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Who or what lies beyond Cyril Ramaphosa?


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

During his presidency Cyril Ramaphosa has done much clearing up within the party he leads, and of corruption in general. Much of the corruption may take years to shake out of the system. It is too deeply embedded in the character of cadre deployment and cadre employment. But Ramaphosa has not been terribly successful with the political economy.

We are a step closer to knowing who will lead the ANC, and probably the country until the next general election. As things stand, and if the outcome of the failed attempts to have him impeached are anything to go by, Cyril Ramaphosa may well be the organisation’s president after the weekend’s elective conference, and remain in the Union Buildings.

As voters, and as interested, engaged and active members of the public, we may ask: Is this all there is? Is Ramaphosa really the best that the ANC can give us?

With his organisation resembling a cadre of apathy and sloth waiting only for paydays, is there anyone to whom we can turn, someone that we, ordinary citizens unaffiliated with any political party, may be sure can turn things around? The immediate answer has to be yes. It has to be.

In the current constellation of power, and within political parties and movements, Ramaphosa is probably the best we have. He is not without blame or beyond scrutiny – nobody rules without guilt.

On the face of things, Ronald Lamola is a worthy candidate. Panyaza Lesufi lacks sophistication. He has no vision nor empathy, and cannot possibly be a unifying force for society. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka may have learnt to be a bit more accommodating of “others” and recognise that African exceptionalism is a dangerous position in a society that has legitimised the relegation of “non-Africans” to second-class citizens… Liberals in the ANC may see her as a viable candidate. I have no faith in her, but that is my opinion, based on what I learnt before she left for the United Nations.

The good thing about Mlambo-Ngcuka is that she is somewhat of an outsider in the sense that she has not been part of the feeding frenzy of the past decade or more; perhaps we don’t know enough about her. Or as we say in Eldorado Park, “miskien knyp sy die kat in die donker”.

If we’re considering outsiders to lead the ANC, and the country, we may as well cast our gaze beyond the NEC. Perhaps there is someone who can stand up and be nominated “from the floor” of the elective conference. There are people; respectable, knowledgeable, wise, experienced and incorruptible people with high standards of ethics.

I can think of two. Naming them would provoke a lot of noise and criticism from revolutionaries, the RET crowd, and from my terribly myopic and misinformed colleagues on the left. I know one who could do without the publicity. Let’s set him aside.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Let’s hand SA to the EFF in a controlled demolition so we can bypass the killing stage

What, then, would be required from such fresh leadership? The deck is stacked against anyone at the helm. There are existing states of affairs across the country, political formations waiting for their turn to eat, or who want to vent decades of deeply racist habits in the most polite terms. (Ian Cameron’s orgasmic tirade against Bheki Cele comes to mind; not that Cele does not deserve all the criticism he gets). It’s like the misogynist who drives around for days, and finally finds a woman who does not use her car’s indicators, then throws a tantrum over “bad drivers”.

The numbers are impossible

The states of affairs are dire. I will shelve my (inherent) pessimism. During his presidency Ramaphosa has done a lot of clearing up within the party he leads, and of corruption in general. Much of the corruption may take years to shake out of the system. It is too deeply embedded in the character of cadre deployment and cadre employment. But with the political economy Ramaphosa has not been terribly successful.

Putting my political economist cap on, he was never going to achieve much. The economy, such as it is, is not in his hands. It is in the hands of workers, investors, corporations, consumers, rating agencies and financial institutions – that constellation that is so glibly referred to as “the market”.

I am not suggesting that “the market” is untouchable, or that the mythical invisible hand is god. “The market” is made up of people, and they can be manipulated or persuaded… the best he could have done over the past few years is provide a vision, a guiding hand, find professional, legal and ethical ways to work with the South African Reserve Bank, National Treasury, Ebrahim Patel and key ministries and departments.

The numbers have always been impossible. There is no way that Ramaphosa, as head of government, could have created five million jobs within his first term of office. He could have earnestly and with sharp focus “reduced the cost of doing business” which would have encouraged potential domestic and foreign investors.

He should have asked ministers who wang on about “competition”, “value chains”, “supply chains” – and ANC members who talk from weird orifices about “quantity easing” and “lift[ing] the rand” – to shut up and keep their faces turned to and their hands at the grinding wheel.

It does not help that the instant he mentioned a “new dawn” the EFF’s highly privileged Oxbridge Parvenu Prince (Google That Floyd™), and the other feller, who had his doctoral dissertation written for him, ran outdoors to look for a sunrise…

Evidence suggests that electricity supply is either being sabotaged or the problem has an aetiology that goes back to the presidency of Thabo Mbeki, who ignored warnings about a collapse of infrastructure and provision of electricity.

There is also the possibility that the destruction of trains and banditry on national roads are part of concerted efforts to destroy or undermine the state and the ability of private (truckers, metered taxis) and public (trains) carriers to do their jobs.

