A Conversation With Cyril Ramaphosa

Monday, September 24, 2018
Cyril Ramaphosa

President, Republic of South Africa

Roger C. Altman

Founder and Senior Chairman, Evercore

ALTMAN: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the Council and welcome to the David Rockefeller Lecture and in particular to some members of Mr. Rockefeller’s family who are with us today.

Welcome especially to you.

I’d like to remind everybody that this meeting is on the record. And please, if you haven’t already, turn off your mobile devices, all eight of them. (Laughter.)

We are fortunate today to have with us President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.

Most of you in this room probably know that he has played a very central role in the evolution of a democratic South Africa. He was the chief negotiator for the ANC during the transition to democracy. He largely created and built up the biggest trade union in South Africa, the miners’ union, the mineworkers’ union. He previously served as deputy president for four years, beginning in 2014, and he became the fifth president of South Africa just this February. He also had a sterling business career, one of South Africa’s very most successful and wealthiest business leaders.

So it’s my pleasure—(laughter)—he seems to be disagreeing with that characterization. (Laughter.) So it’s my great pleasure to introduce President Ramaphosa. He’s going to deliver just a few minutes of introductory comments, then I’m going to return to the stage and question him for twenty-five or thirty minutes, and then all of you here will have your opportunity to question him as well.

Thank you, sir. (Applause.)

RAMAPHOSA: Thank you, Program Director, the Rockefeller family, honored guests, and ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for this opportunity, brief as it might be, to share with you some perspectives on the challenges and opportunities which I was asked to address on the global environment.

As you would all be aware, this year South Africa, and indeed a number of our partners and friends in many countries, are celebrating the centenary of the founding father of our democracy, Nelson Mandela. And we have just come out of a United Nations celebration of two things. Firstly, we unveiled his life-size statue at the United Nations, which we were deeply humbled as South Africans to have been given this prime spot in the United Nations to have Nelson Mandela, with his fully stretched arms, adorning the precinct of the United Nations.

We also had, and it is continuing, the Nelson Mandela peace summit in which many countries, represented by their heads of state and government, speaking about peace in the world. This celebration has provided us with an opportunity, not only as South Africans but all peace-loving people in the world, to reflect on the progress we have made with regard to ourselves as South Africans on our young democracy and the tasks that lie ahead.

It has also reinforced the need for South Africa to unite, to build on the legacy of Nelson Mandela, in working towards a peaceful and just and prosperous world. Nelson Mandela has taught us many things, and we continue to draw wisdom and strength from the way that he worked and what he stood for in everything that we continue to do. We remain inspired by the role he played as a bridge builder and seek to follow his example in bringing together divergent views and perspectives.

At this moment in global history, as we seek to navigate the challenges confronting the political, the security, and economic architecture that has evolved over the last 70 years, we are convinced that the value of Nelson Mandela’s approach to consensus-building and his way of resolving problems and difficult situations is instructive.

This view is reinforced by a number of disturbing global developments. The resurgence of geopolitical rivalry, which has not been experienced since the Cold War era, has huge implications for international peace and security.

There is a growing challenge to important multilateral arrangements, and indeed to the multilateral architecture of the world, which is characterized by the withdrawal from commitments made in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, on issues such as climate change, financing for development, and in nuclear nonproliferation.

The rise of trade protectionism also threatens the multilateral trading system that was agreed upon on Marrakesh in 1994, as well as in Doha in 2001.

There appears to be little prospect for the resolution of intractable conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa, nor has the international community managed to effectively address growing political intolerance, acts of terrorism, and right-wing extremism.

While globalization has brought many and huge opportunities and much progress, it has also contributed to growing inequality among states, as well as within states. These challenges are by no means insurmountable. However, they do require a return to what I would call a cooperative and inclusive approach to international relations. The idea that might is right is wrong. There is an opportunity for world leaders, international organizations, and civil society to find ways of working together to restore the primacy and the relevance of multilateralism.

At the same time, we need to emphasize the importance of a more proactive approach to the maintenance of international peace and security. We can do that by paying particular attention to preventative diplomacy, which should be supported through closer coordination and partnership between the United Nations and regional organizations such as the African Union in the case of Africa, our continent. We need to strengthen the rules-based international trading system and move with speed to transform other multilateral institutions and global governance structures to be in line with the current realities of the 21st century. This should include reform of the U.N. Security Council, which is limited in its ability to respond to current security challenges by virtue of its structure and its composition and relative lack of accountability.

