South Africa


Ramaphosa has failed, is still failing and shows no sign of reversing the deadly trend

Ramaphosa has failed, is still failing and shows no sign of reversing the deadly trend
Illustrative image | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Leon Sadiki / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | An Eskom coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga, South Africa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

From the Lady R mystery to the electricity crisis, there is no sign the President has made any meaningful push to deal decisively with any of South Africa’s problems.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inability to confirm or deny immediately whether our military sold weapons to Russia is part of a growing mass of evidence that he is not in control of his own government – seemingly unable to control events, or even influence their direction. 

Some of this must be his responsibility; he sought election as President. However, it is also true that our state, like many others, has been weakened by the pandemic, and other events that would be beyond the control of any government. In the chaos of the 2020s, it may be impossible to determine what portion of our state’s failure is his fault, and what is beyond his control.

On Thursday, just hours after the US Ambassador to South Africa said he would stake his life that Russia received arms from Russia in December 2022, Ramaphosa was asked in Parliament whether this was true.

Instead of either confirming or denying it, Ramaphosa played for time, and said that there would be an investigation. Later, the Presidency confirmed there would indeed be an investigation into the docking of the ship the Lady R and that it would be headed by a retired judge.

Interestingly, Ramaphosa also chided the DA’s John Steenhuisen for the way in which he had phrased his question about the docking at Simon’s Town naval base. Ramaphosa said specifically: “Simon’s Town is not what you call your government’s Simon’s Town. It is South Africa’s. It belongs to the people of South Africa…”

While Ramaphosa may have been trying to make a political point, in the process he surely bolstered the basis of Steenhuisen’s question. It must follow that if the naval base indeed belongs to the people of South Africa, these very same people of South Africa have the right to know what happened in Simon’s Town during those action-packed nights last December – and it should enjoy the right to know within days, not years later.

It is now six months since the Russian ship docked at Simon’s Town. It seems impossible to believe that given all of the public attention and reporting on the issue, Ramaphosa and his government still do not know what happened there.

While Defence Minister Thandi Modise has said that the Russians delivered “an old, outstanding order for ammunition used by the Special Forces”, there is still no clarity as to what was loaded on to the ship.

And this, of course, is the issue.

In some ways, the entire claim by the US that our government sold weapons to Russia rests on the fact that the same government went to great lengths to conceal and still has not explained what happened.

All of this raises many questions.

In the hours after the US claim, the political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki said on Newzroom Afrika that “the president to me, as a political analyst, doesn’t seem to be in full control of the Cabinet”.

He points to a previous example of how Denel bought a British company owning intellectual property around armoured cars. This was then sold, under murky circumstances, to a company in the UAE.

Considering that in recent times the SANDF has attempted to spend R228-million on unproven and unregistered Covid-19 drugs from Cuba, and that more and more stories about alleged corruption have emerged, this may lead to claims that in fact government does not know what happened in Simon’s Town, and that this was indeed some kind of corrupt deal involving a senior naval official acting on their own.

One of the interesting claims about all of this comes from News24, which reported over the weekend that “sources had indicated that the operation when the vessel arrived had been led by Armscor as the agent for the Department of Defence and the SANDF”.

Recently the chairman of Armscor, Philip Dexter, tweeted: “We look forward to hosting and protecting the President of the Russian Federation. Imperialists and their joke of an ICC be damned. They must first arrest all their war criminals before we take them seriously. Even then we will defend Putin.”

While this may be legitimate political speech (although it may be important to ask whether someone who claims to support human rights believes President Vladimir Putin would ever fight for their human rights), it adds fuel to the fire of speculation.

Could it have been someone else who was able to pull this off without the government knowing?

It appears that the US may know more about what is happening at Simon’s Town than our government. As Moeletsi Mbeki reminds us, this is not the first time. In 1983, the commodore of the base for the apartheid government, Dieter Gerhardt was caught by the US spying for the KGB.

Power shoe is on the other foot

In the meantime, there is much more evidence that Ramaphosa is losing his ability to direct events.

Also in Parliament on Thursday, he suggested that he believed we should use the Karpowerships to generate electricity. This appears to be the first time he has made such a suggestion and is now following the lead of Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, who has publicly stated his enthusiastic support for that deal many times.

This is the opposite of what has happened in the past. Just 18 months ago, it was Ramaphosa who was able to force Mantashe to remove the limit on embedded generation, thus allowing companies to generate their own power and sell the excess to other people.

Now the power shoe seems to be on the other foot.

There is plenty of other evidence that Ramaphosa is losing control.

The strange sequence of events just two weeks ago, where he and the ANC both claimed to have misspoken about whether South Africa would remain in the International Criminal Court also suggests an almost complete lack of influence.

This is obviously associated with a general weakening of the state.

Water and electricity services are collapsing, council infrastructure is being vandalised, and the lives of almost everyone have deteriorated dramatically over the last four years.

Things are worse

His own political party, the ANC, appears to have become more ungovernable, as it cannot even convince its representatives in the National Assembly to toe the party line on important votes. And when they disobey the party, no action is taken against them.

This is what leads to the claim, often repeated, that “things have gotten worse under Ramaphosa”.

There is no denying that this is true. And the reasons why this has happened are vitally important.

But it is also true that “things have gotten worse” in almost every country in the world.

While it is true of Ramaphosa, it is also true of Xi Jinping, Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak and almost every other leader.

There has also been a significant increase in conflict in many states, particularly in Africa.

