Many people who would not normally vote for the African National Congress (ANC) will do so on 8th May in the hope that Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the country into his promised "new dawn" of investment, growth, and jobs. Does the track record of his government substantiate this hope?
Mr Ramaphosa's actions against corruption are essential to pull the country back from the abyss. But they are not changes in policy (other than stamping out rather than participating in corruption). On the policy front, his government has made three promising shifts. One is to relax the moratorium on oil and gas exploration. The second is to exempt mining prospecting from black economic empowerment (BEE) demands. And the third is to require ballots before strikes are called. It also looks as if the government will refuse to bar the future use of coal for generating electricity.
These measures should encourage investment and growth. But they are outweighed by measures likely to do the opposite.
Topping the list is expropriation without compensation. Helping to prepare the way for this are regulations gazetted last November refining the extensive (and arbitrary) powers of the new valuer general. A Copyright Amendment Bill now awaiting signature provides for the expropriation of intellectual property. Draft regulations aim to increase the power of bureaucrats to override patent rights over medicines.
Property rights are further threatened by the ANC's proposal to investigate "prescribing" the use of private savings for government-dictated investments. Yet another threat arises from the diminution of foreign investors' rights by the misleadingly named Protection of Investment Act brought into operation last year.
Earlier this year Mr Ramaphosa signed the Competition Amendment Bill, which gives the government regulatory powers far beyond those necessary to promote competition. A draft Conduct of Financial Institutions Bill will give regulators extensive powers over financial institutions, including power to cancel licences and impose fines. A Financial Matters Amendment Bill will give regulators powers of search and seizure over auditing firms. Proposed amendments to the National Credit Act provide for the extinction of debt, so eroding the powers of credit providers to recover loans (and therefore their willingness to lend).