Defend Truth


Ramaphosa stands out as best choice in dangerous field sown with seeds of distrust


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.

The next president of South Africa will have to address the immovable entity that is cadre employment in a public service that is dysfunctional and inept. Cyril Ramaphosa may be the only one able to do it with as little rupture and blowback as possible.

I write primarily as an essayist, a commentator and as a middling analyst. I write, also, as a South African, importantly, here, as someone who has forsaken their democratic duty and will not vote. Never again. The first and last time I voted for someone was in 1994…

Let me make a bold statement. In the field of individual candidates — the persons leading parties into this year’s election — Cyril Ramaphosa stands out as the better of the lot. “Better” with heavy caveats. Careful now.

I have, in this space written critically about Ramaphosa, which should help situate my statement. It may not satisfy everyone, but see here and here.

The basis for the bold claim is two-fold. Firstly, Ramaphosa knows what ought to be done, and he knows what stands in his way; some of us have insights into this…

Secondly, the persons lined up beside Ramaphosa may look attractive only because they are not the ANC and most of them cannot be painted with the same brush as, say, Julius Malema, Jacob Zuma, and of course, Ramaphosa himself. Beyond that, they offer very little that is new, or that is not old wine in new wineskins.

Cadre employment as nomenklatura

You may say, as I have, over and again, that Ramaphosa lacks the courage, but this ignores the constraints he has faced. I may, for instance, be able to run, but it would be impossible to finish a cross-country obstacle course, or even run 100 metres, without collapsing in a heap. (I’m not sure the analogy works). Anyway, if you think cadre deployment is a curse, consider cadre employment…

About cadre deployment, seriously now, there are highly qualified former and current members of the ANC, some of whom played a significant role in the movement’s old military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe, who I would trust before I do the cadres that may be deployed by Songezo Zibi, Herman Mashaba, Gayton McKenzie, Kenneth Moshoe, Ganief Hendricks, Malema, Zuma, John Steenhuisen or Velenkosini Hlabisa.

Consider “cadres” like Lesetja Kganyago, governor of the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb), who is one of the finest professionals, a brilliant leader who is respected around the world, and by everyone who is not Jacob Zuma, Julius Malema, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Jimmy Manyi, Andile Mngxitama, Andile Lungisa or Tony Yengeni.

Consider “cadres” like Lungisa Fuzile, former Director-General of the National Treasury and currently Chief Executive Officer of Standard Bank. Fuzile, alongside people like Kuben Naidoo, former deputy governor of the Sarb, remains among the smartest, most trustworthy professionals who has incredible and highly developed knowledge and understanding of political economy, finance and banking.

Again, these people are respected worldwide, except, of course, by the usual suspects referred to above this paragraph. People like Joel Netshitenzhe or Mcebisi Jonas are such stand-out people that you always hope that they remain out of politics. The same would apply to Dikgang Moseneke.

Pause, and think about that…

There are, of course, others who were less-than-decent professionals who stand in the way of professionalism, efficiency, efficacy and sound public service and administration. Scour the records and minutes and you might hear statements about loyalty to democratic centralism, and not high levels of professionalism and trust in public service delivery.

What I am saying is that mass cadre employment, which includes people who were not members of the ruling political elite but who simply thought it was better to get a job for life than to work in a professional corporate sector where they may be judged on performance, has caused exceedingly difficult problems for the function of the state. They populate the public service and administration, as well as educational institutions (of higher learning), and agencies of the state.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cadre deployment — a powerful and lasting bone of rolling political contention

Cadre employment saw a rush into public service by people who, simply because of fealty (real or fake) to the ruling elite or membership of the ANC (including the fellow who in the late 1980s was involved in public protest and was sent to Robben Island) which rubber-stamped their passage into public service.

This also includes the feller who was in exile, returned, entered public service which became an end in itself. There was no need beyond that, for professionalism or dedication to public service.

I am thinking about the feller who would walk into a room and ask women about the colour of their knickers. The one who would hop in his black C-Class to go and play golf every Wednesday.

For what it’s worth, the Robben Islander (can there be a better ticket?) who would imagine some tasks were beneath him, the former exile and any number of smallanyana public servants who, despite lack of performance or quite diabolical ethical lapses, cannot be relieved of their duties. They have jobs for life.

Sure, as a full-time writer, I too have a job for the rest of my life, except I live from one month to the next, without any benefits nor a retirement “package” and if I don’t work every day, I will not be able to put food on the table. Also, I dare not say or write the wrong things.