For the global development agenda to succeed, we have to ensure the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its means of implementation, the climate change Paris Agreement, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development. To do so, we need to build meaningful partnerships between U.N. member states, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector.

I’ve just come out of a meeting of the Global Compact—the U.N. Global Compact—where more than ten thousand private-sector organizations have signed up to be part of the Global Compact. It’s wonderful to see how the private sector has signed up to assist the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

As South Africa, we are determined to use every means at our disposal, including our participation in global forums, to advance the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and to consolidate regional integration. We are working together with our fellow African countries to establish the Continental Free Trade Area, which would fundamentally transform Africa’s economies and consolidate the continent’s position in the global trading system. This dream of a single African market for goods and services has been made possible by sustained economic growth that many African countries have experienced over the past few years. They have also experienced greater political stability over the past few years, and we are now beginning to look forward to the dividend of peace and the dividend of having a common market.

Despite the progress, however, there are still areas where instability and conflict on our continent continue to cause great misery and hardship to ordinary people. We are still confronting challenges in places like South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and areas on the Great Lakes, and a number of other countries in the Sahel region. South Africa will continue to play its part in conflict resolutions in these areas and in combating threats to region and international peace and security.

South Africa will take up a non-permanent seat on the Security Council from next year to December 2020. We will dedicate our tenure on the Security Council to continue the legacy of Nelson Mandela, whose values of peace, reconciliation, and respect continues to inspire Africa and, indeed, the whole world.

In line with the philosophy and practice of the Mandela years, South Africa continues to seek warm fraternal relations and strong economic ties with all countries of the world, regardless of size, influence, or alignment. We remain firmly committed to rules-based multilateralism as the most sustainable and effective approach to the management of international relations. And we will continue to advocate for the needs and interests of developing countries to be placed at the top of the international agenda. And we will continue also to advocate that South-South relations should be strengthened and should be advanced, as we seek all countries to develop and to prosper.

I thank you. (Applause.)

You want me to sit down here or to stand or to kneel. (Laughter.)

ALTMAN: You know, this isn’t particularly a business audience or necessarily an entirely—certainly entirely one, but there’s probably nothing more reassuring to businesspeople than to have the newly minted leader of a major country like South Africa come here and talk about dividend policy. So that was very welcome. (Laughter.)

I’m going to begin with a couple of questions about foreign policy from a South Africa point of view and then ask you a few questions on the domestic side. But you made some very, I thought, encouraging comments about the way you will think about your seat on the Security Council and your approach to multilateralism and the way you view some of the geopolitical tensions as you talked about from trade to climate to nuclear proliferation.

Let me ask you about relationships with the United States. Our president said a couple of months ago that he wanted the State Department to look into issues of land seizure and the killing of farmers. And you responded rather sharply to the effect, I think it’s fair to say, that that was a South African internal issue. My question is, have you been able to clear this up with this administration? Or is this still a sore?

RAMAPHOSA: Well, I regret to say that I think President Trump was ill informed about what is happening in South Africa. And I think if he had taken time to get better information from us, he would have been much better informed and his comments would have been better appreciated by South Africans.

Now, we have sent clear messages to the State Department and indeed to the U.S. government about the process that we are involved in. We are involved in a process of consultation and broad discussion on the land issue. And I have often said that the land issue was the original sin that was committed in South Africa when colonialists came. When they came, they took land from the indigenous people of the country, and over the number of years, laws were passed to prevent black people from owning land. And they then took eighty-seven percent of the land for themselves, they appropriated that, and only allocated thirteen percent of the land to the indigenous majority people of South Africa.

Now, that has remained a wound and a sore over the many years. And I’ve often said that the ANC, the party that I lead, was founded in 1912 around the land issue. The founders of the ANC got together and said we want to get our land back. And they engaged in negotiations and deputations to try and get a portion of the land back. And over time, they even crafted a charter through which they said the land must be shared amongst those who work it, meaning that there should be sharing of the land as there should be sharing of the wealth. And they were sending a very clear message to those who had abrogated onto themselves the majority portion of the land of South Africa.

