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Opinionista

Ramaphosa has chosen the party über alles, leaving South Africans alone in an Orwellian nightmare

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Judith February is executive officer: Freedom Under Law.

Whatever hopes we had of the President having our best interests at heart have entirely dissipated. Ours is a society in general teetering on the brink of social unrest and demagogues waiting in the wings.

It Isn’t Gentleness

It isn’t gentleness
that you and I are looking for
in the hills and valleys,
it is the cliff, the gorge, 
the scraped ocher on the knees
of the slopes
and the red crevice in which the land
shows too, the brilliance of its wound.
(Francisco Segovia)

‘Who runs this place?” one might ask of our country.

Is it the babbling brook that is ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula or is it the presidential spokesperson trotted out at various intervals to provide us with anodyne updates?

The President has been rarely spotted despite our multiple crises. Our protests fall on deaf ears as he understands only the language the party speaks.

In the week leading up to the Cabinet reshuffle we had a glimpse of Cyril Ramaphosa meeting Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Then he managed to break his silence to castigate former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter for the “missed opportunity” of not reporting those involved in criminal conduct at Eskom to the police.

This is ironic on several levels but especially so since Ramaphosa’s entire presidency has been a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to stare down his corrupt party and create alliances across broader society to ensure that South Africa deals with its many crises with integrity.

In this context and that of a decade of State Capture, the De Ruyter interview has become the grand red herring of political conversation in the past two weeks. Should he have said what he did? Has he reported individuals to the police? Is he in breach of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act? All questions which can and should be asked in an open democracy. Some are for De Ruyter, others against, almost predictably so.

In the wake of the interview, investigative journalists have been digging and digging. Shocking information has come to light.

The reality, of course, is that no amount of Cabinet reshuffling will change the fact that it is the ANC itself which is unfit for purpose and Ramaphosa, entirely in its thrall, is now part and parcel of that dysfunction.

Yet what is astonishing is that so many are astonished. We have volumes of the Zondo Commission report on State Capture which tells us precisely how the state was captured and mentions some of the players. The subsequent details are spine-chilling but should surprise no one.

After all, load shedding, the destruction of Eskom and every other state-owned enterprise did not happen overnight and it did not happen without active involvement of those within the governing ANC.

And so, as Ramaphosa has preferred the party über alles, we are now in the Orwellian nightmare, as he sits almost drained of authority while the Phala Phala scandal swirls unhelpfully around him. The trademark of the Ramaphosa administration is now a decided lack of cogency.

Last Friday, in what turned out to be one of his final acts as minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele was tasked with briefing us on the state of disaster.

Read in Daily Maverick:Things fall apart as the hollow men and women lead us further into the dark void

What, one wondered, was the point? A disaster is exactly that and holds with it a need for the state to respond with urgency. Manifestly there is no urgency if the state of disaster was announced at Sona, yet a briefing happens almost a month later. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and a few of her colleagues listlessly tried to make the case for the state of disaster but was anyone actually listening?

South Africans were too busy getting on with making things work in spite of and not because of this government.

On Monday evening Ramaphosa finally announced his Cabinet reshuffle. The reshuffle was delayed because Ramaphosa had “a cold”. We were told this by Mbalula. The merger of party and state is now complete. That night the new minister of electricity was appointed. If ever there was an unfortunate moniker, it is this. One has to have a degree of sympathy for the newly minted Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe has already likened this new position to that of a “project manager”.

One can therefore almost predict how this will play out – another structure within a structure, like ever-increasing Babushka dolls. Ramokgopa will doubtless spend much of the year setting up an office and then fighting turf wars (despite the transfer of powers to his office) with Mantashe and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. In the middle of it will be the President, who sounded as weak as he ever did on Monday evening, stumbling over some words, trying to convince us that he still has the stomach to lead. If he did he would have fired Mantashe and Bheki Cele for starters. And he would not have sought to persist with a bank of deputy ministers who serve only one purpose – patronage vehicles for his corrupt party.


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(At least Dlamini Zuma has been consigned to the ministry where political lives go to die and Lindiwe Sisulu to Parliament’s back benches.)