In the public service, you have all those luxuries and benefits, and you may do or say whatever you wish…

Untying the hands of the next president

The next president of South Africa will have to address this issue, the immovable entity that is cadre employment. I believe that Ramaphosa may be able to do it with as little rupture and blowback as possible. He would, of course, fill the pool of the unemployed, which is not something to wish upon the country.

Imagine, if you will, the fallout if John Steenhuisen tried to retrench 50% of public servants, those who fail every year to provide a public service of excellence. What is the likelihood of Malema demanding professionalism and excellence, when “getting rid” of some people and replacing them with others are ends in themselves.

When Mkhwebane showed up after the departure of Thuli Madonsela, Malema stood by her (Mkhwebane) simply because she was “an African child”. Malema was forced to make a U-turn when she was shown up as being incompetent and terribly misguided. Malema, as was to be expected, made another U-turn when he needed Mkhwebane to help fill the ranks of the EFF’s parliamentary numbers.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Busisiwe Mkhwebane to fight her successor for R10m ‘gratuity’

This is where I believe Ramaphosa can improve things. It would take extraordinary courage to (finally) professionalise the public service, as the National Development Plan laid out in 2012, albeit at this stage with a devil take the hindmost attitude to sending people into unemployment.

None of the leaders of the main parties in May’s poll stands out as new and original, except perhaps for Zackie Achmat, but he is a local force and he recognises the limits of his reach.

Zibi seems to be a combination of Steenhuisen and Mashaba, but with a greater intellect. Zibi’s strength is that he is not a politician. It’s a really bad example, and there is no moral equivalence, but consider that one of Donald Trump’s “strong points,” if you listen to the Magalomaniacs, is that he is not a politician, but a businessman.

Zibi comes from the corporate world and would appeal to his professional class. Yes, those are my Gramscian influences about transnational capitalist class formation showing… I make no apologies for that.

Steenhuisen leads a party which has run out of ideas. He himself seems unimaginative; he bangs on about opposing the ANC the way that Tony Leon did all those years ago. It’s like calling for a revolution when calling for a revolution is all that matters, and not what, actually, is supposed to happen the day after the revolution.

Herman Mashaba is the cold face of capitalism coupled with a touch of xenophobia. Athol Trollip is a much more trustworthy person. What exactly he sees in ActionSA/Mashaba beats me.

McKenzie sucks on the teat of coloured politics, with large amounts of xenophobia. Hendricks represents a dangerous and austere Wahhabist faction which is, thankfully, a minority. Malema and Zuma represent the politics of revenge and recrimination and are a danger to society. Inkatha is both regional (KZN) and ethnic (Zulu).

For what it’s worth, I actually don’t believe Ramaphosa will complete another term as president. Perhaps Paul Mashatile will become ANC leader, perhaps Ronald Lamola will be a better choice.

I have a strong sense, nonetheless, that Ramaphosa, with hands untied, can clean up the mess(es) caused over the past three decades. As one of the former MK members and “cadre” once told me: “The ANC needs to be punished”.

The ANC will be punished in the next election. Beyond that it will be almost impossible to clean up the mess(es) the ANC caused or presided over for three decades. It is a task too large and too onerous for any of the individuals who will lead their parties into May’s election.

Ramaphosa can do it, if he is allowed to, and given the room to do it. If only because his party caused all the problems that beset the country.

Here is something I learned. If you are going to destroy something, have something better with which to replace it. The ANC destroyed a functioning public service (because it was necessary for the injustices that came with the job at the time), and replaced it with something that has failed the public.

The next phase of destruction would need courage (to get rid of incompetent hangers-on among employed cadres) and invention (to find more professional people to fill empty seats), pressure, transparency and accountability.

I am not sure there are very many people who are better than Ramaphosa and who will be prepared to work in a system as dysfunctional as the South African public service.

Untie Ramaphosa’s hands, and wish him good luck. He will need it. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.


    Sorry Ismael but if you refuse to vote you lose all credibility in my book. I expect more of these endorsements of the ANC to come from the media once again. That was the case at the previous elections when it was clear that the ANC was a morally bankrupt organisation that does not have the capacity to adress our problems. However most media houses at least implicitly endorsed the ANC. Most of the intervening 5 years the media have spent bemoaning the collapse of our country. When will you learn?

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      I am not in the business of endorsing political parties. Why is it only acceptable on these streets to slag off everyone but the DA, Washington and its allies? Please read my criticism of Ramaphosa by following the links I shared%

  • Carl Nielsen says:

    Oh please

  • You must be joking. Why is there a migration to the Cape? Because it is the only province that is efficiently managed. By a party that has run out of ideas?

