If in mid-2017, during the period of peak concern and uncertainty that prevailed then, a scenario was pitched to an investor, in which President Ramaphosa would assume the helm of the ANC and state; all Gupta-linked ministers would be removed from the cabinet; Pravin Gordhan would be minister of public enterprises and Tito Mboweni minister of finance; SOE boards would be overhauled; the state's ill-advised nuclear programme would be shelved; the leadership of the SARS, the NPA and the Hawks would be fundamentally improved; and various public inquiries would unearth widespread evidence of politically-enabled malfeasance, such an investor would have grasped eagerly at an outcome that seemed - at that time - to be impossibly positive.
Yet, despite the fact that these and other changes indeed characterised the political calendar in 2018, the year still ended with deep unease amongst the investor community. Perhaps most disconcerting was the realisation that these personnel changes have been insufficient to turn the tide. That too much damage had been done for the turnaround to be satisfied by the harvesting of the abundant low-hanging fruit available to President Ramaphosa early in his tenure. And that the lasting confidence boost required to reorient the country's economic path relies on far deeper and more challenging structural reforms, for some of which there is no guarantee that the president will be able to accumulate the requisite political capital. While 2019 began with many of these questions remaining unanswered, the May elections will, or at least should, provide an opportunity for new clarity to emerge.
Chief Economist, Standard Bank Group
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