The reality, of course, is that no amount of Cabinet reshuffling will change the fact that it is the ANC itself which is unfit for purpose and Ramaphosa, entirely in its thrall, is now part and parcel of that dysfunction.

As associate professor of politics at the University of Stellenbosch, Dr Collette Schulz-Herzenberg, pointedly remarked: “Cabinet has been in paralysis for four or five years and it actually made his job incredibly difficult. If you look across at all of the efforts contained in his speech he’s basically saying to the nation, I’m centralising everything under the Presidency as far as I possibly can without being authoritarian about it because I basically can’t trust my government to do the job. He’s talked about centralising energy in one place and made it very clear it would have a direct line to the president’s office. He speaks of a single point of command, which I think speaks volumes.”

Whatever hopes we had of the President having our best interests at heart have entirely dissipated.

The tragedy of this political moment, of course, is that we have serious governance challenges; an electricity grid on the brink of collapse, the effects of climate change, rising food and fuel prices, a society in general teetering on the brink of social unrest and demagogues waiting in the wings.

As has been said by so many in so many ways, South Africans are on their own. We long for a state that can solve things, for a President who takes his constitutional oath to protect and defend the Constitution and our interests seriously, but we have neither. All manner of alternatives lie in wait as we head to elections next year, some less palatable than the others, others even dangerous.

It is therefore time, now more than ever, to keep faith with the essentials of our democracy, thus defending it from the populists and demagogues who deny complexity, and forge a new politics beyond Ramaphosa and the venal ANC he heads.

They both lie on the ash heap of history, the obituaries written. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    Thanks Judith for an excellent, pithy analysis.

  • Johan Buys says:

    what are we left with? Despite Jesus coming back when the ANC loses power (as per former prisoner jacob zuma prophesies), we can look forward to an ANC EFF coalition at national level and in several provinces and metros. So yes, it can get worse. Locusts, termites, parasites, hyenas, vultures and worms abound.

    Basically : look after yourself and your staff because that is all we can rely on.

  • Neil Parker says:

    We should all be for de Ruyter – those against are trying to make him a scapegoat most likely because he had the effrontery to suggest: “You can’t steal from the sun.” Add in ” – only from Eskom”! The charges against him would be laughable but we cannot laugh at attempted murder nor at “investigators” who claim they don’t know what cyanide is.

    Good article.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Communists like to centralize power

  • Errol Price says:

    There are few observers of the South African who write as perceptively as Ms February. However, I fear that her concluding paragraph is mistaken.
    The fundamental errors which were made were made in 1994 and cannot be undone. South Africa is inexorably moving down the well-trodden path of post – colonial Africa. Only the blind or those who prefer not to see pretend otherwise.
    No-one can predict the future but in reality there is absolutely no prospect that a respectable, honest government can arise phoenix-like from the ashes in 2024.
    The Western Cape might yet be saved but it requires decisiveness and an abandonment of false promises.

  • virginia crawford says:

    The ANC had chosen party “uber alles” consistently since 1994. The SACP, a party no one voted for, seems to be the puppet master. It’s classic (Stalinist) communism: centralize power, champagne and caviar for cadres, rubbish opponents, and use the services of the state to strengthen the party. The only answer is to vote them out and we need some creative ideas. Free food at polling stations? United opposition focused on one thing, getting people to vote! Doesn’t matter who for as much as it matters that the ANC loses its majority, by a lot! Huge registration drives: make it easy for people to register. The private sector and civic organizations will have to make this happen. Low voter turnout suits the ANC perfectly.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    To Ms Crawford : “free food” at the polling stations !! You must be joking … in that so-called bastion of ‘democracy’ called the USA … they (the republicans) are going to ban anyone from supplying even water to anyone in the queue !!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    It is sad that an intelligent woman has to waste her time talking about the incompetence of the president.

  • Mary Hammond-Tooke says:

    We regretted that rules surrounding the presidency had Nelson Mandela as a benign role model.
    After our experience with Zuma do we really need to move all important portfolios into the direct control of the president when Paul Mashatile and his side-kick Julius are likely to take it over in the future

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