And throughout the years, the message was never heeded and it led to an armed struggle. But fortunately, we had a great leader and many other leaders, like Nelson Mandela, who then finally led the country to a peaceful resolution. And that peaceful resolution sought to deal with the land issue. And over the past twenty-four years, the skewed ownership of land has continued, and a greater problem of it is that land being a great economic asset has not really been exploited as much as it should have in the hands of the majority of the people so that we can help to grow our economy. And what people have been saying is that we want access to land, and they have then said that let us then move towards having land being given to the majority of the people of South Africa.

This, then, went to an ANC conference, which passed a resolution and said let us use a method of expropriating land. But we then said that should only happen—that should only happen in terms of our constitution, in terms of the rule of law. And that then started a process of—the parliamentary process of consulting our people. Up to now we’ve had 650,000 submissions and proposals that are now being currently considered by our parliament, and our parliament will come up with a report on what should be done.

Part of the process could well be you amend the constitution to allow land to then be portioned out to the majority of our people, or you leave the constitution as it is and then utilize laws to do it, to achieve this objective. And we have said whatever finally happens, everything will be done in terms of the law. There will not be any land grab allowed in South Africa. We will follow—we’ll do it in terms of our constitution. We will also do it if—and obviously, we want to grow the economy of our country, to enhance the economic growth of our country, to increase agricultural production, and also to increase food security. And part of it is also to enable people to get pieces of land to build their houses because in the apartheid years that, too, was prevented. People were not allowed to live wherever they wanted.

So what we are involved in is a wholesome process where we are listening to all our people. And some of the proposals that are coming forward are most exciting proposals. A number of companies that own land are coming forward and saying we want to give land away; we realize the injustice that was done in the past; we would like to participate in the resolution of this problem; so we have huge tracts of land to give away. We’ve got state-owned enterprises that are also going to be able to give land away. The state also owns land. That is also going to be in the pot of giving land away to our people. So we’ve got a number of solutions that are now coming to the fore. And with that—and forgive me for taking one more minute—with that, we believe that a solution is in hand.

Now, we are doing all this relying on what I call our South African DNA. The DNA that is inbuilt in the way we do things is that which we were taught by Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela taught us that rather than resolve problems, however intractable they might be, through war/violence, resolve them through talking to one another. And we were able to resolve the apartheid nightmare through—which many people thought was intractable—we were able to resolve it by talking to one another, and we found a solution. Similarly, on this question of land—which, by the way, reared its head in 1996, when we drafted our constitution. We were then able to find a solution, and that solution has been found not to have been thorough enough. And now we are seeking to find a better way to resolve this problem.

And I can assure you we are going to find a solution. We are going to put this problem to bed. We are largely going to be able to do so because proposals are coming to the fore, the bagful of proposals from a number of people, including landowners, including white landowners, who says we want to be part of the solution because we realize that this must be solved to secure stability for the country going forward.

So our view is we need to manage this risk, and all of us as South Africans are united in our resolve to resolve this risk, to find solutions. And the solutions are coming to hand and we will be able to resolve this problem and move forward, as we did in 1994 and once again in 1996, when they drafted our constitution.

So be rest assured, we are going to resolve it. And if Mr. Trump was here, I would have told him, Mr. Trump, be rest assured this problem is going to be solved in the typical South African way, because we’ve been able to solve our problems in the past.

Thank you very much.

ALTMAN: He is not a member of the Council. (Laughter.)

Theoretically, my time as questioner is already almost up. (Laughter.) But let me turn the question or my attention to a couple of domestic issues. And let me start with the economy.


ALTMAN: Just this past Friday you unveiled a seven-part economic-stimulus program—


ALTMAN: —and obviously an important step from the point of view of your administration. Step back for a moment and tell us how you view the South African economy right now. It appears to be in recession. What do you think it takes to get the South African economy growing at a level that you’d like, including the way this stimulus program will work? And just walk us through that, if you would.

RAMAPHOSA: Well, when we got into power, we inherited an economy which was structurally aligned toward serving the interests of the minority. The majority of the people of South Africa were not owners, controllers, or managers of the economy.

