Political leadership: President Ramaphosa, lead us into the light

Political leadership: President Ramaphosa, lead us into the light
(Artwork: James Durno)

'When I woke up, I reminded myself that freedom is never free. You have to fight for it. Work for it and make sure you are able to handle it.' – Toni Morrison - God Help the Child.

How many ways are there to be outraged?

Over the past weeks, we have lived through various stages of load shedding, though that is a tired euphemism. Let us be truthful about what we are experiencing. These are blackouts. Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has gone to great lengths to explain why load shedding is technically not a blackout, but at this point it feels like semantics.

Our power supply is unstable and it is affecting our economic wellbeing. Of course, parts of the country are also experiencing regular water shedding, which simply adds to the current mood of frustration.

This is the price we all pay for State Capture, while former president Zuma and his corrupt associates remain secure in comfort. Not a single individual has been arrested or has paid the price for these misdeeds.

A hollowed-out National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), despite a new national director, appears incapable of prosecuting anyone. Constant reminders of limited budget and Covid-19 are becoming tired reasons for the NPA not making significant headway in prosecuting politically connected and/or high-profile individuals.

The Hawks, too, are both incapable of and unwilling to investigate with rigour.

This is a country in which you can plan an insurrection without consequences, after all. But how many more ways are there to lament a country awash with impunity?

Outrage is insufficient when no one seems to be listening. During the recent stage four blackouts, President Ramaphosa was seen on a Twitter video clip saying: “The ANC is not about to collapse.” This was unfortunate navel-gazing while South Africans made it through yet another day of blackouts. He also told us: “Eskom is a complex matter”, that it was a “calamity” “keeping [him] awake at night”.

No sense of urgency, no sense of crisis, no addressing frustrated citizens and businesses: just the usual tempo and the usual inability to grasp that we are now at a point where even the most sanguine of South Africans are angry. Many are now calling for De Ruyter’s head, but we know that this crisis has been more than a decade in the making. It’s an unhelpful, knee-jerk response motivated by frustration (and, in many cases, politicking). As De Ruyter said: “Load shedding will be with us until we get that extra 4,000MW to 6,000MW.”

What we do need is strong political leadership and better communication during this crisis. There also seems to be just the faintest hint of sabotage about all the Eskom challenges. Could this be the deliberate targeting of infrastructure to undermine the state? It’s a question worth asking, given the events of July.

Where is the President?

Ramaphosa, so keen to address us during the Covid-19 crisis, seemed unable to find the wherewithal to address us during the prolonged period of blackouts. His weekly newsletter on 8 November was insipid. (The Presidency is desperately in need of a proper communications team.)

The newsletter came straight from the Ivory Tower into our inboxes. It rightly focused on trade and investment. But how does one attract trade and investment when the lights are out?

He mentioned the electricity crisis and said: “The 25 preferred bidders in the fifth round of our Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme are together expected to invest around R50-billion into the economy. The increase of the licensing threshold for embedded generation to 100 megawatts is likely to result in substantial private investment in electricity generation projects. [SA] has … secured an initial commitment of around R131-billion to fund a just transition to a low-carbon economy by investing in renewable energy, green hydrogen and electric vehicles… These energy investments will help us overcome the debilitating load shedding that the country is currently experiencing, as new electricity generation capacity comes online.”

Ramaphosa, without a trace of irony, wrote of the postponement of the fourth South Africa Investment Conference as follows: “Another important reason for holding it next year is that there will be far greater Covid-19 vaccination coverage by then, making both travelling and gathering easier.”

The President has a short memory. Just recently he led ANC election gatherings with cheek-by-jowl, unmasked crowds. There is a credibility deficit that is hard to accept.

This past Monday, the Presidential newsletter focused on the second phase of the Presidential Employment Stimulus. We understand that unemployment remains one of our greatest challenges, but it is sometimes hard to keep track of all the programmes and plans. But, given the past 10 days of electricity and other infrastructure collapse, often affecting small businesses the hardest, the latest iteration of the Presidential newsletter again felt a little out of kilter. It is important that the President (any president) keeps his head while all about him are losing theirs (apologies to Kipling), but Ramaphosa always seems one step behind public opinion.

He looked tired as he addressed the Intra-African Trade Fair this week. South Africans are also tired: tired of poor governance, tired of the paralysis of an ANC-led government intent on protecting its own interests and tired of the doublespeak and inability to deal with the worst of our crises.

It is long overdue, but Ramaphosa himself should now use whatever political capital he has to rally the whole of society behind a pragmatic, shared vision and a few key solutions to our challenges. This could include a universal basic income grant, declaring the electricity crisis a disaster, rallying all sectors to deal with it, proper communication and transparency on the issues at Eskom and what political leadership he will give to beleaguered De Ruyter and others. He should also do the politically brave thing and ask Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe to resign.

