ANC presidents and economic growth – Ramaphosa vs Zuma vs Mbeki vs Mandela

 ·6 Jun 2024

Thabo Mbeki has been the best president for economic growth in democratic South Africa while acting president Cyril Ramaphosa has been the worst.

Frans Cronje, the head of the Social Research Foundation, emphasised that the ANC’s first decade in power enhanced living standards and economic stability more than it is typically acknowledged for.

Cronje also refuted claims of 30 years of service delivery failure under the ANC, stating that such assertions are factually incorrect.

Cronje noted that the basic living standards of many South Africans improved significantly and rapidly during the first decade of ANC rule.

Through Nelson Mandela and, subsequently, Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, South Africa’s economy thrived. The government consistently ran budget surpluses, and the economy grew at an annual rate of 4.1%.

The percentage of households without electricity dropped sharply from 49% in 1996 to 19% in 2006, while the number of employed people almost doubled from 7.48 million to 14.5 million.

In South Africa, the state’s welfare system saw significant growth, with the number of people receiving social grants increasing from 2.4 million in 1996 to 14.9 million in 2010.

However, this trend slowed down when President Zuma took office in 2009, and by the end of his tenure in 2018, living standards had started to decline.

This decline is closely linked to the country’s poor economic performance since the 2007/2008 financial year.

As a result, South Africa’s robust GDP growth during Mbeki’s tenure came to a halt, and the country’s debt escalated rapidly.

Despite promises of fiscal discipline from the president and finance minister, this trend continued during Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency.

South Africa was very optimistic when Ramaphosa took over from former President Jacob Zuma on 15 February 2018.

This period was referred to as ‘Ramaphoria’, and the public and business community had high hopes that Ramaphosa would bring about significant reforms.

However, this optimism waned as the country experienced a rapid deterioration of infrastructure, state-owned enterprises, and government institutions.

Load-shedding became a daily occurrence, Transnet collapsed, crime reached record levels, and trust in the state continued to drop amid other global crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical conflict, and high levels of inflation.

The lack of significant economic growth and a rapidly increasing population caused South Africans to become much poorer in US dollar terms.

The country’s fiscal deficit is expected to reach around 6% of GDP this year. As a result, South Africa’s debt-to-GDP ratio for the current financial year will exceed 75%.

The main concern is the lack of economic growth in South Africa, with many economists suggesting that the country’s growth crisis is evolving into a fiscal crisis.

Goolam Ballim, chief economist at Standard Bank, stated at the company’s Economy 2024 event that President Ramaphosa faces a substantial task ahead to address this situation and has not responded with the necessary urgency.

While many of his policies are promising and, if implemented, could potentially resolve several of the country’s crises, urgent action is required.

The graph below, courtesy of Standard Bank and Ballim, illustrates South Africa’s economic performance under the five presidents it has had in the democratic era.

Read: What South Africa’s top companies make in profit for every R1 they pay their CEOs

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