So you had an economy that was skewed, from a structural point of view, toward serving just a minority. And the majority people were just like bystanders; if not bystanders, just laborers. And it was constructed in that way for a particular purpose. The purpose was to perpetuate white-minority control.

And when we got into office, we sought to manage this economy. And we managed it in a way where we said we are going to transform the economy. We’re going to transform it so that the economy serves the interests of all the people of South Africa. We are going to try to promote black economic empowerment so that black people should feel that they are participants in the economy, they own the economy as well, and they also get into leadership and management roles in the economy.

That has been proceeding. But at the same time, the structure of our economy has proceeded in a way where even the IMF, looking at our economy, said this economy is dominated. Dominance of the major corporations in this economy impedes it from operating at its maximum level, because the concentration of ownership and control is just quite big.

And it is an economy that was structured in a way where it was more extractive. It was based more on the extraction of minerals and selling minerals to international customers. And so it was based more on the minerals-extraction type of complex. And the manufacturing base was quite low, and over the years it has been going down most of the time. So with this type of economy, we then had to make means to see how best we can grow it.

Over time, with the global economy being what it is, our economy has not been growing at the level that we expected to serve the interests of the people as a whole. And as a result, the government has had, particularly in the past few days, as our economy has entered what we call a technical recession—over two quarters it hasn’t shown growth—we’ve had to take steps as the government to try to give impetus to the economy by pumping money into the economy. But we are also constrained because our debt levels are very high and we’re servicing debt at a much higher level, and so our borrowing capacity is quite limited. So we’ve had to reprioritize our budget or our fiscal position with a view of finding money and pumping money into the economy.

But we’ve also come up with an innovative idea of focusing on infrastructure as being one of the key drivers of our economy. So we’re going to be setting up an infrastructure fund in which we will pump up to four hundred billion rand to inject growth in the economy. That, we hope, will stand our economy in good stead. And we hope that it will increase spending from ordinary people and we will see more manufacturing picking up and our exports also going up.

Our position—the strength of the rand has also been a bit of a problem. With the increase in the oil price, our position has not been greatly improved. But with the measures that we have put in place now, we are hoping that we will be able to return our economy to growth. At the same time, we will continue with the restructuring of our economy to enable black people to become active participants in the economy of our country.

ALTERMAN: A question about corruption. You’ve talked about corruption regularly, and I watched an interview you gave just after announcing your stimulus program in which you talked about it again as an impediment at a lot of levels to South African progress. How do you think you can make changes in that?

RAMAPHOSA: Well, we’ve been beset by corruption quite extensively over the past few years. Corruption started seeping into our body politic in our state-owned enterprises and a number of other government institutions. And that has led to a number of investors feeling that corruption is debilitating their enthusiasm to invest in our economy, together with other policy positions that had become inconsistent and uncertain.

And we have now started, as part of this stimulus process, to reform, to embark on a number of reforms, reforms that are going to have an impact on our policy positions to make them more certain and more consistent as to be able to attract investment into our economy.

But the other major issue that we’ve embarked on is to clean up, to clean up state-owned enterprises. State-owned enterprises account for about thirty percent of the economy of our country. And a number of them have been subjected to a number of malpractices and corrupt activities that were being perpetrated in quite a number of them at management level and at board level. So we’re cleaning that up. We’re changing boards where it is necessary, and we’re removing those managers who have been complicit in all this, and they are going to be charged and they are going to have to be accountable through our criminal justice system. So cleaning up our institutions is part of a major project that we have embarked upon, which we hope and trust and believe is going to reposition our country, particularly our economy, in a way where we will become much more attractive to investors. And that is a process that I as president am firmly focused on to show that those who are complicit should be accountable and those who are found to have done wrong should be able to face the might of the law.

Once we clean up our act in a number of state-owned enterprises as well as government departments, I think that will reposition South Africa. It will make South Africa much more attractive as an investment destination. We are going to be moving to an investment conference in October, where we are hoping to raise a hundred billion dollars over a five-year period. And this is the story that we’re going to put forward. We’re going to put forward a story of South Africa that is reforming, a story of South Africa that is being repositioned as to be able to be attractive once again to not only the international investing community, but also to the South African investing community, because a number of our own corporates had stopped investing or had gone slow on investing, and that repositioning effect is going to make South Africa much more attractive for investment. So we are focused on cleaning up, repositioning our country and our economy.

