It’s time to lead Mr President

Zukile Majova

South Africans will be hoping to see a different President Cyril Ramaphosa than the one who has been in charge for the past three years.

When he gives the SONA address on Thursday – in the middle of a pandemic and a potential constitutional crisis – the big question will be who he’s talking to.

The ANC or the country.

In the beginning, Ramaphosa promised to work hard to rebuild the nation, rescue the economy, strengthen democratic institutions and fight rampant corruption.

He’s had his moments, but then been knocked back by brutal forces in the party, and stayed far too quiet for most people’s liking.

The scorecard is wobbly.

  • Three years later, the Constitutional Court is under attack from members of his own party – his predecessor Jacob Zuma and party secretary Ace Magashule.
  • Unemployment has shot to new highs with over three million previously employed people now unemployed in just 12 months. Obviously every country has been devastated by Covid on this front, but the lack of progress generating jobs was already a millstone around Ramaphosa’s neck before the pandemic hit.

A big challenge is finding a budget to fund the presidential public employment programme which promised to employ over 700,000 people over a six month period.

  • The securing and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines will be top priority and the expected arrival of the more efficient vaccine from Johnson and Johnson could start to contain the pandemic, which is key to Ramaphosa’s survival.
  • On corruption, the cabal that plunged the country into near bankruptcy – and destroyed so much of state capacity – is fighting back, though it is questionable whether they are emboldened or desperate.

No big fish are in jail yet, but there has been movement on the big prosecutions so the looters are certainly not home and dry.

  • By far the biggest stain on Ramaphosa’s government has been the abuse of money meant to fund various anti Covid initiatives. In his weekly letter “From the Desk of the President” he appeared to downplay the scale of the PPE looting scandal.

“The SIU investigation looked into over 2,500 PPE contracts. While some investigations are ongoing, in many cases the allegations were found to be without substance and the companies were cleared of wrongdoing.”

The nation wants another glimpse of the Ramaphosa who negotiated our democratic settlement of pre-1994, the Ramaphosa who spoke to the nation at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago as we headed into lockdown.

Having captured the leadership with a slim majority at the ANC elective conference in 2017 his political enemies have been openly campaigning ever since to dislodge him before the next conference.

This has been to our detriment: Ramaphosa has spent far too much time worrying about the unity of the ANC and too little time over the health of the nation.

The latest push by Zuma and Magashule for a political crisis is a threat to Ramaphosa’s ambition to rebuild the country and the economy, but one which the people of the country will support him in pushing back against.

The stakes could not be higher: the unfortunate reality is that the future of so many millions of South Africans remains joined at the hip with that of the ANC.

Picture source @liMokoena