Bantu Holomisa knows all the pains of following a teleprompter. The United Democratic Movement leader was once entangled in the glare of a tv programme autocue like a deer caught in headlights. President Cyril Ramaphosa had his moment, when on Thursday, a booboo that should have been deleted went all the way to broadcast houses. Social media loves feasting on stuff like that. Holomisa had the humility to laugh at himself when it happened. Of course, there is always bigger fish to fry. And no doubt Ramaphosa knows that too.
The leadership team at the SABC could never find the funny side to it all. They swiftly apologised. I can only imagine how Ramaphosa’s closest advisors felt about the moment that capped a difficult week for South Africa’s Number One citizen. A picture released by spokesman Khusela Diko earlier in the day suggested the heat was on at the Tuynhuis office. She is in the frame with a couple of advisors – from legal to media relations – demonstrating the hectic nature of life right now. Phone calls to arrange a prerecorded address to the nation on all manner of difficult topics: femicide, public violence, xenophobia. The president also had his usual duties; cutting ribbons here, addressing men and women in suits at the World Economic Forum shindig in Cape Town – read a document here – worry about Ace Magashule movements, all that exciting stuff he has to do in between his messy private life.
Ramaphosa could not have predicted that femicide and xenophobia would be forcefully on his agenda so early in his term if at all. Economic reforms were meant to be on his agenda. Fighting Jacob Zuma, both the man and his ruinous legacy, was supposed to be the other agenda. After all, the Prince of Nkandla has been presented as the larger-than-life boogeyman with the power to frustrate the realisation of the New Dawn. The government’s reaction to the violence, in its broad sense that includes xenophobia and femicide, suggests it was blindsided by the flare-up. As if we are not a wounded and violent society. As though the economy is not in the doldrums.
Because the administration is caught napping, Ramaphosa is exposed. He has to address the nation, in unconvincing ways. He has no answers to any of the problems. He has caught on to the increasing realisation that the men in society are the overwhelming perpetrators in this femicide crisis. Duh!
There is no better demonstration that he is caught up in a public relations tailspin than his posing with a poster emblazoned “enough” as though he is an ordinary anti-rape protestor without power to change the situation.
What has been missing in his statements is the recognition that we have a policing problem. And that is not his creation. He was racking up serious billions in the private sector, or acting as Zuma’s butler when his party took the eye off the ball about our crime situation. From when Thabo Mbeki lynched business leaders for going on campaigns to fight a “perception” that crime in the early 2000s had reached crisis points, to the Zuma era that celebrated lowering reported crime incidents as a reflection of a safer society.
The state, in its general form, is now in very poor shape. The ineptitude of the police is so pervasive that rape and other violent crimes are generally out of the typical police officers’ league and skills level.
It was only last year that Ramaphosa attended an event where a number of women graphically showed their literal scars, as victims of abuse from men. He appeared genuinely shocked. That was the moment to escalate the problem. He needed to get the police minister to roll out a programme that would see rape cases receiving specialised attention. Moreover, a programme to prevent such crimes is long overdue. That opportunity was missed.
The xenophobia issue has not even started. We ain’t seen nothing yet. Our economy is misfiring. Our society is tearing at the edges. The ravages of apartheid design course through our social fibre. Poverty keeps these pumping. As the battle for scarce resources intensifies, the Zimbabwean, Mozambican, Tanzanian, and sometimes the Nigerian will be the first scapegoat.
Meanwhile, our borders remain sieve-like porous. And there is no sign that immigration is a big risk to South Africa’s social stability. And there are no signs that the government is watching the trends globally. Instead, ours talks about populism, as if it is limited only to calls for a change in economic policy discourse. Our own Donald Trump in the form of Herman Mashaba will set up a giant campaign platform in two years time, for the local elections, if not for the Democratic Alliance’s leadership battle, on the foreign national issue. He has many sympathisers in society, and the ANC too, who feel public facilities such as hospitals, are caving under the pressure of throngs of foreigners who need healthcare. This at the expense of what they see as the true African, meaning themselves as holders of the South African birthright, in contradiction with the mantra that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. This whole thing is about the economy, stupid. The sooner you fix it, the better the relations. DM