For better or for worse, the past six or seven years have seen buildings at educational institutions burnt down. This tendency to burn down medical clinics when your headache will not go away (metaphorically speaking) rose again in KwaZulu-Natal in 2021. It also remains unclear whether the violence and destruction was “social discontent or criminality”. The damages amounted to anything between R50-billion and R70-billion. That’s a mouthful in any position you may take.

I want to suggest that Ramaphosa has had to watch helplessly as his party members, from Ace Magashule, Nomvula Mokonyane to Tony Yengeni (among many others), have behaved like terrible caricatures of themselves… There is a lot more that has stood in Ramaphosa’s way.

What would be required of the next leader of the ANC? Above all, she (I will use “she” hereafter) must have a history of being incorruptible. She must have the respect of the better ones among the ANC members and the public. Even if she does not have a majority of support (considering the RET faction as a major bloc), she has to be allowed to express a vision, and a programme of action.

These actions will have to start by bringing labour and business into a room. Both have to be made aware that it is in their interests, too, that investment is encouraged, that investors are guaranteed a return, that a living wage is paid, and that both parties may need to lower their pecuniary expectations for at least five years.

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Public servants, in particular, have to be part of this effort. It’s fair to say that the shortest queue in the world is that of people who do not want an increase in wages, but a collective spirit and the common good has to take precedence. The state is already committed to paying social grants to tide people over. So, you have to bring workers, companies and consumers into an agreement on the common good – not on individual gain.

A next step would be to engage the instant (just add water) revolutionaries. This will probably be the most difficult thing to do. Julius Malema’s first-order priorities do not include a prosperous and stable society. He wants power as an end in itself.

Beyond that the EFF has only tried and failed policies that will start with the politics of revenge. In terms of its constitution, the EFF will take possession of (nationalise) companies, banks, industries and the properties of people’s homes. None of that makes for confidence and stability.

Read in Daily Maverick: “SA has poisoned my brain, my mind and the ubiquitous tourist brochure conspires against me

The next leader will have a lot more to do, but the immediate priorities have to be (at least at the level of perception) the end of noise, instability and the era of rapscallions, rogues and social media politicians. Cabinet ministers must not be heard or seen, their policies need to have progressive outcomes before they tweet.

Everyone knows what is required in South Africa. Everyone asks the right questions, too many people provide the wrong answers. There are people, at least one, out there – not on any slate – who can go a long way towards getting the country on the path to prosperity, stability and high levels of trust among the population: that’s not including the RET or EFF…

That person’s first problem is, however, not political opposition or the tantrums of selfish, ambulance-chasing politicians. It is the fact that you actually need to keep the lights on, and the engines of industry running.

To achieve that within the next two to three years is nigh impossible. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andre Parker says:

    Well said (again) Ismail!

  • Alan Hirsch says:

    I have the highest opinion of Phumzile M-N. I worked closely with her over several years, both at the DTI and in the Presidency, and I think she is a focused, goal-oriented, ethical leader. One of the two most capable politicians I ever worked with. The other was someone who both Ismail and I worked with. Phumzile’s weakness is that she doesn’t have a very strong base in the ANC, and did not, in the past, devote much time to playing politics.

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      Agree, Alan. My first encounter with PMN was unpleasant. Said terribly nasty thing about “coloured women” on the Cape Flats. I don’t protect, defend coloured interests, and do not engage in politics of race. That does not mean that African Nationalism has not copied Afrikaner Nationalism with notions of Afrikaner/African exceptionalism. I don’t trust PMN, but … I am not in or anywhere near the ANC, and nor do I vote. I do believe in the common good and our common destiny, never mind my inherent (philosophical) pessimism.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Your apt analysis, notwithstanding it being laced with metaphorical & lyrical delightful flourishes … can I suggest that you use the pronoun s/he in respect of gender … as it suggests both the traditional binary she/he reference, but also includes (in my personal view) that of the transgender or undetermined gender variations, that do not neatly fit traditional categorisation ? I do however think that instead of relying on sayings from Eldorado Park, you preferably revert to ones from mythical Eldorado !

  • mossie66 says:

    A tour de force of the current political turgidity, regretfully, but practically, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Alas, our beloved land is in a dreadful turmoil.

  • Theresa Avenant says:

    Ismail, I have read many of your great articles and opinion pieces in the past but for me, this one will go down in history as the very best. You have the gift of painting life in South Africa so brilliantly, and you bring the sort of laughter into our lives that we really need most. Bravo!

  • Hugh Corder says:

    I fully endorse the several positive responses to this op ed. Ismail Lagardien is for me one of the most perceptive and straight-writing commentators on the dire state of our political economy. At a time when party politics leave one in utter despair, particularly the farce being played out currently, such sober analysis is a balm. Thank you.

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