Asleep at the wheel — President Cyril Ramaphosa, a non-Energizer Bunny
Last week’s State of the Nation Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa was an attempt to grab the political initiative, to control at least some of the political messaging ahead of this year’s elections. While his party has imposed boundaries, he still has almost full freedom of action. And yet, he has, somewhat puzzlingly, failed to act. This raises questions about whether he wants to lead South Africa during this difficult period, both at home and abroad.
With a governing party under immense pressure, demands from voters for action and the legal obligations imposed by the Constitution, it would be rational to assume that a sitting president would act decisively.
It is surprising then that in several key issues, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been missing in action.
Perhaps the most public of these issues is the deputy governor vacancy at the Reserve Bank.
Kuben Naidoo left that position on 1 December (he is currently on “gardening leave”). And yet, more than two months later, there is still no indication from the Presidency of who will take over.
(The Thabi Leoka fake PhD scandal may have caused some of the delay. — Ed)
Worse than that, as Business Day has reported, there has been complete silence on the issue.
Considering that interest rate decisions have an important impact on our economy and the lives of voters, this is extraordinary.
It is completely in the power of the President, and the President alone to act. While the Reserve Bank has a long history of stability, and the vacancy on the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has been filled for now (under the law, the President appoints governors and deputy governors, and the governor himself can appoint members to the MPC), there is still a vacancy at the bank itself.
Then there is the Dipuo Peters situation.
Parliament has confirmed that she is currently suspended as an MP after findings by its Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests. As GroundUp put it, she was found to have been “neglectful in her previous portfolio as transport minister by failing to appoint a group CEO of Prasa, had irrationally dismissed the Prasa board chaired by Popo Molefe (seemingly because it had uncovered R14-million in irregular expenditure), and had authorised the use of Prasa buses for ANC events with payment from the party”.
Most members of this committee were from the ANC and still they arrived at this conclusion.
Yet, even with this damning finding and the Parliamentary suspension, Peters is still a deputy minister for small business development (where her department describes her as having been “born with a purpose to lead and make changes”).
In his State of the Nation Address last week, Ramaphosa proclaimed, “We will not stop until every person responsible for corruption is held to account.”
How does the fact he has failed to act against Peters stack up against that promise? And against his previous promises, repeated many times, to act against corruption?
There are other examples of such, uhm, infidelity to truth.
Last week, the Presidency confirmed that SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter had agreed to stay on past the formal end of his term in April. When he was appointed, Kieswetter (who has proven that an institution can be reformed with the right leadership) said he would serve one five-year term before retiring.
Now, even the Presidency cannot explain how long he will remain in the position (as News24’s Carol Paton has explained, it appears that none of the people appointed as deputy commissioners at SARS is yet fully prepared for the post).
What is startling about this, is that appointing someone to a crucial position is an important way of prolonging presidential power. It would be rational to expect any leader with the power to make these appointments, facing the political situation he does, to fill them as quickly as possible.
At the very least, it would show initiative and give voters the impression that he is still interested in governing.
Firing Peters would be a clear sign of a new energy injection in his often-stated but rarely practised commitment to renewal.
It needs to be asked why Ramaphosa, just a few months before South Africa’s most important election in a generation, is not acting and is not even seen to be acting with regard to Naidoo, Peters and Kieswetter.
It appears that he is either unprepared or plain incompetent, didn’t realise what was happening or just doesn’t care about these matters.
This suggests that his private office is not well managed. This impression is strengthened by the fact that Ramaphosa has been consistently late for many of his addresses to the nation.
Could it be that the President has lost interest in governance just as multiple crises are massing like storm clouds on the horizon?
Is Ramaphosa truly committed to being the president of this country?
To defeat Jacob Zuma’s faction at Nasrec in 2017 was an immense achievement that required massive resources and dedication. He put a lot of time and energy into that achievement. Since then, and perhaps after the first burst of energy in 2018, he gradually lost his mojo.
In late 2022, just before the ANC’s leadership conference in December, he even came close to resigning over the Phala Phala finding, according to sources around him.
Ramaphosa has said he is committed to fighting these elections and winning them for the ANC.
Putting the same energy into governance above all else would be a way of ensuring victory for his party and delivering on promises he made in his 2017 ascent to power.
As mentioned above, South Africa (and the global community) are in for tough times, with the very fundamentals of modern, accountable governance targeted by nihilist forces all over the world. This country needs a committed leader who will at least try their best to protect our democracy. Cyril Ramaphosa appears to be asleep at the wheel. DM