Defend Truth


An open letter to President Ramaphosa: It’s time to deliver


Mike Abel is a leading marketing and advertising practitioner. He is Founder & Chief Executive of M&Saatchi Abel and M&C Saatchi Group of companies operating in SA. He is former CEO of M&C Saatchi Group, Australia and before that, co-led the Ogilvy South Africa Group as COO and Group Managing Director, Cape Town. Mike has been awarded Advertising Leader by the Financial Mail and Finweek and his company was named Best Agency in SA in 2015. His company is home to The Street Store, the open-source, pop-up clothing store for the homeless which has become a global movement. He is a speaker and writer.

For two years now, I have been one of your active cheerleaders, singing your name, jumping in the air, rustling your shiny brand, along with thousands of other business folk, but I now find myself with a far thinner group of cheerleaders, unable to jump high and unable to shout “Cyril, Cyril”. Why is that?

Dear Mr President

I write this letter on the last day of January 2020 with silly season behind us and now well into the year with all it promises – or not. 

I address this letter to you but it’s deliberately an open one to all South African’s in the spirit of Thuma Mina. You invited and requested us to get behind you in rebuilding and fixing our troubled country which is jam-packed with potential, but has, for the past 12 years, been like a racehorse held in the stocks. The gates have opened for all the other horses and they are all tearing down the global economic tracks, but we seem to still be snorting and bucking, waiting for our gates to open… We are now wondering if that is our destiny or if we’ll ultimately be led back to the stables, not having run the race at all? 

The late Syrian playwright, Saadallah Wannous wrote the line “sentenced to hope” and over two years post Nasrec, I hear people all around the country asking if that is to be our fate too? 

When you became our President, Mr Ramaphosa, you extended an invitation to all South Africans to put up their hands. To say “send me” but my hard question to you now, is how? 

I’m an Afro-optimist. We started our company exactly 10 years ago tomorrow and we’ve built it into a wonderful success during the toughest of economic times but with the distinct hope that at some point the economic tides would turn, not just for us, but for all the people of our country. And yet, here we find ourselves with growing unemployment and global disillusionment as to our Government and prospects. It was with great shame and embarrassment that I saw we came first in “governments least trusted” at Davos this year. That is one race we’d love to have lost. 

Significantly. I’m also sure you’ve watched CNN anchor Richard Quest giving his scathing analysis on South Africa to our Bruce Whiltfield. Is he wrong Sir? Does he not have all the facts?

Now I ask these questions Mr Ramaphosa, not to corner or embarrass you, but to ask what you envisaged when you called for Thuma Mina? 

My second analogy, beyond the racehorse is the game of tennis, as we await the arrival of #Federer, #Nadal, #Obama, #Gates, #Clinton, #Noah and all the other celebs rumoured to be coming. Tennis, as we all know, requires players on both sides of the net. And yet here we find ourselves, often standing alone on one side, with nobody to hit the ball back. We have thousands of graduates sitting at home with nobody to hit a job ball back to them. We have pupils with nobody to hit flushing toilets or a quality education back at them. We have brilliant doctors and nurses with nobody to help them raise health standards – and by that I mean, not lower them in response. We have business ideas waiting for global investment but nobody wanting to hit an investment ball back at them. And extending this analogy, because we are here, and because we know our court, we see it well painted and with distinct lines on our side of the net, but all they now see is their side. No lines (lawless) with cracked clay and weeds growing out of it. That was not the case over two years ago when you assumed the mantle of leadership Mr President. When Madiba’s hope and vision for you finally came to the fore. 

And I must confess Mr President that for two years now, I have been one of your active cheerleaders, singing your name, jumping in the air, rustling your shiny brand, along with thousands of other business folk, but I now find myself with a far thinner group of cheerleaders, unable to jump high and unable to shout “Cyril, Cyril”. Why is that? 

You see Mr President, hope is an incredible thing. But it sadly comes with an expiry date. Unfulfilled, it enters into the realm of broken promises. We were delighted when you ascended off a ticket of fighting corruption, after over a trillion rand was stolen out of our economy. With this theft has come great anger, disillusionment and disappointment. With it has come growing populism and divisiveness.

Intolerance must be stopped as it emerges or it’s a cancer that grows and ultimately kills the host.

My long-term observation is most politicians have no solutions Mr President. They are simply playing a game. Career politicians. Most politicians have no practical experience in running a hospital or a railway, or mine or energy plant, yet they make the most important final decision regarding those sectors and industries. This model must change. Those heading any industry should be the most trusted, proven and experienced talent if we are to secure jobs and investment. By Thuma Mina I thought you had this in mind. To use the best and most experienced people in their various sectors to unlock opportunities for the people of this country, while simultaneously unleashing the full might of the NPA to bring all those State Capture thieves to book and allowing the asset forfeiture units to reclaim their ill-gotten means to the benefit of the country? 

Mr President, we have widening debt and growing unemployment. Crime will also increase as a direct result. As will growing populism and pressure on your Presidency. Those who threaten you within your party want this climate of non-delivery. It’s their strategy and unaddressed will play directly into their hands. You know this Sir. It’s now finally time for some bold moves. In fact, it’s well into overtime. We cannot turn a blind eye to this crisis a moment longer. 

According to the Top Million Research Study conducted by UCT in partnership with my company, of these highest-earning households in the country, 66% of our total tax base, 75% of those people believe their children’s futures are better outside of South Africa than staying home and trying to make a difference. This spans all races in South Africa. Black, coloured, Indian, Asian and whites alike. We cannot have this Sir. We cannot have this talent and tax base leave our country as they are the very partners South Africa needs to rebuild this country brimming with potential but stuck like a racehorse behind the gates. 

Africa is on the ascendency as Thabo Mbeki predicted and endorsed. But we are no longer the gateway and are falling significantly behind. Even countries like Rwanda, home to the most horrific genocide in recent history, has regrouped, reconciled and has a clear strategy for social cohesion and economic growth. 

It’s time Sir to deliver on your promises. To lock up those who would stand in your way to prevent their arrest for overt and irrefutable corruption. It’s time for you to unleash excellence and experience in this country and not follow the fool-proof formula for failure called Cadre Deployment. You called for Thuma Mina Mr President. Well, here we are. Racket and ball in hand. Ready to play. Please share your plan Sir. I am still behind you. Many of South Africa’s business leadership is still currently behind you. Will you please come to the other side of the net. 

Warm regards,




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