South Africa

Quiet Please: Ramaphosa’s noiseless condoms and silent politics

By Ranjeni Munusamy 2 September 2016

When, if ever, will Cyril Ramaphosa speak up? When the deputy president said at the funeral of ANC veteran Makhenkesi Stofile last week that he took “personal responsibility” for the ANC’s sub par performance in the elections, it appeared he might finally be ready to take a stand. But Ramaphosa still seems unwilling to stick his neck out. On Thursday, while answering questions in Parliament, Ramaphosa seemed delighted to market government’s new fruity flavoured, “maximum pleasure” condoms. Playing it safe, it appears, is the deputy president’s primary concern – even though many people wish he would rise up and show leadership. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Ramaphosa is South Africa’s acting president for the next few days while President Jacob Zuma is attending the G20 Summit and Investing in Africa Forum, both taking place in China. It is not as if he can suddenly start making decisions to undo the damage of the Zuma presidency within a week. The role of acting president is simply to hold the fort – or in the case of the current administration, sit back and watch as state departments and entities maul each other in the public eye.

In any case, the business of undoing the damage of the Zuma presidency will take years.

But right now, South Africa is in dire need of voices of reason to speak up and for strong leadership to show itself. As the person still most likely to succeed Zuma as ANC president next year and to top the party’s ticket for the national elections in 2019, there is nobody better placed than Ramaphosa to do so. With the ANC reeling from its poor election performance and the country in a state of political and economic instability, there is also no better time for Ramaphosa to define himself outside of the Zuma coterie.

Ramaphosa has been reluctant to do so because of the unwritten rule in the ANC that leaders should not campaign for positions or appear too ambitious. He has also been careful not to be seen to be undermining Zuma or to be part of any faction competing for control of the ANC. Meanwhile, Zuma’s allies in the ANC Youth League, ANC Women’s League and Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association, all part of the “premier league” faction and with links to the controversial Gupta family, are the dominant voices in the organisation. Their primary focus is to protect the president, service their patronage network, defend the Guptas and prepare the terrain to elect a new ANC leadership that has members of their faction in key positions.

While Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the National Treasury are their main targets, they have now opened a new front against the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). On Sunday, ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte claimed the SARB was failing to protect the rand because the Bank is “privately owned”. 

“The South African Reserve Bank needs to cushion the rand, but the Reserve Bank itself is privately owned and that is a difficulty,” Duarte told the Gupta-owned ANN7 television in an interview. She also said the ANC needed to ask why the rand is so “jumpy” – as if the correlation between bad political leadership and decisions and the economic turmoil was not patently obvious.

The Reserve Bank responded saying it accounted to the people of South Africa through Parliament.

“We wish to reiterate that the shareholding structure of the Reserve Bank has no bearing on any policy decisions that the executive management of the Reserve Bank, being the governor and deputy governors, takes in implementing the Reserve Bank’s constitutional mandate.”

Business Day also revealed this week that Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane had recommended to Cabinet that the Banks Act be changed to allow the finance minister to control bank licences instead of the Reserve Bank. He made the recommendation to limit the authority of the Reserve Bank on behalf of the inter-ministerial committee investigating why South Africa’s top banks had blacklisted the Gupta family and their businesses. The recommendation happened months ago, possibly in anticipation of a change in the finance ministry.

It is clearly not the time for those who can read the big political agenda to sit back and do nothing. There has been very little alarm about the new focus on the SARB except from the former Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni, who is currently also an ANC national executive committee (NEC) member. In a post on his Facebook page, Mboweni said the “ignorant and uninformed who rush to attack” should have the requisite knowledge of the SARB.

“In short, before you open your mouth and shout crazy, ignorant things about the South African Reserve Bank, please read this and visit the SARB website for more literature,” Mboweni wrote. “No leadership must act and look so stupid! At that level, we expect better!”

The problem is that there are too few and isolated voices in the ANC speaking out against the mob. What they need is for senior leaders to draw the line and to show the way.

Ramaphosa re-entered active politics in 2012 with the understanding that he would be next in line to the throne; he is biding his time and hoping that his supporters coalesce around him next year. But the ANC and the country are both in unprecedented turmoil and Ramaphosa’s hopes that his campaign will naturally fall into place are short-sighted and almost naïve. And if recent experience is anything to go by, Kgalema Motlanthe’s by-the-book approach to the last ANC elective conference in 2012 resulted in a massive defeat for him and those who supported him against the Zuma faction.

