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JOHANNESBURG — Cyril Ramaphosa’s narrow victory in becoming the ANC’s leader last month represented a sigh of relief for many South Africans. At last, there seems to be a shimmer of hope that the disastrous Zuma era will be over. But if Ramaphosa is to succeed and become a great leader, the new ANC leader will have to learn to walk the talk when it comes to ridding the country of endemic corruption. This is the view of Errol Horwitz in this interesting piece posted below. – Gareth van Zyl
By Errol Horwitz*
The immortality of a fitting Shakespearean phrase was once again affirmed after the vote count for president of the ANC. Cyril Ramaphosa sat at the podium in stunned silence on being elected president. At that moment one can imagine the ghost of King Henry IV stepping up and whispering in Ramaphosa’s ear “Heavy is the Head That Will Wear the Crown”.
Ramaphosa would be the man in charge, having to bear many responsibilities. His task made infinitely more difficult by systemic maladministration, corruption and theft of state resources, orchestrated by his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, and his band of looters.
Adding to the pressure of governing will be those within the ANC who believe Ramaphosa is not the true anointed one to lead the party and country. They will undermine him at every opportunity to perpetuate the culture of patronage within the ANC. He will be regarded by his detractors as a usurper much the same way King Henry was regarded. Henry reigned under a cloud of doubt and uncertainty, characteristics of a weak leader. Will it be Ramaphosa’s legacy as well?
At the outset let’s be clear that the country desperately needed a Ramaphosa victory over his opponent, Dlamini-Zuma. He was, by leaps and bounds, the better choice. A Dlamini-Zuma presidency would simply have been a de facto extension of her ex-husband’s destructive eight years. A shadowy lurking puppet master calling the shots to ensure the flow of corrupt self-enrichment for himself and his cronies.
If there can be any certainty on Ramaphosa’s agenda, it will not include the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth. He is uber rich, and would have no interest in feathering his nest – anathema and a cause of great uneasiness for those comrades accustomed to gouging at the public trough. The fact Ramaphosa will have no interest in self-enrichment does not necessarily mean South Africa can correct its course under his leadership. Far from it, because there is another side to Ramaphosa that raises questions whether he can effectively lead South Africa and clean up the Zuma mess.
Ramaphosa is no political neophyte. He is savvy, experienced, articulate, affable and disarming. He generally makes a good impression – not difficult when compared to the metastasized banality of his ANC comrades. More importantly he understands the politics of compromise which is vital to cleaning up Zuma’s mess.
Whether Ramaphosa, in his new leadership role has the political will to empty the ANC’s cesspool of corruption, culture of patronage, including the purging of ANC do-nothing brown envelope addicted apparatchiks, remains to be seen.
There is empirical evidence supportive of the view that Ramaphosa lacks the mother of all characteristics, basic character. In this respect, what I previously wrote months ago on the question of his character is equally relevant today:
For years Ramaphosa refused to dust off his moral compass. His blind loyalty to the ANC collective was absolute. His silence following multiple incidents of corruption and looting of state resources by his ANC comrades was deafening. The fact that he did not speak out is indicative of symptoms of moral deficit disorder wrapped-up in a reservoir of political expediency and opportunism.
In a perfect parliamentary system a ruling political party chooses its leader within a framework focusing on the long-term good of the country – this means a leader vested with statesmanship as opposed to being a political hack. As a prerequisite to statesmanship the qualities of integrity, responsibility, accountability
As the ANC government’s loyal PR man, Ramaphosa had no qualms by engaging in prevaricatory hyperbole. For example, in his 2016 Christmas message to the nation, Ramaphosa “thanked South Africans for making the country a better place for all”.
Millions of South Africans would totally disagree that it is “a better place for all”. Ramaphosa is, however, correct in one respect: it is undoubtedly a far better place for him and his politically connected friends, while more than 30 million South Africans, based on conservative estimates, live in poverty, and in a permanent state of despair and hopelessness.
His Christmas message was replete with sanitised sound bites filled with platitudes and generalisations. Consider his reference to… “Significant efforts to address the challenges facing the country – like poverty, unemployment and inequality”. It made a good sound bite especially when dishing up rhetoric over reality – a tactic aimed at evading specifics as to “significant efforts”, because in reality, there were no such “significant” efforts that could be attributed to his party.
As deputy president, Ramaphosa routinely employed sound bite speech. Consider again his unresponsive answers to parliamentary member extemporaneous questions. He tangentially responded to the question, and then engaged in vague generalization. In the end the member posing the question invariably backed down, all the more confused and frustrated.
Ramaphosa’s lack of political will and independence raises serious questions about his ability to govern effectively. To add to the mix is a paradoxical tension between Ramaphosa’s intelligence and his judgment. Regrettably his intelligence does not always equate with good judgment. One merely has to recall his deafening silence in the wake of Nenegate by allowing political expediency to cloud his judgment. To put it bluntly: Ramaphosa is not his own man – he has been consumed by years of ANC relentless collectivism, fed by a generous helping of self-interest and the belief in his ascension to leader of the ANC and the country.
Time and again he failed dismally to speak out in parliament and elsewhere on Gupta leaked emails, corruption, or state capture, servile and feckless as a potted plant. So much for Ramaphosa’s best-laid plans when the Zuma faction turned on him, and opted to support Dlamini-Zuma as Zuma’s successor. It was only after the Zuma faction opted for Dlamini-Zuma that Ramaphosa’s went in search of his backbone.
But, being a flawed man does not mean that Ramaphosa cannot become a good leader. History is replete with political leaders who, despite their human frailties, rose to the challenge of good leadership. He can likewise rise to the challenge. For example, he has repeatedly talked the talk on eliminating corruption in the public sector – now he must walk the walk. In doing so, he will face his first acid test by holding corrupt leaders to account. This will require the removal of Zuma and his useless cabinet, to be followed by the purging of the Hawks and NPA and replacing them with competent politically impartial career professionals. He must be seen to act promptly and decisively in cleaning up Zuma’s mess, including rebuilding the economy and investor confidence.
One cannot ignore Ramaphosa’s complicity and odious silence as a member of Zuma’s cabinet in the name of political opportunism. Nor can one ignore his lost and conveniently found moral compass. All things considered we cannot, but we can conditionally forgive, as he is South Africa’s best hope for the foreseeable future.
- Errol Horwitz was a political activist in the 60s, and returned to South Africa a few years ago, after residing abroad for more than three decades.