With an endorsement for the Cyril Ramaphosa administration by The Economist exposed in detail for its lack of coherence, it’s as well to recall that it emanated from a newspaper that had once written off Africa as “The Hopeless Continent”.
The endorsement was like manna from heaven to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s election campaign and his train of loyalists for its timely arrival (on April 25).
Indeed, a surge of damaging headlines was starting to peak at exactly the wrong time for the ruling party and the vote of confidence from a prestigious publication with an international readership could not have been more opportune.
The President had been hard-pressed not only to deal with the task at hand, but also to contend with disruptive elements within his own ranks, most notably the ANC secretary-general, Ace Magashule.
It was rather fortuitous, then, when another expression of editorial support for Ramaphosa’s New Dawn was forthcoming just over a week later, this time from The Guardian, the traditional Leftist newspaper.
In the midst of a flurry of last-minute electioneering, with a palpable nerviness evident on the ANC campaign trail, this message, too, would have been welcomed like the cavalry staving off an attack of bad press.
The latest bad news had been the challenge by EFF leader Julius Malema, calling for the President to come clean over claims he had offered Malema and EFF deputy Floyd Shivambu ministerial posts when he became state president in 2018. (The claim has been denied.)
Simultaneously, columnist Barney Mthombothi had charged that the ANC had become a party with a split personality, echoing a similar observation made previously on these pages, of a party revealing “deep schisms and political schizophrenia sweeping its upper echelons”.
Mthombothi’s assessment followed a series of startling internal party gaffes, among which had forced the president time and again to act to assert his authority.
“There is no phone that has been bugged,” he emphasised in response to the astonishing claimby Magashule, his Achilles’ heel, that the government had been spying on him and his deputy, Jesse Duarte.
Magashule was also reported to have defied Ramaphosa’s orders not to resort to using the ANC platform when defending himself against allegations of corruption contained in journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State; he had apparently done so at a party event (“unwittingly”, according to one news source).
The former Free State premier’s name, as well as that of former president Jacob Zuma, were then linked to the formation of the African Transformation Movement (ATM) in an article the ANC subsequently denounced.
That’s all quite apart from the controversy over Magashule and the party’s contested electoral list, which has survived its integrity committee intact and reached the Independent Electoral Commission unchanged.
The positive signal from two influential publications abroad would, therefore, have come in quite handily in countering any voter-related fallout.
Still, The Guardian, while candidly laying out the raft of serious challenges facing Ramaphosa, significantly left unmentioned the widespread fear of a nationalised SA Reserve Bank – the keys to the castle, as it were, and a prize tenet of the ANC’s national democratic revolution (NDR).
It’s baffling why it should have neglected to do so and not highlight the contradiction of the President pledging to investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, that the independence of the SARB was sacrosant.
Moreover, it may have had cause to seriously reconsider its stance had it been aware of the alarming statement by the ANC’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, published just a day after the editorial.
Quoted in a Carte Blanche interview and reported in Business Day, Godongwana had said South Africa’s banks should be forced to invest in new coal mines, as Nedbank and Standard Bank had indicated “they are not going to put money in coal any more”. This was, he said, “an invitation for prescribed assets”, referring to the party’s investigation into the use of pension funds as an investment for developmental projects.
One of the articles painted a picture of a region ravaged by war, famine and disease. “Floods in Mozambique; threats of famine in Ethiopia (again); mass murder in Uganda; the implosion of Sierra Leone; and a string of wars across the continent,” it went along its tale of woe. “The new millennium has brought more disaster than hope to Africa. Worse, the few candles of hope are flickering weakly.”
Given a more recent airing and a more familiar context, like, say, the Bell Pottinger/WMC ruckus, copies of the newspaper may well have ended up stoking RET bonfires instead of garnering the enthusiastic approval that greeted its April edition.
As a champion of big capital, it’s not that surprising that The Economist should have joined the chorus supporting Ramaphosa, a darling of big business, and not abandon its southern-most constituency at this critical juncture.
As things stand, the major credit ratings agencies, even while cognizant of the economic and attendant socio-political implications of a fully-fledged domestic investment downgrade, have already all but thrown in the towel; Moody’s is the last-remaining of the three agencies still willing to ride out a political environment fraught with angst.
Chief economist at PwC Lullu Krugel has explained that Moody’s wants to allow the new government a chance to show its intentions before making a decision about the country’s sovereign credit rating.
The cautious view is understandable in a climate in which hardening African nationalism has ostensibly lost its appetite for reconciliation in favour of more lucrative extremist politics.
It’s the last stand that indicator companies like Moody’s still can make that may mean the difference between last-ditch external efforts at reviving waning confidence in a job-scarce economy, and the very real danger of a gradual and steady decline into the unthinkable.
