If you could be South Africa’s president for a day, what would you do? End corruption, end crime, end Covid? It’s a tough job, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has lots of competing priorities to consider.
Last Friday, Ramaphosa took questions from journalists for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and we caught a glimpse of what goes on in the president’s head.
(Ramaphosa has had talks with editors on two occasions, but this was the first time he opened himself up to reporters like this.)
Ramaphosa has faced criticism from reporters and ordinary citizens because, despite his regular televised “family meetings”, he does not take questions from the media – an important mechanism to hold the government accountable. As News24 political editor Qaanitah Hunter put it in an open letter to the president:
“You have to be held culpable, no matter how well-intended a leader you might be.”
So, here’s a round-up of what he said:
1. When are we getting our vaccines?
Aside from the 1.5 million doses coming from India, Ramaphosa said South Africa was also involved in the WHO’s Covax facility; the African Union’s own facility; was in contact with other heads of states; and was engaging with suppliers directly. He said vaccines would arrive in the second quarter of this year. But the first batch – those 1.5 million doses from India – will be administered “towards the end of January”, he told the SABC.
2. Where will the money come from?
Treasury. Ramaphosa told 702’s Clement Manyathela:
“There cannot be any talk that we don’t have money for vaccines to save the lives of our people. Money is going to be there and Treasury is going to make sure money is there.”
He added: “Money is not the issue. It’s never going to be a concern when it comes to the lives of our people. The real issue is going to be the pace and time frame of delivery.”
3. Why did South Africa take so long to secure a vaccine when other countries had already bought theirs?
Ramaphosa said most developed nations paid billions of rands to vaccine manufacturers before knowing if there was any guarantee that the vaccine would work. Those countries took a risk, he explained – but South Africa simply doesn’t have the financial muscle to do the same.
“Other countries paid upfront for vaccines before knowing if it was going to be successful,” he told 702.
4. What is Ramaphosa doing to make sure there’s no vaccine procurement corruption?
Ramaphosa told 702: “We have sought to put the processes in place that are going to prevent that. Government is going to be the main acquirer, working together with the private sector, we are going to be able to do the funding as well, the payments, and so the sourcing is going to be better managed than what we saw with the PPE.”
Read more about the findings of PPE corruption here.
5. Where is the economy headed?
Ramaphosa said SA had a high level of debt and did not have enough money for other major projects. He told 702 that Covid-19 relief packages could also not be provided because the country was essentially broke.
“We do not have money, that’s the simple truth that has to be put out there,” he said. Speaking to other news organisations, he blamed this situation on low economic growth. There is a R300 billion shortfall in revenue collection and there are problems in South Africa’s state-owned enterprises that has led to some wasted money, he said. But he said those responsible “are being dealt with”. He told eNCA that money stolen from SOEs was being recovered and damage of state capture was being undone.
6. ANC’s internal politics
Speaking as the President of the ANC, Ramaphosa said members of his party who have been accused of corruption are being investigated.
Asked whether the party’s secretary-general Ace Magashule should step aside following allegations of corruption, Ramaphosa told 702: “The matter is being dealt with, it is being processed and we are looking at all the intricate aspects of it and it’s going to be decided upon.”
When asked by eNCA’s Thulasizwe Simelane what is being done about government officials who “supplement their incomes ” by doing business outside of their day jobs, Ramaphosa said these officials were “being dealt with” individually, and said each case had to be dealt with on its merits.
(If we had a Rand for each time he said “being dealt with” we’d probably have enough money to buy the vaccines.)
7. Why did Ramaphosa complain about funerals being superspreader events, but not increase restrictions on them?
This question was posed by PowerFM’s Lukhona Mnguni. Ramaphosa replied:
“We need to take care and caution that the numbers are restricted to the number we have announced (50), may well be a bit big and there are people who have said maybe we should even bring it down to even 25 or even 20, or just immediate family members and I would agree with that,” he said. He didn’t say whether things would change, but said the issue was “under consideration.”
Ramaphosa has promised to have more engagements with the media. He told Mnguni: “I do want to engage with the media and have even said I don’t want to go for too long without engagement…I rather enjoy the engagement and I would like to see that followed up.”
We certainly hope he keeps his promise.