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      If you are to be believed western cape will be overpopulated by now, oh yah unless it’s a specific ethnic group seeking western cape to be made another country in south Africa.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      If you are to be believed western cape will be overpopulated by now, oh yah unless it’s a specific ethnic group seeking western cape to be made another country in south Africa.

  • B M says:

    My initial reaction to the headline was: No. No: Ramaphosa is not the solution to the problem. However, Ismail does make a compelling argument. But the realities of the situation cannot be ignored. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance: Just because Ramaphosa did not fulfill his public mandate in cleaning up the ANC, this does not mean he will not do it given another chance. But I am assuming, and I suspect erroneously, that Ramaphosa is serious about his public mandate. Much of the evidence points to (much of it from Ramaphosa’s own words, especially regarding “unity”), is that his mandate is, in actuality, to appease the cadres at the trough. I fear that Ismail has, like myself, fallen for the distraction, like the audience’s attention is diverted in a magic trick.

    While the alternatives are not particularly enticing, at least there is incentive for change. And change is desperately needed.

    On a separate note: Voting is both a right, and a responsibility. If you expect others to vote, you must vote. If you expect others to vote responsibly, you must vote responsibly. If you want others to vote with their rationality and not their emotions, you must vote with your rationality and not your emotions. If you think the status quo is the way forward, you must vote for it. Only through action are ideas materialised.

  • Anthony Kearley says:

    Here is a thought, what if political parties are not meant to remain in power forever, or they fall prey to some of the very vices we see today. Perhaps we are meant to vote new parties in, to sweep away the old and then, not so much later, sweep that away too. Could that be how you keep powerful men as honest servants to the citizens? If relying on their good nature seems naive then, since they write the laws, perhaps there really is no other way and only a regular process of renewal will do. If so, then all this talk about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic is a waste.

  • Just Me says:

    The next president of South Africa will have to address more than cadre employment. It will need to remove it’s corrupt vector friend, BEE.

    This cannot be done by Cyril Ramaphosa, as he is too tainted and culpable.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Oh common!!! What planet are you living on? Ramaphosa is a liar, a hypocrite and a sleazeball of note. He is cut from the same cloth as Zuma, but more urbane and was at the centre, at Zuma’s side when State Capture was happening, was key in cadre deployment, Eskom war room etc. His foreign policy is duplicitous and anything but non-aligned. He supports and closes ranks with the most vile murderous regimes like the evil Putin, Zimbabwe, Iran etc. He constantly betrays our Constitution and human righs values etc. The sooner we see the back of this fraudster and his revolting party/government, the better for SA. I have nothing but disgust and revulsion for him and his pathetic, inept and deceitful ministers etc. I welcomed his ascent to the top, but that is long gone. He is spineless, useless and immoral to boot.

    • David McCormick says:

      Who do you recommend replace Ramaphosa? (I am not a supporter of the ANC but am short of ideas as Steenhuisen does not appeal to the broad community of South African voters, most of the potential leaders of smaller parties have too few members to consider being president, and at least four of the small parties have been formed by ex-ANC politicians who need an income as politics is the only? skill they have.)

  • William Kelly says:

    Puhlease. Judge a man by his actions and not his words. Ramaposer is a spineless feckless muppet who has shown exactly who he is. Not sure which country you live in mate, but in this one we have run out of time. End of.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    It strikes me that you are the one running out of ideas and get desperate for something to write about when the dead line draws near.

  • Random Comment says:

    Political parties are like diapers: they should be changed regularly and for the same reason.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Betting on new dawn money couch man takes a special kind of delusion and faith.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    We have been here before, with the lie that just maybe Ramaphosa is a savior, that there is good in the ANC, and that if we just give it another chance it will all be better.
    If we have learned anything in the last 5 years, it is that Ramaphosa is not that man. Not even close.
    Remember he is the man that was on the ANC cadre deployment board (or what ever you want to call this abomination) in exactly the years state capture was in steroids (and how convenient that the dog ate his homework huh?). He was on the ESKOM board, 2010 to 2014, when it was clear that our electricity supply is in danger. He is the one fighting the key Zondo recommendations, especially cadre deployment & our supply chain corruption, with BEE rules that seem to be made with corruption in mind. I am pretty sure you had to think hard to find decent cadres, but there is no way you can explain what people like Cele and Mantashe are still doing in power. And please don’t compare this to the DA retaining Zille and Steenhuisen, it’s dishonest and disingenuous.
    I accept that you don’t like the DA and that they don’t resonate with you personally, but compared to any other party they really are the only ones that have successfully actually governed day to day (we can dismiss the EFF governing attenpts as pure disruption). Invaluable experience is what we need. The DA has great ideas, it’s just you don’t like them, & you are somehow suggesting we vote for a corruption enabling cadre, but won’t vote yourself. Pfft!

