It stopped me dead in my tracks.
Just another sentence, uttered by just another Cabinet minister, reported in just another news outlet.
Yet, this one sentence is probably the most mind-boggling piece of gibberish I have ever read.
The statement? By Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. The context? I have no idea. The publication? Well, I don’t remember, but just about all the news outlets ran a story with this quote, so let’s just say it was Daily Maverick.
In the first place, I’m not sure why Gwede Mantashe still has a job. Wasn’t he implicated by the Zondo Commission in corruption or something? Wasn’t that, what, a few moons ago? Was he not supposed to have stepped aside until the investigations into him have run their course?
Okay, here’s the sentence that stopped me in my tracks:
“If you say there is no leadership in the country, you are attacking the state.”
These are Mantashe’s words.
This statement was uttered before the news story leaked about the hidden millions in Cyril Ramaphosa’s couch.
Now I’m starting to think that whoever uttered those words first – to which Mantashe responded with the famous words: “There is no leadership in this country” – was perhaps a bit psychic.
You see, when these words were uttered, the statement, “there is no leadership in this country”, was true, but only in a sort-of metaphorical way.
Of course, it could not have been LITERALLY true. At the time, we had a President, a Vice-President, a bunch of Cabinet ministers, all the trappings of a functioning government – though, of course, as everyone knew, the government wasn’t functioning very well.
What this person probably meant was something more like: “The leadership in this country is so terrible that it seems as if there is no leadership.”
That was the narrative most of us believed in up until a few days ago. Or tried to believe in, anyway.
The narrative went something like this: “The leadership in this country is truly appalling, but there are a few good guys in government, such as Cyril Ramaphosa, who are trying their best to turn things around, though it often looks as if he is not succeeding.”
How dramatically everything has changed.
How dramatically we have fallen from the precarious place where it sometimes SEEMED as if there was no leadership in the country, to a place where there actually ISN’T any leadership in the country.
Imagine the situation that would face us should Ramaphosa be convicted of wrongdoing.
Imagine the position we would face if he is not convicted of wrongdoing, but forced to step aside because he is under investigation for wrongdoing.
These two scenarios are, in themselves, pretty bad. Though we are not there yet.
Or are we?
At the moment, I’m afraid, and you’re going to hate me for saying this, we are in a situation where Ramaphosa’s reputation is so badly compromised that, even if he is, technically at least, still the president of the country, he simply has no room to manoeuvre.
Methinks the Buffalo has fallen.
In the bad old days when Richard Nixon was running for the position of President of the United States, his opponents put a picture of him on election posters with the words: “Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?”
Similarly, if the opposition parties in South Africa really want to use this moment to their advantage, they should print a poster of Ramaphosa’s face, with the words: “Would you trust someone to lead you who hides millions of dollars in his couch?”
There you have it. In a nutshell, with Ramaphosa out of contention – and, for all practical purposes, he is already out of contention – who remains to lead?
He was seen as the one good guy in charge of a crooked organisation of scoundrels, thieves and hooligans.
With the one “good guy” gone, we’ve only got the scoundrels, thieves and hooligans left.
God help us.
The one thing I have always known – which I have experienced as a South African – the one thing of which I have seen the evidence of it around me all day and every day, has now come true, but in a very, very concrete way:
There is no leadership in the country.
I have started travelling again after the pandemic. I have taken time to see what is happening in this country. The deterioration that has set in since before 2019 is simply unbelievable.
Okay, to name a few: traffic lights not working. Potholes. Services not being delivered.
And that’s just the little things one can see driving down any street in South Africa.
There have been other things; things that keep me awake at night; questions that remained unanswered, such as:
Why have the people who are guilty of State Capture not been apprehended?
Why are they still earning salaries? Why are they walking around as free men and women?
I think I’m beginning to understand why.
There never was any real urgency to stop the corruption because everyone was corrupt.
It was all just smoke and mirrors, delaying tactics, posturing and hot air.
Where does this leave those of us, even those in authority, who, up till now, have tried their best but were powerless to stop the rot?
Where does it leave Judge Zondo? Where does it leave André de Ruyter? Where does it leave us?
If the proof of the absence of leadership has been plain to see for everyone, it is terrifyingly certain that, in the days to come, we might start to experience the total devastation of a country where literally nobody is trying to pick up the pieces, because literally everybody is embroiled in faction fighting the likes of which we had never before seen in this country.
There is no leadership in this country.
From now on, we’re on our own. DM