Defend Truth


2020: The most important SONA since 1994


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.

Where have you gone Mr Ramaphosa? The nation turns its lonely eyes to you. 

It’s now truly about you answering your own call, Sir…

It’s been thirteen days since my last confession, in the form of my open letter to our President and it is confirmed to be with his office, but I can’t claim to have heard either a direct or indirect response via smoke signal, email, semaphore or Hogwarts owl.

Not that I expected to. He’s a busy man with many and difficult demands made of him. Still, I’d hoped, even while possibly partnering him for a light jog down the Sea Point Promenade, to share some of the desperate local and international frustrations which emanate directly from the well-known cautionary phrase of “never over-promise and under-deliver”.

One of the promising responses I’ve had from a prominent businessman to my open letter is that Mr Ramaphosa has lined up all his domino chips patiently and carefully, and it’s just a matter of days before he gently nudges the first one over and they all start falling in place. 

May this please be true.

Sadly, there is nothing we can currently draw on to suggest this is accurate. This #SONA2020 will need to be Mr Ramaphosa’s final “confession”, if perhaps that has been his silent and carefully constructed strategy all along. 

Words alone won’t cut it any more.

Having ascended off the promise of a fight against corruption, it’s deeply disturbing to see so many of the rogues’ gallery still populating the seats of Parliament, the ANC NEC and municipalities. All of them are still walking around scott-free, bolder than ever.

Despite well-researched media investigations that chronicled the age of state capture in great and undeniable detail; despite the country’s institutions of democracy and government departments on the brink of implosion due to the same people’s incompetence and eye-popping corruption; even despite the auditor general’s numerous reports of tens of billions (we no longer talk in paltry millions) spent in fruitless and wasteful expenditure, most of it a euphemism for fraud, most certainly.

Those well-known characters have deliberately disassembled quality departments and structures to render them utterly useless whilst being paid handsomely to do so. These people took an oath to work for us and were paid by us. By our tax money. 

We must be mad. Mad as hell.

This apparent level of serene tolerance for fraud, corruption, ineptitude and sabotage can only be as a result of a few clear options that we often hear people speculating about.

  1. President Ramaphosa is indeed ending his long-game play imminently and the NPA is about to pounce on these notorious felons? The judicial shot across Zuma’s bow last week, looked mildly promising.
  2. The President is paralysed from moving ahead as his grip on the ANC leadership is tenuous – his NEC majority is marginal and the Top Six is at best fractious, at worst against him, rendering him all but paralysed. The recall is always a looming threat.
  3. The President has created false outrage about the scourge of corruption to quieten the voters for now and will continue to be “shocked” and pretend something is going to happen, until after his second, and final, term is secured.

Which one of these, Sir? It’s not for South Africa to speculate further about such matters. Take us, your citizens, into your confidence.

In a very important way, Sir, you are now on a walk yourself, to liberate yourself to fix our country, with the help of some of the best brains and companies in the world, who have been on standby since Nasrec.

The entire free world and our whole country answered your call for Thuma Mina, but the great question everyone is now asking, is when are you going to send yourself?

That is what this SONA is about Sir. It’s no longer about asking us to be sent, as we have been waiting to get going (and doing whatever we can in the interim). It’s now truly about you answering your own call, in an overt and obvious way.

We’ve endured another excruciating week of economy-crippling, load shedding, another week of uncertainty and non-delivery leading up to your grand speech, but the thing is Sir, your SONA is not simply a talk, it’s actually a promise, which the country will now measure you on. 

There was a time for good faith and belief. Those days are truly over. It’s now crunch time for delivery. That is not to say you don’t still have our faith and belief, but if you equate it to a tank of petrol, the gauge is well in the red territory.

You drank deeply from the well of trust as our seemingly paralyzed Deputy President to Zuma and we all knew (or hoped) you were playing the long game to succeed him and win.

Then came that knife-edged evening where you pulled the rabbit out of the hat at Nasrec, narrowly beating the Zupta forces. 

This is your final moment Mr President. Your one last chance to garner the final vestiges of faith, goodwill, energy and determination of not just our proud and robust nation, but the support of the international community too. We are still the same country that Nelson Mandela took onto a world stage in 1994, the same country with vast mineral, agricultural and industrial wealth and capability, much of it crippled, but still able to rebuild.

We are the same country that had strong economic growth under Thabo Mbeki, with high levels of creative and intellectual ability. 

A country that is up there with the very best in banking, manufacturing and many other industries.

It took one man and his cronies to break this country. It can take one man and his supportive team of millions of people to rebuild it. Don’t give way to failed policies simply for gaining some internal political capital. Don’t think in electoral terms but rather, as an astute businessman, and how you’d fix your own company, South Africa, Inc.

Tens of thousands of people who watched the tennis on Friday night were taken back to the glory days of the 2010 Soccer World Cup and all the remarkable energy at that time. The Federer #MatchInAfrica was genuinely spectacular and professional. 

And again, the goodwill behind our beautiful country, felt immense from sporting, entertainment and business titans like Bill Gates, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Trevor Noah. The coin toss by our 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi whilst being entertained by the globally famous Ndlovu Youth Choir and Zipzap Circus was a moment of intense pride.

Despite the alarming economy and all the troubles the “lost 10 years” have inflicted on our poor country and tens of millions of lives, there was South African magic in the air Friday night.

Sir, I had hoped that by now we’d be well into your New Dawn of job creation, fixing the SOE’s, clothing the thieves in their orange onesies, focusing on education, investment and growth. But none of that has happened. Yet.

People say we’ve gone from Ramaphoria to Ramageddon and whilst that is a brutal criticism, the Nation is now desperate for meaningful acts of renewal and rebirth.

So here it is. Your moment. Cometh the hour, Sir. The entire world is watching your next move. What will it be? DM


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