South Africa needs a successful Kenya and Kenya needs a successful South Africa for these two countries and their people to thrive.
This was the essence of part of a keynote address on Saturday by Cyril Ramaphosa, newly-elected leader of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), to tens of thousands of his party’s supporters — and to the nation.
President Uhuru Kenyatta attended the nationally televised and much-anticipated address to mark the ANC’s 106th birthday, held at a stadium in the port-city of East London.
President Kenyatta was seated between South African President Jacob Zuma and Mr Ramaphosa, both of whom have held intensive talks in the last few days with him.
Mr Ramaphosa made a number of remarks regarding President Kenyatta’s three-day working visit to South Africa, which began on Thursday, as well as to the parallels between Kenya and South Africa.
He spoke of how the two countries — and their governing parties — could work together for the mutual benefit of the citizens.
On his dealings with President Kenyatta, whom he met on Saturday, Mr Ramaphosa said these had “revolved around sharing best practices and knowledge” as well as bilateral investment in Kenya and South Africa.
“Our economy can’t succeed if Kenya’s economy fails, and Kenya’s economy can’t succeed fully if South Africa’s economy fails,” said Ramaphosa.
“We will work towards mutual investment,” he added.
In order to achieve the necessary growth to create jobs, South Africa needed to enhance internal economic coherence and co-operation with external partners.
“We can learn a lot from Kenya and that is why we applaud the presence of President Kenyatta and his delegation,” said Mr Ramaphosa, to loud cheers from the crowd.
Mr Ramaphosa began his “January 8th” address, now an annual institution marking the day in 1912 when the ANC was created, right on time — an indicator, he said, that already “things are changing” in his much-troubled ruling party.
That remark was a dig at Zuma as former head of the party during which time hardly anything to do with party functioning started on time.
Ramaphosa was declaring, in his diplomatic but crystal clear fashion, that there was a “new sheriff in town” and that things were henceforth going to work properly in the ANC — and, by extension, in South Africa.
As the man who is now technically in charge of President Zuma, Mr Ramaphosa laid down the law before a packed stadium, warning members of his party bringing the continent’s oldest liberation movement into disrepute through divisive conduct and corrupt practices that they would be brought to book.
The remark was an indirect but obvious attack on those behind the factionalism which has nearly riven the ANC apart and which has triggered its newly-elected leadership to make 2018 not only a year of remembrance for Nelson Mandela, thereby invoking Madiba’s incorruptible reputation, but also to dedicate this year to “organisational renewal”.
Mr Ramaphosa promised to strengthen the country’s much-weakened policing, prosecutorial and security structures, and to “get to the bottom” of the system of patronage, corruption and influence-peddling known as “state capture”.
No longer presented as “something to be looked into”, as previously by ANC apologists, “state capture” was dealt with by Ramaphosa as a real problem that needed urgent attention — and he promised the cheering crowd he would ensure that happened.
That, too, was a dire warning to Mr Zuma who sat, mostly stone-faced, behind Ramaphosa during the speech, as well as to an unhappy-looking Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was narrowly beaten by Ramaphosa for the ANC’s top job last month.
Mr Ramaphosa, like those who spoke before him from the ANC’s alliance partners, the SA Communist Party and the Congress of SA Trade Unions, repeatedly emphasised that party (and national) unity had to be strengthened through a programme of renewal.
That entailed a return to its grassroots support and its founding principles, as embodied by various leaders of the past but especially so by Mandela.
Appearing calm and self-assured, Mr Ramaphosa ticked all the boxes in terms of covering the ground laid out by the ruling party’s delegates at last month’s fiercely-fought elective and policy conference.
These included increased black involvement in the economy, opening the economy up to a wider spectrum of players, specific focus on the financial sector for increased black ownership and management, ending elites’ control of economic sectors, agricultural redevelopment, land redistribution and restoration without destabilisation of the economy or threatening food security, free tertiary education for poor students, and the eradication of divisive and corrupt practices in government and civil society.
He admitted his party faced many challenges but vowed he would oversee its renewal — a word mentioned many times — by the end of 2018, and in time for next year’s national elections.
He promised action on getting the economy growing and thereby the creation of jobs — a vital difference of emphasis as compared to the programme of “radical economic transformation” favoured by Dlamini-Zuma and the pro-Zuma camp — and that, within three years, up to a million of the country’s unemployed youth would have jobs.
Mr Ramaphosa praised an agreement on the minimum wage — while it was not yet a “living wage”, it nonetheless represented a significant immediate improvement for over six million South Africans.
As much as he was enthusiastic about prospects of achieving the goals he laid out, he was also tough.
Mr Ramaphosa promised that all government corruption, including in state-owned enterprises which have been among prime targets of those involved in “state capture”, would be rooted out, and that those implicated would face prosecution.
That remark was not only clearly directed towards Zuma and his “state capture” allies, but to the international diplomatic and investor community who have been waiting to hear, in his own words, precisely what Ramaphosa intended doing about the problems that have afflicted South Africa under Zuma’s administration.
Mr Ramaphosa attacked all forms of racism, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as other destructive aspects of social behaviour, invoking instead a spirit of community and humanity as embodied by former ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela.
The new ANC leader trod a careful line between the populists’ call for the nationalisation of key resources and maintaining a positive prospect for the country’s economic stability and growth in the minds of current and potential future investors.
Using the vernacular in at least four of the country’s 11 official languages, Ramaphosa’s delivery was smooth and convincing, drawing frequent outbursts of ululation and enthusiastic cheers form the evidently satisfied ANC supporters at the event.