    • Mike Grace says:

      You do not have to like any party or its leaders to vote for them, just see which party is the least corrupt and look at their track record and then use your brain and VOTE!

  • Egmont Rohwer says:

    Remember that a ‘no Vote’ against the ANC is essentially a vote FOR the ANC

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Can’t disagree with that … like in the struggle between the powerful (corrupt?) and the poor, being ‘neutral’ is to side with the powerful.

  • Beverley Roos-Muller says:

    Thank you for articulating far better what I’ve been trying to say for a while, and getting dumped on by armchair critics who don’t know how insider politics works, have never stood for public office (yes, I did). Cyril has only ever been able to ‘move’ as far as he can take his constituency with him. Look how close that race was between him and Ace. Since then he has steadily if slowly (the usual speed of politics) been removing many of the awful others. Zuma is in reality history, as is the former public protector (now protected as an MP by the EFF), Hlope, Gigaba, the former minister of Health and numerous other once-allies. Count them – the list is surprisingly long.
    Given the opportunity, there is form to think he will continue this path, the former builder of the unions who knows exactly how politics works without spilling its machinations into war.
    Think of the chaos on June 1 if the lackluster complainer Steenhuisen shares coalition power – a man who once compared his former wife on public TV to ‘roadkill’. As for the rest of the supposed coalition – each leader is as bad as the other, and many as corrupt as anyone else. You were brave to write this necessary piece and will be vilified for it, yet that doesn’t make it less true. BTW I always vote. As a woman, I do so to honour those of my former sisters who struggled (some dying) for the right to do so. Rather spoil a vote than don’t vote – that also counts, as a rejection of the current lists.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      So, what you’re saying is that the ANC is so corrupt that even their blue-eyed boy Cyril couldn’t fix them. And now Gigaba and the other crooks are coming back! Please, get a reality check quickly – and if you have to trash Steenhuisen and the DA by connection, at least find a better example than a throwaway remark that means very little except in the eyes of someone who hates the DA. And maybe get off your backside and come down to the Cape and see how a city, province, and – eventually, please god – a country, can be properly run. But then I assume as an ANC apologist that would be too much for you to bear.

      • Karin Swart says:

        As a woman (and a staunch DA supporter), I was also disgusted with Steenhuisen’s “throwaway” remark about his ex-wife. I’m sure many women were (DA supporters or not).

    • Stuart Hulley-Miller says:

      Thanks for a sensible reply Beverley.
      What most people who are commenting do not accept is that they are living in Africa. Things are done differently here. “Our” preferred electoral system is undoubtedly better and has been partially adopted and is evolving as it goes one.
      The ANC is totally a consensus oriented organisation and the “consensus” comes only from those in power, not the general electorate.
      Cyril has done many, many risky things, always on the edge and not gone far enough to get kicked out by the ANC (or to keep “us”) happy.
      He cannot go too far, or he is out …… and then what?
      I believe in his next, and last term, he will take this right to the edge and change his game, radically.
      I really believe this is what he would like to do….. lets hope he can.

      • Carol Green says:

        History has shown that an ANC president will only be “recalled” as the state president once they are no longer ANC president. So currently Cyril’s position in the ANC is very strong and he would not simply be tossed out.
        He has stated very clearly that his number one priority is unity of the ANC. Sadly I think you are deluded to think that Cyril is going to be any different in the future from what he’s already shown us he is in the past six years.

  • Annie Conway says:

    It is not necessary for John Steenhuizen to have new ideas, as long as he has the right ideas, which he’s had all along. He just needs opportunity to implement them because they’ve been proven to WORK. Why not get rid of the excess public servants? They serve absolutely zero purpose.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Of all the places in the world where not voting seems like a daft idea msanzi right now must surely be right near the top of the list. I’m disappointed in the author for thinking it and even more so for writing about it as it may well encourage other people to do the same thing.

  • ST ST says:

    We have to choose between Ramaphosa and Ramaphosa. US (Republicans) have to choose between Trump and Trump. Silver lining or too far…

  • D Rod says:

    “I have a strong sense, nonetheless, that Ramaphosa, with hands untied, can clean up the mess(es) caused over the past three decades. ”

    Oh, you sweet summer child….

