Cyril Ramaphosa has made a good start. But to beat corruption, he must relax state control of business
Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned electricity monopoly, is in crisis. So said Cyril Ramaphosa, the country’s president, in his annual “state of the nation” speech on February 7th. He was not exaggerating. Four days later cities were plunged into darkness as South Africa endured its biggest blackout ever. Some 40%of its total capacity was switchedoff, forcing mines and factories to close and all but the wealthiest to reach for candles. It was an undignified end to Mr Ramaphosa’s first year in office
South Africans had grown used to power cuts under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, whose cronies looted and mismanaged nearly everything the state controls. Mr Zuma hollowed out institutions, appointed crooks and liars to senior jobs and ensured that the watchdogs who are supposed to stop corruption were muzzled. Some state-owned firms, such as Eskom and South African Airways, were bled so dry that their debts threaten the stability of South African banks and even the country’s credit rating. South Africans expect better from Mr Ramaphosa. Will he live up to his promises?
He has made a good start, cleaning out the boards of state-owned companies and appointing watchdogs with teeth and the inclination to use them. Shamila Batohi, a tough lawyer from the International Criminal Court in The Hague, recently started work as the country’s chief prosecutor. A judicial commission into allegations of “state capture” under Mr Zuma has heard riveting testimony about how firm sallegedly funnelled cash to politicians for state contracts. One minister’s daughter was said to have crashed so many freebie sports cars that she was offered driving lessons, too.