And by the way, let me say one other thing. The corruption has not only been the preserve of the public sector, it’s not only been the preserve of government, state-owned enterprises, or government institutions. We’ve also found quite a lot of corruption in our corporates. A number of international companies have been complicit in the corruption that has permeated a number of our state-owned enterprises in our economy, and some of them have been involved in gigantic scandals of corruption that have led, I’m sad to say, to billions of rands being lost to pension funds, to insurance companies, and that has actually been quite a horrendous story that our country has gone through. So our clean-up act is both at public sector level as well as private sector level. And in the next few months, I’m sure that our state, our criminal justice system is going to be very busy in dealing with this matter.

At the moment, we’ve got a commission of inquiry. That’s what we call it in our country. It’s an investigation body. But it’s busy dealing with what we call state capture, where certain individuals in certain companies sought to capture the state and perpetrate their corrupt activities. So it is investigating all that, and bringing it to the fore.

And thanks to the existence of a free press in our country, we’ve been able to benefit from their investigative journalism, which has brought all this to the fore. And with this, I think we’re going to be able to clean up our act as a country and move forward with greater determination, knowing that we’ve dealt with the problems that have debilitated growth in our country. Thank you.

ALTMAN: One last question from me before opening up to questions from the members. You’re also president of the ANC.


ALTMAN: Just say a word or two about the way you look upon the party, the standing of the party with the public, whether you intend to pursue serious reforms in terms of the party, and that question.—

RAMAPHOSA: The ANC was formed in 1912. It’s 106 years old, and has gone through moments of great growth and great glory. But it has also gone through moments of great weakness. We have just emerged from a conference, the 54th conference of the ANC, where I was elected, together with my colleagues, where the ANC admitted that over the past few years it had lost quite a lot of its positioning in the sense where it had become distant from the people, where people had lost confidence in it. And this was clearly demonstrated in the past elections that we had where the support of the ANC went down. And through that, it went through a cathartic moment of baring its chest and its soul to the people of our country. And at that conference it resolved that it must renew itself—in other words, clean up its act. It must unite itself, but it must also rid itself of corrupt activities, both inside the party and also in the government that we lead.

So that decision has become the lodestar for me, from a policy point of view, of what needs to be done in the ANC. We are now in the process of renewing ourselves. We’re also in the process of uniting the ANC. And naturally, after a conference, people—particularly where one candidate and a few others won, naturally there will always be moments where you still need to piece everyone together.

And this is where we are now. We’re continuously uniting our party, pulling everyone into what we call (“one call” ?) in South Africa, making sure that we look in the same direction. And that is beginning to bear fruit. And the party is renewing itself in the way that it functions, in the way that it finds ways of appealing to our people once again.

The spirit of renewal, of what we call the new dawn, is spreading in the country. And people are feeling a lot more enthusiastic about the ANC’s position. And those who had become disillusioned are coming back as individuals, but a number of other organizations that the ANC used to work with are also coming back. Religious organizations and many others are gravitating more and more towards the ANC once again.

So the ANC is finding traction once again. And I’m confident that it should be able to win the next elections quite easily, which will be held next year, before May of 2019. So we go to those elections renewed, united, and feeling much stronger than we have in the past.

So the ANC is getting back its mojo, if one can say that; is getting back its strength. And it’s getting back its commitment to serve the people of South Africa, because that is what the ANC was formed to do. So the mojo is coming back. (Laughter.)

ALTMAN: Let us please have some questions from the members. I just would like to remind everyone, President Ramaphosa is the only one speaking here today, so please ask questions.

Reverend Jackson.

Q: I think it’s fair to say that, because real leadership and (constituent ?) labor in the height of South Africa’s crisis, your own integrity and abilities is a breath of fresh air for the country. And we all thank you very much for those committed to the proposition.

Secondly, how long will peace without the land issue being resolved be possible?

Secondly, the view of this administration toward South Africa and Africa generally in terms of health care and trade and investment and land, where is the U.S. on that proposition? It referred to Africa as an s-hole. How does it really see you now?