  • Charl Engelbrecht says:

    I am beginning to think that the writer of this article really is a nihilist and that he produces the sort of material that you could consider reading if you are truly suicidal and just need that last nudge to finally get you over the edge.

  • Johan says:

    My son flies in tonight to work from here – we have water, they haven’t had for days. And it’s been going on for months. He is living the fools’ apocalypse where those who propelled us into the train wreck were concidered best to, well, loot the crash site.

    I know it is traumatic and humbling. But just make peace with it, the beloved ANC is evil.

  • Yvonne Riester says:

    What is this Steenhuisen bashing all about ? Steenhuisen speaks well , has excellent ideas on how to run the country, works extremely hard, is passionate about saving the country. Absolutely amazing how much the DA has achieved, just look at Howick under Pappas.

  • Andrew Mortimer says:

    Normally enjoy Ismael because he offers an alternate view point that challenges the norm. I assume he is trying to do this with this article but unfortunatly it just comes across as nonsense. The only way to clean up the mess that the ANC has made it to remove it and all its thieving, corrupt and incompetent cadres. It may take years but it is a nobel and just cause that must be achieved.

  • Hans Wendt says:

    Dude, you scare me. Your argument is like saying Putin or Hitler have faults but overall they were or are the best, because of some of the people they hung out with. I’m assuming you live in the Western Cape, where the DA governs. Anywhere else in SA you would be a victim of the total incompetence, corruption and destruction of what the ANC has done over the years. We need to fight fascism in whatever form or colour it takes.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Like you… I voted in the first ever democratic elections and then ‘sat out’ the next two … while the garlic and beetroot president ran the show ! I then realised it was an abrogation of my civic duty not to vote … and returned to make my mark . While sympathetic to your perspectives, not sure if ‘sitting out’ contributes or hampers ‘change’ ?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    I notice that you have overlooked or ruled out a guy called Thapelo for presidency .. he who has just said there is no water crises in Jo’burg, while daily we watch on TV scores of people carrying containers of water ! Not unlike Gaza !

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    It has often been discussed recently whether South Africa is a mature democracy. Why is a failed government not voted out? Why is the only opposition party that demonstrates its competence in government action being defamed with banal and ridiculous arguments? Is it because of the large mass of uneducated, uninformed voters? The authors and commentators who comment here cannot be assumed to belong to this crowd, including the author of this article. Why then does he behave like the majority of the uneducated and uninformed by claiming that he does not want to vote and by promoting the proven failure in the presidency as the ultimate savior? The headline reads like satire, but he really means it! So what is its subtle message?

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    It seems to me that the message is an appeal to the voters who have been loyal so far so that they don’t come up with “stupid” ideas. In plain language it says: Just don’t vote for the DA, it represents your former oppressors from whom the ANC freed you. For this you must be eternally grateful to your liberators. Yes, they ruined the country. If that’s why you don’t want to vote for them anymore, then just don’t go to the polls.

  • Karin Swart says:

    I am sorry, but I am not totally convinced by your argument about Ramaphosa. It sounds too much like what the ANC has been saying for the last 15 to 20 years – “Give us another chance, we WILL do better this time”. I was also hopeful that he would be a “new broom”, but have been shown time and again that he is just a broom made of paper.
    It is also most curious that you are trying to influence readers to vote a certain way, but cannot summon the sense of responsibility to do so yourself?

  • Christopher Campbell says:

    If the headline is true, we are all dammed.

  • Maria Janse van Rensburg says:

    I agree with Mr. Legardien. President Ramaphosa has prepared all the right road maps but without enough time to implement it. I think SA will benefit with one more term with him at the helm. The DA will not get a majority yet and coalition politics are a disaster. President Ramaphosa cares about aĺl South Africans, he believes in the rule of law and due process. And no I will not vote for the ANC because I believe that a strong opposition is crucial in any democracy. But given another 5 year term, I believe President Ramophosa might just succeed in turning the tide. For those who are really interested in the facts, do visit the websites of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Presidency- and Parliament to see what has been achieved and what is in the pipeline. Earnest attempts to plug the gaps in legislation that enabled the looting of state resources. Regurgitating news headlines about President Ramaphosa is lazy and dangerous. I for one am grateful and proud that he was the one that steered us through and is steering us through some of the most tumultuous times since 1994.

    • ST ST says:

      Thank you Maria. Sounds like a fair assessment. I’m also not entirely convinced he’s all that bad. The fact that JZ inc can’t stand him (Ramaphosa) means something , I think. I think if Ramaphosa stood outside the ANC, a lot of SA’s would choose him (more happily).

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