Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 21 February 2018

Beyond the Shadow State: The Ramaphosa-struck must guard against replication of false narratives

This is not the time for South Africans to be overwhelmed by the symbolic changes that have been implemented by President Cyril Ramaphosa but rather to demand more from the government of Cyril Ramaphosa. It's a time for South Africans to commit to the values of our Struggle by committing their voices and energies to making our republic better and to hold our leaders accountable.

Many South Africans hope that they are witnessing the revival the African National Congress – the ANC of Tambo, the ANC of Sisulu, the ANC of Mandela and the ANC of Hani. However, let us not get too carried away with that idea – there is too much work for us all to do if we are ever going to forge a social compact that can meaningfully address the issues facing the republic and all South Africans.

The new dawn can only arrive truly if we are able to deal with the faults of our constitutional democracy and the flawed leadership that enabled and supported the Zuma years.

The lost decade under the Zuma administration did not happen accidentally. The rise of Jacob Zuma was supported and enabled by those in the ANC, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party. That rise was also supported by a number of journalists as well as those in civil society who all hoped and believed that Jacob Zuma would offer something different for South Africa. It was a false narrative. South Africans must guard against the replication of such a narrative. South Africans must remain involved, engaged and galvanised to making South Africa better for all who live in it. We cannot simply leave the country to those elected to serve the republic but rather we should all remain involved and engaged.

The ongoing efforts by the ANC to insulate any fallout from the recall and removal of Jacob Zuma are troubling but not unexpected. It would be simplistic and dangerous to reduce the past decade to the simple fact that our democratic institutions and citizenry are resilient. It would be foolish to reduce this lost decade as simply a reminder that South Africans in spite of Jacob Zuma’s Shadow State were able to resist.

We cannot hero-worship either and believe that good women and men were wiling to stand up to this tyranny. Many good women and men also enabled the rise of that state and were active and passive participants in that Shadow State.

South Africa may be inclined to accept reductionism, which thinking would negate the tragic and devastating costs that millions of South Africans have had to endure because of the failings of this democracy, which extend beyond Zuma and the ANC.

However, we must be aware that the ANC must carefully mitigate the potential rise of a countermovement within the ANC that feeds into the victimhood of Jacob Zuma (the very tool that Zuma used to survive beyond 2005 and to secure his own victory in 2007).

The rise of such a movement will prove problematic not just to the ANC but will also undermine the efforts to enable a new dawn and to dismantle the Shadow State. We must remember that the Mafiosi of the Gupta empire and Zuma remain in place with a number of their acolytes deployed to a number of ministries, State-owned Enterprises as well as serving as Cabinet ministers as well as in other senior positions within government. This did not change because Ramaphosa assumed the office of president and it will take some time and effort to change this.

We must not forget that the rise of Ramaphosa in many ways provides an opportunity for South Africans to reflect about their own citizenry, their own inaction as well as about what is possible. South Africans have an important opportunity to reimagine our nation – we have an opportunity to confront our challenges. However, the need to manage the fallout from the Zuma recall will remain a difficult and challenging process for the ANC and Ramaphosa.

The African National Congress and Ramaphosa have not been strong enough to call out those implicated in State Capture or those who established the Shadow State under the presidency of Zuma. South Africans demand more from President Ramaphosa and the continued defence in Parliament of Zuma or the hosting of cocktail functions in his honour will not cement the new dawn.

Lifestyle audits will not be enough to appease the call by many South Africans for justice. We have lost a decade. We have witnessed the events of Marikana and the many ways that South Africans have been humiliated and disrespected by this government.

President Ramaphosa has been careful in articulating a measured and forward-looking approach. The narrative of a new dawn is promising and the perceptions are being shifted; however, this cannot discount or ignore the mammoth task that will be required not only by Ramaphosa and the executive but also will require a collective effort to redirect our collective futures. President Ramaphosa’s call at the end of his first State of the Nation address was not surprising when he said:

  • Now is the time to lend a hand.
  • Now is the time for each of us to say “send me”.
  • Now is the time for all of us to work together, in honour of Nelson Mandela, to build a new, better South Africa for all.

The shift to this new dawn is treacherous and riddled with challenges that Ramaphosa and South Africans must navigate. A path that has been complicated by the Shadow State of Jacob Zuma, which has destabilised the state by ensuring that capacity and ability are reduced and eroded. During the Zuma years, our government and state have become hollow and incapacitated to confront the whims and demands of this Shadow State.

The shift in the national mood has been demonstrated in Parliament as the State of the Nation Address unfolded last week as well as in the president’s response to the debate on Tuesday this week. There may have been a meaningful debate and an engaged response by Members of Parliament to the issues that South Africa must wrestle with, but there is much work to be done and witnessed.

South Africans cannot simply watch this new dawn but will need to consider whether they are willing to serve. The call by President Ramaphosa is not going to simply allow citizens to participate more actively in this change. Government can often be exclusionary and for the past decade that government has been focused on serving the Shadow State of Jacob Zuma, bankrolled and enabled by a number of individuals.

Much of that Shadow State remains in place and so our willingness to lend a hand will not be enough until justice has been realised and demanded. DM

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