Lead, Ramaphosa, lead!
If President Cyril Ramaphosa had a Jewish mother, he would probably be a doctor today. Whether it was his profession or not, he would have been told from the day of his birth that he was a gift to mankind. If he had a Jewish mom, he would have the confidence to fire Lindiwe Sisulu. And if he didn’t dismiss her because he was too busy with more important things (her words, not mine), then she would have done it herself.
When Ramaphosa achieved the top spot of the African National Congress (ANC), it wasn’t by a large margin. The situation was perilous, with South Africa balancing on the precipice of disaster. From within his own party, the win was far from confident. Based on those who surrounded him, it was clear that he would have little option but to rule with a level of diplomatic tentativeness that would require the patience of a saint.
The reaction to his appointment was nothing short of euphoria, spurning the “Ramaphoria” description that accurately captured the sentiment of the nation. Finally, there would be an honest leader of a dishonest party that was begging for reform.
In the heady days that followed, hearts and hope triumphed over the reality that he wasn’t free to make the choices he might have wanted to, and that not everyone within the ANC wanted the change that was required.
To be fair, there have been several significant and vital improvements. The recapturing of the South African Revenue Services, the National Prosecuting Authority, and the Hawks, allowing independent power producers to supply the country with electricity, and in dealing with the “RET” faction within his own party.
But progress has been slow and frustrating. Corruption remains a significant concern within the ANC, and the recent theft of COVID-19 funds are a sad reminder that theft is far from over.
Strangely, even with the poor public image of the party there seems to be a willingness to give it and Ramaphosa a “pass”. The construct of the “good ANC” versus the “bad ANC” has been solidified with the identification of the RET group within the party.
The notion that Ramaphosa is an anti-corruption crusader has been maintained, resulting in significant underutilised collateral in this regard, collateral that both Ramaphosa and the ANC should be harnessing to further the party and the country.
It’s worth considering why Ramaphosa doesn’t seem to recognise the support he has. South Africans, for the most part, continue to look to him for guidance. His initial handling of the COVID-19 crisis is case in point, where his “family meeting” invitations became part of the South African vernacular.
Support was overwhelming, and there was a sense of pride in the president and the approach taken. Irrational and bizarre decisions that included limits on buying open-toe shoes, smoking bans, and the closure of some beaches, along with the theft of funds, eroded confidence.
Coupled with his refusal to answer questions, the term “family meeting” suddenly became ironic, because family allow each other to speak, ask questions, and family doesn’t steal from the medical-aid jar.
I have often compared Ramaphosa to Prince Hamlet. He begins his journey having just lost his father, who has probably been murdered by his uncle. He has our hearts and our support. He’s on a mission to seek justice, and we are with him on his quest. But then he procrastinates and procrastinates. Until pretty much the end of the play, when everyone lies dead on the stage. If Hamlet had acted, if only he had recognised his strength and support, the outcome would have been completely different.
Ramaphosa needs to be aware of the immense power he has. And he needs to act. He needs to regain the confidence of the country and demonstrate that he has the ability to make difficult decisions. He might not be a doctor, but he is the president of a country that’s looking to him to lead.