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Zuma’s mess is Ramaphosa’s curse


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Zuma’s mess spared no quarter, and as such Ramaphosa has to clean up on so many fronts which will take time. Having said that it does not mean we require no leadership from you and your administration when it comes to responding timeously to urgent matters.

Over the past months since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment it seems clear that our unrealistic expectations of him is simply not assisting him and his administration.

In recent weeks with an increase in public protests throughout the country, I hear some among the chattering classes complaining that Ramaphosa must do more to quell such protests and that they fear he does not have a backbone for it. Well, the fact of the matter is that because we allowed the Zuma administration to do so much wrong, it will take a number of years to introduce corrective measures.

A key second consideration that the President bears in mind is the upcoming general elections. If he does too much to satisfy the chattering classes, he stands to alienate some key allies, some private sector types and some cases constituencies which will affect him negatively at the polls. If he does too little people might get the impression that he is “more of the same” and again it might cost him at the polls. So, damned if you do, you damned if you don’t.

That’s why I think he has opted for small reforms for now and once he has the full mandate of the electorate post elections he will be in a much better position to effect the major changes required to take South Africa to the next level.

We have seen a Cabinet reshuffle – not to everyone’s satisfaction but hey, you can’t satisfy everyone all the time. Then we saw Eskom being tackled, with a new board appointment. SARS is rightfully in the spotlight and we will soon see the back of Tom Moyane. We have the right guy as Finance Minister and a team has recently been appointed to go forth and hunt for foreign direct investments. More of the big issues remain on the agenda for sure but these are likely to receive attention after the elections in my opinion.

As I have previously written, what we are seeing around the country is a lack of concentration on the small issues. As a country we have done remarkably well when it comes to the big issues. We have a world-class Constitution with the Constitutional Court being the apex court in the land. We have a Bill of Rights. We have an independent Fourth Estate (media) and its investigative journalism is second to none. Our judiciary continues to show us that it is not only independent but can hold the executive to account. Private property rights remain protected and the cornerstone of our democracy. Personal freedoms are sacrosanct. You get the picture.

It is, however, the lack of concentration on the smaller issues – meaning the interpersonal – over the years that have brought us to this mess. Protests and fighting between race groups in the Western Cape, in Mitchell’s Plain and Siqalo, is a clear indication of how we as a country have avoided the question of race. Poor fighting against poor, the system have failed these people.

Then there is the interpersonal between the leader and his people, which, in the case of North West province, has irretrievably broken down. The land grab issue is another such case where trust amongst constituents and the government elected officials is non-existent and the relationship between police and the public is broken too.

A lot of the small issues refer to social cohesion. We thought we could simply organise a soccer world cup, host a few international events, attend some sporting events (rugby) together in Soweto and dance together at jazz musical events and voilà, we are socially cohesive, a rainbow nation. But the racial dividing lines run so deep in Mzansi that it will take more than events of all kinds to resolve the race question.

In fact, it will need a deep commitment from both public and private sectors to effect the necessary changes to begin to stimulate racial harmony in our beloved country, to launch a very real attempt to deconstruct the apartheid legacy and system.

The system of apartheid was socially constructed by white men in a room over a prolonged period of time and thus I argue that we too must constitute a committee or committees to begin the process of deconstructing such an evil system.

The High level Panel appointed by Parliament has done a remarkable job at tracing the progress made insofar as legislation is concerned over the last 24 years and whether we have succeeded as a national legislature to undo, repeal, and scrap all apartheid legislation.

What is needed now is a similar process on the cultural, education, social, economic, gender and race fronts. This will take time but we have to start somewhere. These are the small issues that so desperately need our attention. Without addressing these we may as well prepare ourselves for more protests and dissatisfaction.

People, more than anything, want their dignity restored Mr President.

I know full well that it starts with the economy and hence your attention on economic recovery because if you get this right, jobs will follow, investment will follow and perhaps then we can begin the process of working on the much needed small issues.

Zuma’s mess spared no quarter, and as such Ramaphosa has to clean up on so many fronts which will take time. Having said that it does not mean we require no leadership from you and your administration when it comes to responding timeously to urgent matters. The Supra matter is fairly straight forward, the people have spoken in that province, they do not want him as their leader, they elected him into office and now they want him out of public office. It’s a simple matter of recalling or firing him with immediate effect. I don’t have to remind you that this is the electorate of the province making this demand. The fact that you have not yet visited the battle grounds in the Western Cape is problematic. Go there and address the people of Mitchells Plain and Siqalo and assure them that though the provincial government has done nothing to address their plight, your government will.

Call a meeting between rival trade unions and attempt to bring together these unions under one common approach if not under one federation, ensure that personalities does not abuse workers for their own personal vendettas.

I’m still confident in the future regardless of expectations being unrealistic and yes we must still address the small issues in our country but we must appreciate the President’s limitations for now. He simply cannot undo years of deliberate maladministration and corrupt practices. DM


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