Hawks have been actively taking the fight to the Guptas. The day of Zuma's resignation, the unit raided various properties belonging to the Gupta family and their associates in Gauteng and Free State – all relating to the Estina dairy project scandal in Vrede. Eight were arrested and the hunt is on for the big fish, Ajay Gupta.

We are now heading into week two of Ramaphosa's presidency.

A Cabinet reshuffle will come sooner rather than later, in a bid to remove ministers with dark clouds hanging over their heads.

Ramaphosa's move on Friday evening to drop a Constitutional Court appeal lodged by his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, concerning his powers to appoint the head of the National Prosecuting Auhtority (NPA) was the strongest indication yet that Shaun Abrahams is likely to be one of the casualties of the broader 'clean sweep'.

Minister Lynne Brown, among others, probably shouldn't get too comfortable either after a Public Protector ruling this week found her guilty of misleading Parliament.

Thereafter, he'll need to shift his gaze to management at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and the public protector's office.

'Runner-phosa' -- as he may now be affectionately known along the Cape Town promenade from whence he made #TummyMustFall trend -- can't afford to wait too long. If there is a 'Cyril effect', it has an expiry date.

The official opposition has certainly taken some hard knocks in recent months, and it's obvious the blue party is concerned. But unless ministers with not-so-smallanyana skeletons who believe they're "gon' be alright" are shown Kendrick Lamar did not have them in mind, Ramapower may turn to Ramaphooey (and give the opposition another hand).