“Lifeless” Ramaphosa doesn’t have it in him to last a second term – Sam Mkokeli

So, what do you call a President of a country who appears to have lost interest in his job and with every crisis that comes across his desk, he kicks the proverbial can down the road by appointing a retired judge to investigate. The term ‘dead man walking’ comes up often in news articles on President Cyril Ramaphosa. One commentator went further by calling South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa a skeleton walking. Sam Mkokeli, a political researcher, and journalist told BizNews that the President, who is the country’s commander-in-chief, could not even give a simple answer to the question of whether South Africa would sell arms to Russia as a matter of principle. Mkokeli said the President appears to be overburdened by the sheer weight of his responsibilities and didn’t have it in him to last a second term. He also said it was not a done deal that Paul Mashatile would be Ramaphosa’s successor.


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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:34 – Sam Mkokeli on Cyril Ramaphosa being “a deer in political headlights”
  • 02:38 – On Ramaphosa taking the long route in solving the Russian arms-dealing situation
  • 04:59 – On the impact of the ANC carrying a “lifeless” Ramaphosa into the 2024 elections
  • 07:47 – On Paul Mashatile as an alternative to Cyril Ramaphosa
  • 10:33 – On South African officials being seen in Russia
  • 12:14 – On the reason behind Ramaphosa’s political inertia
  • 15:10 – On the current state of the ANC government

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Excerpts from the interview

Ramaphosa is like a deer caught in political headlights

Mr Ramaphosa had an opportunity a week ago to clarify this thing about Russia and America and there’s a simple answer. It would have been, would you sell arms to Russia as a matter of principle? What does South African law say about this? What does he do? He goes on, he does the thing he’s been doing for six years now, to appoint retired judges to discuss this, to discuss that. He’s very slow in moving. So, last week when he was in parliament and then this issue came up about the American ambassador who threw the cat amongst the pigeons, Mr Ramaphosa is somebody who is frightened to the extent that he is crippled by this fear. He’s caught out. He does not know what he’s going to do and he kicks the can down the road. So it was a terrible moment for a leader of a government, a statesman, a powerful man who is the head of the army. He’s our commander-in-chief. He does not know how to answer a simple question. If he didn’t have the details, then you go to the principle of the matter. Would you sell arms to Russia in the middle of a conflict? A yes or no? Then second, what [does] domestic law [say] about this? South African law does not allow us to sell arms to any country in a conflict. It starts and ends there. He failed dismally instantly. He just got caught in this situation, like a deer caught in political headlights.

Read more: Ramaphosa, Zelenskiy hold talks amid allegations of weapon supply to Russia

The President added a layer of risk for investors

If you wanted to invest in South Africa and wanted to make a decision today, you could be sitting anywhere in the world and you look around at what’s going to happen. Is South Africa going to be sanctioned, yes or no, maybe we’re not going to be sanctioned, but it adds a layer of risk to a whole lot of other risks. There is an energy risk and a water risk, then there’s a security risk, then there’s something else and something else. So, we miss an opportunity to act decisively on these things. We’ve been struggling with growth and now you add this layer of uncertainty and you think, what good is this for the country? How are we ever going to get out of the troubles we have with our economy?

Read more: Russia row raises SA investor risk as economy flounders

It is not a done deal that Paul Mashatile will succeed Ramaphosa

On paper, he is the successor. He is the ANC’s Deputy President, the country’s deputy president. You would think that he has a chance, but that’s not a guaranteed thing…. It is not a done deal that Mashatile would be the successor. We’ve had ANC deputy presidents not becoming the President. Walter Sisulu and Kgalema Motlhanthe were deputy presidents and never became presidents. The ANC has time between now and the election to look around.

Read more: Cyril’s Rubicon? RW Johnson on arms-to-Russia torpedo for SA’s motor industry, AGOA, ARV supplies.

Overburdened by the weight of responsibility

I’m not convinced he wants the job. I’m surprised he gets up every morning. He’s really overburdened by the weight, the sheer weight of the responsibility. Maybe he’s not the kind of guy who can kick things into gear. It is fine, many leaders are like that but you have to appoint smart people. You appoint a doer around you and somebody who’s going to be driven who’s going to do all those things and follow up on your vision and these wonderful things he said in the past about Thuma Mina and all these great things that he said we wanted to do. But right now we end up with talk and talk. So in this case with the America-Russia thing? He loses a bit in terms of the credibility of his voice and it will be harder for him to say things that are believable.

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