Lastly, out of the South African part of it, other African countries are not waiting for us. They’re really into China. Take a country like Guinea, for example.

RAMAPHOSA: If you could raise your—yeah.

Q: Take a country like—

RAMAPHOSA: I think people are struggling at the back to hear you.

Q: —a country like Guinea, for example. Do you relate to all countries at some level? So on a scale to five, and A being beginning, and graduate toward full relations, or do you just leave an all-or-nothing position on not relating to an African country? Because if you take all or nothing, there won’t be enough countries to relate to the continent.

Do you follow me? Back up. While we are—while we are—

ALTMAN: Can he answer what you’ve already asked first? Is that all right?

Q: While we are both—(inaudible)—that makes it impossible for relations with other African countries as a nation, while we are dillying on that, China is investing, building roads and bridges, and we’re not. What can we do to expand our effort and influence in Africa?

RAMAPHOSA: I struggled to hear some of those questions.

ALTMAN: Well, I think you can—you can—it’s OK if you’re—if you answer those questions selectively, that’s just fine. (Laughter.)

RAMAPHOSA: Well, maybe let me start with the one that you started with, how long will peace continue without the land question being resolved. It is imperative that the land issue be addressed and be resolved. I have no doubt in my mind that we will be able to resolve this question and we will come out with a solution that could lead to win-win outcomes for all, for current landowners and for those who do not have land, just as we did when we resolved the apartheid problem, because we resolved it between those who had the vote and those who did not have the vote. We were able to resolve it and find practical—a practical solution.

Similarly, on this one, given as I was saying the number of proposals that are coming to the fore, the solutions to me are beginning to become more apparent. And I’m also encouraged and guided by what was set out in our Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter, which as I said was the lodestar document that led—got us to prosecute the struggle as we did, said on the land issue the land shall be shared amongst those who work it, period. And this is going to help inform the approach that we are also going to have on the land question. And the solutions that are being put forward by a number of South Africans—and let me immediately say there hasn’t been an issue that has involved and evoked such a broad-spectrum debate in South Africa since 1994, when we crafted our constitution. When we crafted our constitution, we went around the country and got submissions from 1.2 million South Africans who contributed to what our constitution is today. And today we’ve had 650,000 South Africans who have contributed to a possible solution to this. And already I can see a solution on the horizon because the determination of many South Africans is there.

So can there be stability without resolving the land question? That is the real question. We all want stability. We all want progress in our country collectively as South Africans. And that stands out as the most important issue that all are seeking to achieve. So in order for us to achieve that stability, we’ve got to resolve this problem, and we are going to resolve it without any doubt. And once we do so, we will then be able to embark on a land reform project that is going to be all-encompassing.

And maybe you can pause for a while and remember in your history studies that land has always been a big challenge in many, many countries around the world. Wars have been fought around land. People have died around—on the land issue. And what we are seeking to do is to find a happy medium—a happy medium that is going to avoid all those horrible outcomes. And we will do it. We are South Africans. We are Nelson Mandela’s children. We will do it in the way that he guided us and taught us to find a solution. That has been a lasting solution over the past twenty-four years. It has held together. The democracy that he bequeathed us has held together, and this too we’ll find a solution for and we will be able to chart a way forward.

On the issue as I heard it, Reverend Jackson, the issue of the Chinese coming into Africa and all that, yes, we are members of BRICS. BRICS is composed with Brazil, China, Russia, and India, and South Africa. And we’re the smallest in all these big, important countries, and we’re treated as an equal partner. We participate together. And China clearly has embraced Africa in a way where it says we want to contribute to your growth, but obviously as a country they also want to trade with Africa. They want to spread their goods in Africa. And as they do so, as African countries, we have to deal with China in a way where we are equals. And China has insisted that, yes, we would like to deal with all of you as equals.