But this is also not just about the ANC. Ramaphosa cannot be oblivious to the state of economic turbulence in the country and the political agenda exacerbating the situation. Gordhan is fighting for political survival with the Hawks trying to stitch together a criminal case against him that will allow for him to be replaced as finance minister. The National Treasury is under threat of being captured and fighting multiple battles with state-owned enterprises that are themselves in various states of trouble. This is all happening at a time when the focus should be on consolidating government spending, calming jitters and reviving the flatlining economy. 

Answering questions in Parliament on Thursday, Ramaphosa spoke of Nelson Mandela’s leadership qualities, including his compassion and empathy for the suffering of others. He said Madiba’s life’s work was about promoting the rights of others and building national cohesion. But that was not all Mandela represented, even though many people prefer to limit his legacy to his humanitarian work.

Mandela was a politician who spoke truth to power and who stood up against evil at tremendous personal cost. During the transition phase, he was willing to pull the ANC out of the multiparty negotiations because of the National Party government’s dirty tricks and abuses of power. And when he was in retirement, he still spoke truth to power, confronting the ANC about its deadly Aids policies when others were scared to do so.

The downward spiral of the Zuma presidency has been evident for years, but there was no bigger defining moment as when the Constitutional Court found that he had violated the Constitution. That was the moment when the ANC should have put the country’s interests above all else. It was when they should have taken “collective responsibility” for allowing the Nkandla matter to descend into such a mess and for aiding the president in defying the Public Protector’s report. It was also the time when the organisation should have said to Zuma: Enough and no more!

Instead the ANC NEC accepted Zuma’s half-baked apology and silenced other structures that called for action against him. Similarly the ANC took no action for Zuma’s sabotage of the economy and the country’s interests when he fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister for no other reason than to facilitate the capture of the Treasury. And now, as Gordhan is being hounded by the Hawks under a discredited head, the ANC appears unwilling to do anything more than express “unreserved confidence” in the minister.

Yet the ANC was taken aback that millions of its supporters did not trust them with their vote last month. Speaking at the funeral of former minister Makhenkesi Stofile recently, after ANC veteran Sipho Pityana presented a scathing indictment of the leadership’s failures, Ramaphosa appeared to internalise the criticism and indicated willingness to take responsibility for the crisis.

“We are currently in reflective mode: We are listening, we are reflecting, and we are considering, and I guess I can say we perhaps needed to go beyond saying we take collective responsibility and actually say we take individual and personal responsibility as the leaders of the ANC,” Ramaphosa said. “Speaking for myself, as the deputy president of the ANC, I am prepared to say I do take personal and individual responsibility.”

But what does that mean? How can he take responsibility for what has gone wrong and still keep silent? While he has expressed support for Gordhan and concern about the infighting in government, when will he speak out decisively against those sabotaging the country?

More than that, when will Ramaphosa show himself as a leader who wants to lead?

During his question time in Parliament, Ramaphosa made the rather unorthodox move of introducing new fruit-flavoured government condoms, which he said offered maximum protection and maximum pleasure. This is part of government’s strategy to reduce the HIV infection rate and was developed in response to complaints about the smell and “noise” of condoms government had previously distributed.

“Now, through scientific development, we were able to develop a new condom, which is called Max. The Max is for maximum pleasure, protection, and it does not make noise at all,” Ramaphosa said.

It was quite unconventional for the normally prim and proper Ramaphosa to be marketing condoms. His animated performance drew blushes and grins from the ANC benches and howls from the opposition, including “You must give them to Zuma!” from the Economic Freedom Fighters. But it is responsible and necessary for leaders at the highest level to promote safe sex and reduce the burden of disease.

In the same way, it is necessary to come out of the covers and show political leadership at a time when his organisation is being held hostage by a mob and the country is in need of a firm hand to regain stability. If Ramaphosa does not grab the mantle soon, someone else will and he will be forced to slink back to the business world. He might have to reinvent himself as a full-time salesman – perhaps of buffalos, burgers and condoms – when the pinnacle of his political ambitions is actually within reach. DM

Photo: A screengrab of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa answering questions in Parliament (eNCA)


While we have your attention...

An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.

Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.

Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.

Days of Zondo

Nedbank chief spills the beans on Gupta-based meeting with Zwane

By Jessica Bezuidenhout

Whale stress levels dropped dramatically after 9/11 due to reduced ocean-borne shipping. This was measured by analysing said whales' droppings.