Mantashe is addicted to coal even as he says he will do nothing to jettison the deal crafted at COP26. His contradictory statements and forked tongue are damaging to our country’s interests. We simply do not trust Mantashe to lead us into this brave new world of a proper energy mix.

Flailing around, trying to please everyone by trying to convince us that all is well, simply does not cut it. It is time to put country above party.

Lead, Mr President, lead. DM168

Judith February is a lawyer and author of Turning and Turning: Exploring the Complexities of South Africa’s Democracy.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Ms. February, read this article yesterday in Pressreader, first published in DM 168, but with the heading: “Lead Mr President Leas”. I regard this as one of the very best opinion (or refection) pieces I have ever read in DM, or any other medium for that matter. But it is the message to CR that I truly hopes he read, reflect on, and then implement. But I guess that will just be wishful thinking, so unfortunately, as for whatever reason, the President in simply unable to lead, especially now that our country is such desperate need of true leadership

  • Lorinda Winter says:

    I am beginning to wonder if our President knows how to lead but, unfortunately, he seems to be the best of a useless bunch of shortsighted leaders. Heaven help us.

  • Stephen T says:

    Better political leadership and communications skills will NOT solve anything. When accountability, responsibility, and plain old honesty are completely absent from the ruling party, politely asking for better leadership and communication will prompt them to deliver only one thing: more propaganda.

    I don’t care about individuals like Ramaphosa or Mantashe or Zuma. They have diligently spent decades creating this unaccountable collective for themselves to hide behind when their catastrophic incompetence causes things to break down and collapse.

    It is perfectly clear now that their only interest is, and always has been, self-enrichment at the expense of those powerless to do anything about it – which is the true aim of Marxism anyway. It is now plainly obvious to me that The Struggle was a sham. A con. A grand deception. How does anyone believe them anymore when they say “a better life for all” when all the evidence points to them working very hard in the opposite direction?

    The whole collective must fall. Anything less is small potatoes.

    We can start at ground level in the municipalities by forcing this despicable ANC and other Marxists out of municipal governance or at least into coalitions where their inherent dishonesty can be at least countered. Then slowly, piece by piece, their untrustworthiness and parasitic nature will cause them to either consume themselves from the inside out, or by some miracle they abandon the ideology that makes them so despicable.

  • Charles Parr says:

    Judith, agreed that CR needs to show proper leadership but not this nonsense of leadership by consensus whereby socialism, marxism and Stalinism are grafted onto some form of social capitalism to create a mishmash where everyone can do their own thing. He has to call his ANC NEC together and say “I was elected the leader of the ANC and therefore I’ve decided that this is the road that we will be taking so that I can honour my oath of office to be President to all South Africans”. He can then detail that he intends to free up the markets – labour, energy, steel, trade with fellow African countries and all the other things that need to be done. That will give his cabinet something to think about and give him his own FW moment. There must be an EXIT sign on the door for those that don’t accept that with a special Dinosaur Exit for our coal loving friend.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The C words are the problem:

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    It is customary for a new government to be given 100 days to settle in. Shamila Batohi took up her post on 2021-02-01, (1024 days ago). How about a “1000 days evaluation” of the achievements of the new NPA?

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Sorry, I meant 2019.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    I like the article very much. Unfortunately it is a wast of paper and time, since there will be no consequences.

  • Luan Sml says:

    Judith, thank you for expressing the mood of the country so eloquently!
    Mr. President you are failing us, failing your oath of office, failing the majority of the people in South Africa, it seems you are captured by those in your party who preach ANC unity at all costs!
    For heavens sake, have courage and cut off the gangrenous limb, poisoning the future of South Africa and let’s save the rest of the body … please!
    I’m getting tired of saying “just give him a chance”!

  • Ingrid Obery says:

    on our knees Mr President!

    • Coen Gous says:

      This incredible article of Judith evoked so many memories, and now, so much sadness. After the horror Zuma-years, virtually all South African’s were hoping desperately that Ramaphosa will bring us the light, regardless of the political party he/she supports. To go on our knees, begging the President, to give us, people of all colour and creeds, that light. Begging him to bring us the true leadership we so desperately wishes for. Met him about 30 years ago, at a school for disabled and mentally disadvantaged children (only had white kids, in Randburg). He and his wife were the sponsors of that school. And always thought, since then, this is a leader a country like ours desires, hope for, and wishes for. This was not just another article by a journalist, it was a journalist crying out for help, leadership! Will he read this article? Will he listen? What do we know, we are mere mortals. Will out wishes be granted? Only time will tell. If he fails our desperate plead for true leadership, he will be remembered by our children as being as cruel, as bad, as his predecessor was.

  • Schalk Burger says:

    Well done for reading the writing on the wall and articulating it so clearly.

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