By Kim Heller
The problem is not that Cyril Ramaphosa is weak, ineffective, and out of ideas. The problem is that the ANC is weak, ineffective, and out of ideas.
Caught in a feeding trough of self-enrichment, the ANC has become a grossly obese body that can barely move. Holding political office is no longer about glorious public service but gluttonous self-interest. And the ANC’s commitment to liberation and social justice, which was once compelling enough to mobilise people across the globe to join its fight against apartheid, has turned to dust.
Delivering a Peter Mokaba Memorial Lecture this week, the ANC’s Andile Lungisa provided a cutting analysis of the current state of the nation. Lungisa says, “South Africa has completed a quarter of a century since the end of apartheid and the ushering of the democratic dispensation. We are in the twenty-eighth year of social and political turmoil.
Service delivery protests and strikes are at their highest levels ever.
“Unemployment continues to climb and is now more than the 10 million mark. Poverty continues to ravage the lives of the majority at the same time as inequalities continue to widen from already breathtaking levels.”
The once glorious movement is in bad shape. Although he has undoubtedly contributed massively to the party’s decline, decay set in long before Ramaphosa was appointed President. The fat slide of political accountability, paper-thin leadership, and lack of fitness to fundamentally transfer the social and economic landscape of South Africa are the failings, not of a single President, but of the whole ANC. No President, managed, even when the party had a two-thirds majority to use this wand of power to return the land to black South Africans or to effect legislation that would see the ownership and power relations of the economy shift away from the white preserve that it is.
The current Ramaphosa administration and the Ramaphosa-led NEC appear to have dispensed of all pretence that it was interested or invested in building a better life for all.
I have never rated Cyril Ramaphosa.
In my book No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa, I write that Ramaphosa would not have been my choice of President in 2017, had I had a vote at Nasrec. I write how I would have chosen a candidate whose political ideology and actions were more concomitant with radical economic transformation and land return, than with the preservation of white economic power.
When Ramaphosa took up the Presidential mantle, unlike many others, I did not change my tune and become a sudden praise singer. I consciously chose rather to assess him on his words and deeds. And in terms of words and deeds, he has failed the party and the country on all fronts. Without a doubt, removing Ramaphosa in December is both warranted and necessary.
“ I have given it my best shot and will continue to do so,” Ramaphosa said this week as he reflected on his Presidency. Effectively this is a vote of no confidence in himself for his best is simply not good enough as it has achieved very little. The President is succinctly telling us that he really can do no better.
Despite a dreadful performance as the President of both ANC and South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa is set for a second term.
Even the blistering Phala Phala allegations don’t seem to be sufficient grounds to unseat a President who is so wanting.
Right now, the ANC is a tempest of insanity.
It is as if the party is caught in the foreboding stanza of Yeats’s poem,” The Second Coming,” of a present-day that is coming apart, and of a tomorrow that appears ominous. It is in a tempest of intellectual, political, and moral decay, that a man who has failed on every measure that he set for himself, both for party and country, is likely to rise again.
But even if Ramaphosa is removed in December, as he should be, this is unlikely to fundamentally alter the course of the grotesquely out of shape, out of touch and out of ideas ANC. At first glance, the early top six leadership configurations that are emerging appear as ideologically incoherent slates. Tablets of old ideas rather than bold ideas.
In the scramble for, and in the pick and pay of leadership contestation, there is a muddled mix and match of contenders. It is unclear what these early leadership slates stand for or what distinguishes one from the other.
To factionalise failure offers no solution to the shortfalls of and woes of both party and state. If the ANC is unable to look upon itself and see just how out of shape it is to transform lead and govern, we are headed towards an ominous tomorrow.
In order for a better tomorrow to dawn, the answer may lie not only in removing Ramaphosa, as an individual leader, in December but in removing the ANC, as a whole, in 2024, and ushering in an energised, idea-abundant black political body fit for the purpose of economic justice, transformation and liberation.
In an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk, in late 2017, former President of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe shocked many when he said it would be good if ANC loses power. “It would be good for the ANC itself and let me tell you why – because those elements who are in it for the largesse will quit it, will desert it and only then would the possibility arise for salvaging whatever is left of it,” he said.
The ANC could renew itself, but it would require “lots of courage”, Motlanthe told Hardtalk. “It has to lose elections for the penny to drop,” he said.
What was seen as a rather reactionary statement at the time might prove to be quite revolutionary, even if this was never the intention of Motlanthe.
Perhaps it is time that the rhapsody of unfulfilled promises of the ANC comes to an end.
Back to the present and it looks like the second coming of Cyril in December may well be an unwelcome Christmas surprise for many.
Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’