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The wounded buffalo and political hyenas — the necessity for Ramaphosa to lead


Ian Kilbride is Honorary Professor at Stellenbosch Business School, and chairman of Spirit Invest and the Spirit Foundation.

Cyril 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. Thus far, he has done neither.

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


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  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    There is a false narrative that is peddled by academics and political plumbers alike who parade as analysts in the media and our television screens that political parties have to be homogeneous to have decisive leadership. What this country misses are analysts of the calibre of Harold Wolpe and Adrian Leftwich who have unfortunately passed away but have left us a very rich legacy of tools of analysis of a political system and the South African negotiated political settlement. What we have is a superficial analysis that lacks depth and leaves people ill -informed. A political party is not a homogeneous entity that has no differences of opinion on policies to addresses the challenges facing a country. Such a party exists in Utopia. A political party has different poles that a centre must necessarily hold together through what is common from the different poles. If Ramaphosa is going to wait for the utopian unity of the South African analysts he will wait until cows come home and will deliver nothing. Every political party has contested issues but common values and vision. These different poles will always have different views on what roads to take to reach the common destination. To hope for a leadership that his are lapdogs for him to deliver is very utopian. He has to have the central line of the different poles and hold them together rather than him becoming part of the poles he has to unite with a central line. I would advise him to read Adrian Leftwich and Wolpe.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Cunningham for President !! Lots of cunning in this ham, with liberal lashings of utopia … to make it palatable ! Where have you been hiding all my life ? Or as little red riding hood would have it ‘what great teeth you have !’ Down with all the “academics and political plumbers” … Pansi !

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    The word ‘lead’ is not in Cyril’s dictionary.
    There are three types of people:
    Those who make things happen.
    Those who watch things happen
    Those who wonder what happened.
    Cyril is still in a state of wandering, so not difficult to know where he fits into that list of three!

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    No this article is misleading. The fact is that the President did not have a choice – given the paper-thin mandate and the fact that half of his top-six was against his agenda, not to even mention the divided ANC-NEC of the time, he simply could not get on with his agenda. And most of what kept going wrong is clearly because his good work is continuously being sabotaged by the RET forces of corruption; but in spite of that he still made good progress. And regarding the Phala Phala allegations, the only problem is the total lack of responsibility among most of SA’s politicians, especially the opposition; I would say that it is impossible for a politician to lead as head of state in a democratic way unless he has faith in the integrity of his people, and that includes the opposition. In this sense he was badly let down by the South African people. We all knew that Arthur Fraser could not be believed for one moment, yet we were so enjoying all the sensation that we completely forgot what the Presidents’ job is and that Fraser is on the wrong, corrupt side. I also think that, in 2024, this irresponsibility may well explode in the faces of the opposition parties. Only COPE and Al-Jamaah showed some sense of responsibility, the rest proved themselves to be useless in national politics. I also believe that South Africans, in 2024, should hold all these opposition parties to account.

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