But at the same time, there are quite a number of other countries that have dealings with Africa. A number of countries hold forums and conferences with African countries, and bring them altogether. The U.K. does, France does, and a number of others. And so, Africa, as a growing continent, clearly, in dealing with its various partners, has to advance its own interests, but advance its own interests without sacrificing its own sovereignty. Various countries, in dealing with any country in the world, would love not to sacrifice their own sovereignty. Certainly, that is the case with us South Africans. And whatever we do from a foreign policy point of view, we seek to protect our interests and to advance those interests and not to sacrifice our sovereignty. So we’re going to be very careful in dealing with any country in the world. But if it leads to us progressing, developing, and we do so on an equal basis, then of course we are prepared to have dealings with such countries and trade with them, and invest in each other’s economies, and all that.

ALTMAN: Yes, ma’am.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President, for joining us at the Council today.

My name is Laurie Garrett. I’ve worked for many years in your country and elsewhere on the HIV/AIDS problem. And I know that your country is committed to trying to be independent of external funding to tackle HIV/AIDS. But you also have the highest rate of HIV infection on the planet, and a youth culture that is getting younger and younger, and a rising tide of drug-resistant HIV that’s like a ticking clock.

So can you make that deadline? Can you beat that disease? Can you have a generation come up without HIV?

RAMAPHOSA: Yes, we carry the biggest and the highest burden of HIV prevalence in the world, unfortunately. The fortunate thing is that we’ve got partners in the world who are assisting us to tackle this challenge, and the U.S. is one of those partners that we have. A number of other institutions in the U.S. also help us. The Bill Gates and Melinda Gates Foundation help us. The Global Fund also helps us, and the U.S. government also helps us, and a number of other partners in Europe, and indeed, also on the continent. They are assisting us to tackle this.

And recently, we have found that the infection rate has started to plateau and is going down, and largely because of the assistance and the support that we are getting from our partners in terms of spreading the prevention message, in terms of treatment as well. We’ve got some 4.3 million people on antiretrovirals, currently the largest program in the world. The infection rate in our country is much higher than that, and we’re seeking to get more and more of South Africans to get on treatment. But the good thing is, as I was saying, the infection rate is going down.

And we’re focusing on the youth, that the youth should be more conscious and aware of the dangers of HIV, the disease. And we’re seeing some progress in that regard.

When it comes to drug resistance, we’re also beginning to pioneer in the way of research. And a number of our scientists leading vaccine development, as well as treatment development. Of course, we are also benefiting from our collaboration with other scientists and developers in the world.

So we’ve always seen the HIV challenge as being a global one. The U.N. helps us. The World Health Organization helps us. The UNAIDS system also helps us. It has to be seen as a global challenge, and we are enjoying the assistance or welcoming, rather, the assistance that we are getting. Are we going to see an era when HIV will be behind us, when we will see its shadow? We are hopeful that we will and we are working towards that.

I used to be the chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council, which we call SANAC. It’s a body that brings together government, business, sports organizations, and civil society, and medical community—the broadest, you know, if you like social partners’ collaboration that is dealing with this challenge. And all those partners are united, fiercely united, in trying to curb the spread of this disease and to make sure that we find the treatment for it, the vaccines. And those are being developed. We are making a great deal of progress thanks to the partnership that we enjoy, particularly from the United States. And once again, I say: U.S., thank you very much for being our partner on this. Thank you very much.

ALTMAN: This meeting is being livestreamed to members of the Council on Foreign Relations around the world, and I have a question that’s been submitted from a member of the Council who is in Johannesburg. And his question is: Do you intend at any point to seek electoral reform in South Africa, including the system by which members of parliament are chosen?

RAMAPHOSA: This issue of electoral reform has been on the cards for quite a while. There was a report that was submitted by Dr. Van Zyl Slabbert, who was the leader of the opposition some years ago. He has since, sadly, passed away. And it proposed a mixed system. Right now we have what we call proportional representation, and we opted for proportional representation when we came out of the nightmare of apartheid. We felt that we needed to have a unified system of government or legislative entities where there would not be a winner past the post, a single winner past the post, where all parties, as many parties as possible who would have achieved a particular threshold, would be represented in our parliament. That has served us very well because it means that even the smallest parties, as soon—as long as they can get a particular or demonstrate a particular level of support, are able to get representation in parliament. Currently, we have some twenty-three or so parties in our parliament. And those competed and there are little fewer who finally succeeded—twenty-three competed and fewer then succeeded. But they’re all represented, those who succeeded to pass the threshold. And that has contributed to having what I call a wholesome representative parliamentary system.

