Great leaders are decisive leaders and business craves good leadership. The results of the ANC 55th conference have provided President Cyril Ramaphosa with a mandate to now lead his party and the country decisively. Decisiveness does not necessarily mean speed of decision-making, nor unilateralism. Complex issues demand careful consideration, the weighing of options, the development of scenarios and the anticipation of consequences. Irrespective of the process, decisiveness minimises uncertainty, reduces doubt and provides a clear way forward.
Confronted with one of the most consequential decisions facing humankind, United States President John F Kennedy consulted intensively with his closest advisers over six days before he alone made the decision to blockade Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis.
Nelson Mandela reflected on the difficult and personally risky decision he made to enter into talks with the leadership of the apartheid regime without the full knowledge and support of the ANC leadership. Irrespective of how history judges former president FW de Klerk, his 2 February 1990 speech, inter alia, unbanning the ANC, was decisive and heralded profound consequences.
By contrast, President Ramaphosa’s equivocation regarding his own fitness to hold the highest office signalled a potentially terminal failure of leadership. Upon release of the Section 89 report, Ramaphosa’s personal inclination was to resign, with his speech ready for delivery on 2 December.
The President has never publicly explained the reasons for his reported decision to resign, but it is reasonable to surmise that this was due to the criticism of the veracity of his version of events and the panel’s conclusion that he may have breached the duties of his office and have a case to answer. In other words, there may be grounds for his impeachment.
The subsequent on-off resignation debacle provides unique, if uncomfortable, insights into the belly of the beast, revealing the President’s political DNA, along with the configuration of power within the ANC elite.
Ramaphosa’s indefatigable optimism, which served him and the country well during the fraught transitional and constitutional negotiations is miscast as a President and leader of a fratricidal ruling party. His failure to grasp the seriousness of the case against him, combined with a dilatory approach to the management of his own commercial and financial affairs, is redolent of his “surprise” at discovering the extent of State Capture, despite serving as deputy president for three years. Indeed, the President has been a man dangerously out of touch with reality.
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While Ramaphosa’s original 2017 mandate to lead was tenuous, he has had five years to stamp his personal authority on the ANC and four to get to grips with the country’s major challenges as State President. To date, he has done neither. However, the results of the recent ANC elective conference open a political pathway to reconfiguring his Presidency and legacy. Indeed Ramaphosa 2.0. could be the real new dawn business and the nation have craved.
Ramaphosa is endowed with a host of laudable characteristics and credentials. For example, a charitable interpretation of his initial decision to resign was that it was based on a personal code of ethics, rather than an unwillingness to face the consequences of malfeasance.
Yet, if his earlier decision to resign was ethical and motivated by doing the right thing, within hours, such considerations were hidden under the mattress of a Machiavellian bed. Having lost control of the public narrative, the Presidency hurriedly informed the media to “stand down” from the unedifying prospect of the nation watching a wounded buffalo devoured by political hyenas.
The President consults broadly and takes advice too. In response to the Section 89 report, Ramaphosa was advised by his inner circle to remain in office and to launch his own defence in the courts, while simultaneously deploying the ANC’s parliamentary majority to reject the very report it had commissioned.
The agreed plan sought to ensure the President led the fractured ANC into the elective conference, secure a “dream team” leadership top structure and most importantly, head off radical economic transformation challengers. The strategy worked brilliantly and demonstrated most clearly the emergence of effective and decisive political leadership.
Not since the Mandela presidency had South Africa anticipated so much from its political leadership as it has under Ramaphosa.
Yet, the nine irretrievably wasted Zuma years have been supplanted by the frustratingly false dawn of the Ramaphosa era. Yet, while the elective margins at Nasrec were paper-thin, the comprehensive victory of the Ramaphosa slate provides perhaps the final opportunity for the ANC president to deliver precise and decisive leadership, not only for his party and the business community, but for a nation that simply deserves better. BM/DM