Notwithstanding its latest well-meaning intentions, it took The Economist 11 years after the May 2000 “hopeless continent” publication to re-assess that position and proclaim an “Africa Rising” edition. Featuring on its cover a boy flying a multi-coloured kite in the shape of Africa, that editorial read: “Since The Economist regrettably labelled Africa ‘the hopeless continent’ a decade ago, a profound change has taken hold.”
An accompanying article describes how countries like Ghana, Ethiopia and Mozambique were now among the fastest growing economies in the world and that a “genuine middle-class is emerging”. It mentions that one Aliko Dangote, “the Nigerian cement king”, was the richest black person in the world, and that even as critics grumble that he is “too close to the country’s soiled political class … his $10-billion fortune is money earned, not expropriated”.
The scholar and former Capetonian, Sean Jacobs, founder and editor of the popular “Africa is a Country” (sic) website, gave short shrift to this belated about-face, however, concluding that “the most remarkable thing about this cover feature is that it was a non-event. Problem is, the media environment has changed. And no one is waiting for The Economist’s verdict any more.”
Now, seven years later, and continuing its penance to Africa (apparently after backing the Democratic Alliance in 2014), comes its endorsement of Ramaphoria (or Ramageddon, if you’re not a fan). “South Africa’s best bet: How Cyril Ramaphosa can clean up the Rainbow Nation,” is The Economist’sadvice to the President.
But from the vantage point of Camp Ramageddon, it’s becoming increasingly evident that, despite the president’s fervently-promoted efforts, five more years are all that the “fight back” troops in his midst require to complete the NDR-aligned State Capture project.
The embedded patronage network which facilitated the implementation of a parallel shadow state, and has kept a sleeper syndicate operation breathing, will also be inspired to continue the money-spinning safari launched by a wily merchant family more than a decade ago.
With access to state largesse so tantalisingly within reach, impatient cadres who’ve not yet made it onto the Zupta pocket book are not easily fobbed off by election outcomes.
Ongoing internecine conflict and the weekly revelations disgorging ANC jetsam had left Ramaphosa with very little option other than to employ a direct mea culpa campaign strategy.
Well-rehearsed, this sleight of hand was meant to conquer doubt and regain credibility for the entire party, not just for himself, as part of his unity contract. The downside was that it required South Africans at large to buy into the idea that the nation’s fiscus should – and would – be appropriated in order to reimburse what Zupta stole.
One can’t help but almost admire the daylight daring of this manoeuvre. To subscribe to the Ramaphosa mea culpa rescue plan – the solemn, hand-on-heart admission of ANC failure (“Yes, the ANC enabled State Capture”) – is also implicitly to accept its logical end-result: a captive public saddled with a prohibitive, generationally-costly government bill (along with dirty politicians).
“It’s our problem as a country. Nobody should feel it’s one person’s mistake,” Ramaphosa told Pretoria commuters during a campaign blitz just over a month ago, when the nation was in the grip of three consecutive days of Stage 4 blackouts.
“It’s our collective mistake,” said the President, when, actually, it’s not a collective mistake at all; the real culprits have been clearly identified several times over via various commissions of inquiry and oversight portfolio committees of parliament. They just haven’t been prosecuted as yet due to the lack of political will.
At the current snail and serpent’s pace, the crooks can sleep easy; it looks like the worst they can expect, at least for the foreseeable future, is the wielding of the long arm of the law with all the ferocity of a teddy bear. To be clear: a firing or suspension can never be a convincing statement of intent in place of – or a satisfactory substitute for – robust criminal prosecution. Not in cases where state crimes have been so consciously blatant and of such a deliberately egregious nature.
With any luck, the praise and goodwill Ramaphosa elicits from The Economist and The Guardian endorsements – and, of course, the election result – will translate into a much-needed bolstering of the country’s economy. That will be largely due to global commiseration for the Mandela dream gone bad.
But it will be a long while yet before corruption at the highest levels of government is stemmed and there’s a reversal in the rising tide of the unemployed, the homeless, the poverty-stricken, or the rural uGogo taking care of HIV-orphaned grandkids, wondering when, or whether, that social grant will come.
No sane person would, for the sake of political point-scoring, wish a worsening of such hopeless conditions on anyone, least of all for the poorest of the captured poor, betrayed as they have been by a callous elitism, the routine application of trickle-up economics (instead of trickling it all the way down), and a commandeering of state coffers like it was Monopoly money.
So, with closing indications that the ruling party is to be returned to office for another five years (the only question is by what margin) – all hail, then, the Ramaphosa long game. Let’s hope to heaven it works. DM
"Those who will not reason are bigots; those who cannot are fools; and those who dare not are slaves." ~ George Gordon Byron