South Africa


Looking for the merchants of hope after President Presumptive Ramaphosa’s own hope dies

Looking for the merchants of hope after President Presumptive Ramaphosa’s own hope dies
Paul Mashatile, who will kiss any frog if it makes him a prince, is likely to bless an EFF coalition in national government just as he has presumably blessed an ANC-EFF coalition in Johannesburg. (Graphic: Midjourney AI; Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With a hopeless President seemingly belonging to the ‘quiet resignation’ brigade, the ANC is busy spreading pockets full of hope – and cash and promises of power – to those waiting in the wings to be kingmakers.

Was it the limpest speech ever given by President Presumptive Cyril Ramaphosa? I speak of his reply to the Presidency’s budget vote debate, in which he quoted the most positive reviews of his ministers’ performance (sweetheart reviews, admittedly, from in-house) and said there was “solid ground for hope” for solutions to the energy crisis.

Now, we’ve had this discussion before. Remember when the President called on us all to be “merchants of hope”? That was a while ago, and I don’t think anyone has really taken up his challenge, but that may be because it was phrased in a way best suited to a mega-rich neoliberal capitalist, and we all know that neoliberalism wants to monetise everything, even hope.

It could also be because someone who’s a merchant of something is selling it at a price, and nobody could work out how much to charge for hope. In any case, most South Africans are so poor that you’d have to sell hope at 1c per decade’s worth to make it worthwhile. And the ANC is highly unlikely to sell anyone any hope, anyway, unless there’s a guaranteed kickback of a few million rands for the party itself. At that rate, it is going to have to sell all our hope to the highest bidder, which is probably Russia.

Highest stage of underdevelopment

Perhaps we should pause here and wonder whether Russia’s governance model isn’t indeed a good template for the South African government. I mean, here’s a country that has failed to develop its economy since the Soviet Union reached the highest stage of underdevelopment (as one wit had it), is run by oligarchs and spies, has recently invaded a neighbouring country and is busy bombing the infrastructure flat and murdering civilians, and, well, it can still get a stiff dose of whimpering sycophancy from South Africa, which was once the world’s beacon of human rights.

I was going to say we’ve stopped short of bombing infrastructure, but we’ve just let it decay. And we haven’t yet started murdering civilians – or at least we murder them only by accident. Apart from a few assassinations for party-political and taxi-route reasons, of course, and random police violence, those aren’t state-sponsored murders.

But then you could take account of the people who’ve recently died of cholera, an entirely preventable disease, because contracts to fix the sewage plants and so forth were given to an oligarch who pocketed the money and didn’t get the work done.

That oligarch, in cahoots with provincial officials, should in fact be charged with murder. Okay, culpable homicide. The name Edwin Sodi is being mentioned. His fleet of luxury cars is worth how many deaths?

Actually, there is perhaps a little hope to be had in the fact that the new Minister of Electricity appears to have done more in his two-month tenure than the Minister of Energy has done in his years in the job.

A hope too far

But that’s just a sliver of hope that what has been f**ked up by the ANC in government, its intensely rich tenderpreneur friends and its chums in the criminal community may be fixable, or a small part may be fixable. That’s not to hope that it will truly, ultimately, be fixed – and fixed for good. That seems a hope too far.

The ANC has promised so much and delivered so little to the people it claims to represent and care about that it’s hard to believe anything it says. After all, it has comprehensively betrayed every ideal it ever had.

Yet, still, we must find hope where we can. The recent death, sorry, I mean passing, of the former minister of nuclear contracts, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, gives one hope that life expectancy at the party’s higher levels is dropping and that soon we may see the passing of more such ministers. I believe Gwede Mantashe’s diet is very high in cholesterol, for instance.

Then again, former president and present vexatious litigant Jacob Zuma has been dying of a mystery terminal ailment for several years now, but somehow seems to cling to life despite the odds.

They say it really helps old people to keep their minds active, and I suppose all that courtroom drama with lengthy unintelligible speeches by Dali Mpofu, not to mention press releases by Mzwanele Manyi and inflammatory tweets by Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, are keeping Papa Zuma’s brain cells very busy.

Come to think of it, the ANC has been dying of a mystery ailment for years now, and still it clings to life. Actually, the ailment isn’t a mystery, and the party has clearly upped its chances of staying in power by seeking alliances with the EFF. The latter is run by people who were expelled from the ANC but very cleverly came back from the wilderness by forming an external faction of the ANC that, as Julius Malema’s grand plan plays out, would become kingmakers when the ANC loses its majority.

That means, unfortunately, that the hope that Ramaphosa would cleanse the ANC of venality and corruption is likely to die as well. Another hope gone, but I suppose we’ve got used to that. ANC will self-correct? Hope of that dead. Ramaphosa will make an honest party of the ANC? Hope dead.

Quiet-quitting his job

Ramaphosa’s own hope seems to be dead, so why he’s talking hope is unfathomable. This is a President who, in emulation of so many MPs, has basically been quiet-quitting his job for a year or so. He’s barely there. It is pretty much agreed by political insiders and commentators that he is only hanging on until after the next election, when he will quit for real and go off to play with his cattle and the cash in his sofa.

He has been persuaded to stay until then because, with him at the helm, the ANC gets about eight more points in opinion polls. How shocked we will be when the “thuma mina” President campaigns for the ANC all the way through the 2024 elections, making yet more promises and selling yet more hope to the masses, and when the ANC wins just enough to hang on (probably in coalition with the EFF), he’ll pat himself on the back for a job well done and retire.

Hello, President Paul Mashatile. The present deputy, who’ll kiss any frog if it makes him a prince, is likely to bless an EFF coalition in national government just as he has presumably blessed an ANC-EFF coalition in Johannesburg. That backdoor deal, engineered by Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, allows the ANC to keep destroying the richest, most developed city in Africa, our greatest hope of real development, for the sake of a bit of patronage money in the right people’s pockets.

Hello, Deputy President Julius Malema, your masterplan is coming to fruition. You’ve played the ANC brilliantly. Now could you please sell us some hope? DM

Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Irmgard Becker says:

    Excellent summation of the dire situation we’re in. Is Ramaphosa hanging in there so he can milk a few more millions from the dry udder that is our once great country? Probably.

  • Franz Dullaart says:

    Someone please tell Paul that it’s the frog that’s turning into a Prince. And doesn’t that frog remind one of a certain Red Beret wearer?

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