Others have felt that you need to have, you know, a constituency-based one where a winner takes all. And we felt that winner-takes-all, in our embryonic stage of our democracy, would not serve us so well. We needed to have inclusivity.

Yes, those proposals are still on the table to have a combined system where you could possibly combine constituency-based and proportional representation. That is something that is continuously on the table and will be considered. But for now, because we are involved in a task to unite the nation, to make everyone feel included rather than excluded, we have believed that it’s best to have the system that we have.

ALTMAN: Yes, sir, in the back.

Q: Ben Bartenstein from Bloomberg News. President Ramaphosa, thank you so much for joining us today. I have a follow up actually to Roger’s last question.

Mr. President, you said that you expect the ANC to quite easily win elections next year.


Q: I’m curious, how do you sell your bold economic overhaul to voters at a time when business confidence is at a one-year low, the rand is the fourth-worst-performing currency in the world, and your own central bank says that your initial three percent target for economic growth this year, that growth will actually be much lower than that?

And on the final point, I’m just curious what your new economic estimate is for growth this year and next. Thank you.

RAMAPHOSA: Business confidence has been down—and sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down—and has been down because there’s been quite a lot of uncertainty, as I was saying earlier, and they have also complained about consistency. The uncertainty has been giving rise to, for instance, our policy positions on a number of areas, like, for instance, the mining charter. They have said you have had—you have proposed a mining charter in the past year or so, which would have prevented investments from taking place in South Africa, so they held back. We’ve now consulted extensively on the mining charter and we’ve resolved that to the satisfaction of a large portion of the mining industry. Who did we consult? Business, labor, communities, and a number of other regulators as well. So they’ve been consulted. We’ve crafted a mining charter which is much better than what we had in the past and which is, in our view, much more conducive for investment. So that has been done and dusted, solved.

They complained about not releasing the telecommunications spectrum. And we’re now in a process of doing that. The telecommunications people or potential investors here, we have now addressed that. That also is going to be done and dusted in a week or so.

The visas to enable people to come to our country, particularly businesspeople, were also a huge headache. And they have raised that continuously with me as I’ve been engaging with businesspeople that they are not able to bring their executives to look after their investments in the country. We’ve now addressed that, done and dusted. We’re just finalizing a few negotiations with a few countries.

And we’re now resolving quite a number of issues, including things like our electricity prices have been among the highest in the world, which we call administered prices. We’re resolving—going to be resolving that so that we can attract those companies that use a lot of electricity in their operations. And so one after the other of issues that businesspeople have raised with us we are addressing. We are being very proactive and being very, very positive and constructive because we want South Africa to, once again, be an attractive destination for investment.

So what will that do? It’ll boost business confidence. Yes, the rand has been one of those basket of currencies that has not been performing well. I would say it’s not been the only one, a number of other currencies have not been performing as well as, I think, those countries would have expected. With the increased confidence in our business community and us resolving the policy issues, we expect that the rand will respond and be a lot better.

Our central bank, yes, they have revised their growth prospects. They have revised them in view of, one, the global, you know, economic situation and the exposure that we have to it and the way our economy is performing. Demand has been relatively low in South Africa. And with the reform that—reforms that we are embarking on, I believe that, you know, there will be more growth in our economy. The injection that we are putting in, particularly on infrastructure, which I believe is a key driver of economic growth, we will be able to see more economic activity and more confidence in our economy.

And the other important part is that the reforms or the stimulus that we have put out is not only aimed at, you know, your hardcore issues, they are also aimed at impacting on the social life of people. For instance, we are focusing on how our local government is run and the infrastructure projects, how they are manifested at local government level. So all that is going to contribute to strengthening our economy.

Am I able to give you an estimate now on how the economy will perform? No, not today. (Laughter.) Try me next week, maybe I’ll be able to give you.

ALTMAN: It’s my duty as moderator to end this meeting on time, and we’ve already run over. I apologize to everyone who wanted to ask questions and wasn’t able to.

But please join me in thanking President Ramaphosa for being with us today. (Applause.)

RAMAPHOSA: Thank you, you were difficult.

ALTMAN: (Chuckles.)


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