Arab-Spring warning spurs Ramaphosa to tout growth-plan progress

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government is making progress on a plan to boost economic growth, after he was criticised by one of the nation’s former leaders for failing to deliver the plan.

Ramaphosa on February 10 pledged to provide a comprehensive social compact — in cooperation with business, labour unions and civil society — within 100 days. Former President Thabo Mbeki last week slammed Ramaphosa for not fulfilling that promise, and warned that growing poverty and lawlessness in the country risks triggering protests that engulfed the Arab world a decade ago.

While the government has held talks with its social partners since February about agreeing to a compact, the process has been “slow and at times it has been quite difficult,” Ramaphosa said in an address to members of the governing African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal province on Sunday. The party earlier elected new leaders in the province who are considered sympathetic to former President Jacob Zuma, whose followers oppose Ramaphosa’s economic reforms.

“We all agree that our overriding objectives are to grow the economy to create jobs,” he said. “There are differences over what compromises need to be made and who needs to make those compromises. And so while we don’t have an overarching social compact, we are making progress.”

In addition, the government is already implementing an Economic Reconstruction & Recovery Plan, that is the product of talks with its alliance partners — the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions — and business partners on how to restore economic growth in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.

Ramaphosa also said that the government is close to announcing a plan to deal with the nation’s energy crisis. The country has had record power outages this year, leading to calls from business, labor and opposition parties for Ramaphosa and his government to take urgent action.

The plan is being finalised and will be announced “soon,” the president said.

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