While each country has its own features, and each conflict its own causes, there can be no doubt that the pandemic – and to an extent the Russian invasion of Ukraine and associated food price increases – has been a major factor in this.

Food prices are clearly a major factor. It is often claimed that many revolutions, beginning with the French Revolution in 1789, have a dramatic rise in food prices in common.

While food price inflation here is around 14% year on year; in Hungary it is 40%; in Turkey last year it was 102%; in the UK in March it was 19%.

All of this may explain why so many countries, including ours, are in such a desperate state. It feels worse because it really is worse.

At the same time, there are many political factors beyond Ramaphosa’s control as well.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic started, and when inflation was generally under control (especially compared with now), the ANC suffered its worst performance in a general election.

This can hardly be blamed on Ramaphosa. It is part of a much longer process in which the ANC has been splintering and losing support, going back to the height of Thabo Mbeki’s ANC in 2004 when it won 69.69% of votes. It would have been dramatically worse without Ramaphosa, in fact.

While all of this is true, it is also true that there is a desperate lack of evidence of Ramaphosa actually attempting to lead.

There is no indication that he has made any meaningful push to deal decisively with any of the problems we have.

‘Investigation by committee’

There has been no order to the Defence Ministry to explain to him within 24 hours what happened in Simon’s Town, no decision on the powers to give to Electricity Minister Ramakgopa, no public attempt to properly deliver the much-promised social compact.

There are so many areas where even a public attempt at influencing our direction might make a difference and create coalitions of constituencies in our society which could lead to real change.

Instead, Ramaphosa’s style of government could be called “Investigation by Committee”. 

This is on him; only, he and he alone, can lead from the Office of the President.

The claims by the US may turn out to be a test of the control that he has of the government he ostensibly leads.

For the moment, there is no indication that Ramaphosa will show leadership in one direction or another. The country is seemingly falling apart and he is nowhere to be found. That is not what leaders do when things hit the fan. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • John Smythe says:

    There must surely be only one way forward to save SA. The ANC has reached the end and now needs to either splinter into various factional parties (which they’re good at doing), or just completely die.

  • John Walton Gardiner says:

    “Russia received arms from Russia”?

  • Chris 123 says:

    Ramaspineless what a waste of 5 years, Noddy would have done a better job of running a country, one crisis to the next all self inflicted.

    • Rama Chandra says:

      Did you mean “ruining” a country? Plenty of people would have done a better job running the country. I note that all the Kremlinologists who claimed Ramaphosa had a cunning long term plan were wrong.

  • Geoff Krige says:

    Not “government by committee” Stephen. “Government by very expensive commission”. Ramaphosa has failed completely and comprehensively. He clearly does not know or control what his ANC is doing. He has failed to rebuild the Chapter 9 institutions destroyed by Zuma. He has failed to get any headway on his own government’s policies on eradicating put latrines, on a better energy supply, on any of their many economic strategies, and on and on. Rampathetic!

  • Johan Buys says:

    CR is destroying his name and it is a puzzle why.

    He cannot stand for another term so in theory he has a free hand to replace any minister.

    What is the threat that paralyzes Ramaphosa?

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Does anyone yet know what happened to the Khadaffi billions last reported to be under the control of Zuma?

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The ANC might have been a party once , today they’re just a swear word

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    With diehard and useless communist idiots, way past their sell by date like the moronic Dexter, who professes total support for the evil mass-murderer Putin monster, it is no wonder that this country is in such deep trouble, We are wash with dinosaurs like Mantashe, Nzimande, Dexter etc. who cling to a failed, brutal, cursed and miserable creed. We will never move forward to prosperity and a place in the sun for all (not just the elite and useless cadres) with these incompetent and wayward fools. One can only wish that such unscrupulous nothing-niks like Dexter and his ilk would have the courage of their convictions, instead of being armchair critics whilst enjoying all the trappings of a Western lifestyle and freedom above all, and move to Russia, their utopian dream. They are too cowardly to even try – they well know that awful repressive, unjust and terror-filled reality is not for them. They would soon be back. Spineless to the core, full of hot air and would never walk the talk.

  • Karen G says:

    Russia received arms from Russia?

  • Nico Brandt says:

    I’m sick of this spineless squirrel the poser! He and Jacob is in running for the worst this country has ever seen!

  • Carlo Fourie says:

    There is but one, sort-of honorable way for Ramaphosa to redeem himself: fall on his sword and resign. That way he is both free of this mess and offers the ANC as sacrificial lamb for their atrocities. South Africa and South Africans deserve to be free of the ANC.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    The speech Ramaphosa gave in KZN tells the true story of his Presidency. He told the delegates that they must concentrate on the unity of the ANC, and not
    saying they should rather be working for the good of the country. The speech was mainly about the losses that the ANC have experienced, which he blamed on the “moonshot pact” and not where the ANC have failed the country and its people

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Don’t why we use the word government when we talk about South Africa, we haven’t got 1,we got thieves/criminals in charge

  • Peter Slingsby says:

    It surely should come as no surprise that a man in the sole business of developing machines to kill people – Philip Dexter – should have zero understanding of humanity, morality or ethics

  • Rob vZ says:

    I think many are wondering if the guy had any real skills at all. It seems he largely inherited his billions by being in the right place at the right time regarding the introduction of BEE. But has he ever built a successful company from the ground up? It is becoming apparent that he is out of his depth as a leader and a president. If you don’t know what your military is doing, you are not in control of a country. Sorry CR, it’s time to go. And take the bandits with you.

  • Bart Henderson says:


  • Bart Henderson says:

    Well done

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.