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Ramaphosa’s presidency is based on falsehood

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Picture: Itumeleng English / Independent Newspapers / December 18, 2023 – President Cyril Ramaphosa briefs the media after meeting with the delegation of United Ulama Council and South Africa friends of Palestine at Luthuli House. As he ends his first term, Ramaphosa has lost all forms of credibility. When he speaks, he is either reading a script given to him or he has come to believe his lies, the writer says.

By Sipho Seepe

President Ramaphosa started his tenure on a good footing. He rode on the crest of a wave of popular support from every critical sector imaginable. He could count on the big business, trade unions, and civil society including ANC’s historical sworn enemies.

Mainstream media, which was unrelenting in its vilification of former president Jacob Zuma, presented Ramaphosa as the best thing to have happened to South Africa’s body politic. The New Dawn, Thuma Mina, and Ramaphoria became the new additions to the national political discourse. The kind of stuff that gave Ramaphosa a messianic appeal.

For his part, Ramaphosa seized the opportunity and campaigned on a ticket of clean governance, transparency, and accountability. He promised to stimulate growth, attract investment, and fix the finances of state-owned enterprises. Big business ate out of his hand.

At a party level, he spoke instantly about rooting out corruption, and about unity and renewal. Ramaphosa should however not be judged by sectoral delusions but by the promises he made and the ideas, if any, that he has propounded.

Ramaphosa wasted no time and embarked on flights of fantasy. He spoke of a country that “has prioritised its rail networks and is producing high-speed trains connecting our megacities and the remotest areas of our country”. “We should imagine a country where bullet trains pass through Johannesburg as they travel from here to Musina, and they stop in Buffalo City on their way from eThekwini back here in Cape Town … We want a South Africa that doesn’t simply export its raw materials but has become a manufacturing hub for key components used in electronics, automobiles, and computers. We must be a country that can feed itself and that harnesses the latest advances in smart agriculture.” (SONA 2019).

Five years later, the country is virtually on its knees with insufficient public infrastructure and services due to mismanagement flagged as one of the major risks. Fortunately, it didn’t take long before Ramaphosa was woken up from slumber when he found himself trapped for almost four hours when he took a train ride that should have taken forty-five minutes. The dream turned into a nightmare in broad daylight. This instance was one of his many public relations exercises going awry.

The New Dawn evaporated into thin air no sooner than it had been pronounced. This does not come as a surprise since the New Dawn was a figment of fertile imagination by many in the mainstream media. For some odd reason, so-called analysts invented a non-existent Ramaphosa. Ramaphoria has gone the way of the dodo.

Instead of ushering in a New Dawn, Ramaphosa’s administration has proven to be the most economically disastrous since 1994. Since taking over as president, Eskom has lurched from one crisis to the next effectively plunging the country into rolling blackouts. Load shedding has become a serious constraint on growth.

Business confidence has plummeted to levels last seen in the 1980s. Investor conferences have proved to be nothing more than meaningless and fruitless public relations exercises. Instead of inflows, the country experienced capital outflows. Mining, which forms the backbone of the economy went into a precipitous slump. The manufacturing sector has also gone into a downward spiral. Small and medium-sized enterprises have borne the brunt of the crisis of leadership of Ramaphosa administration.

Minister of Electricity, Dr Kgosientso Ramakgopa has indicated that this year alone, close to 800,000 jobs will be lost due to load-shedding. These losses come at a time when unemployment has spiralled out of control. Estimates are that this comes at 1 billion rand per day. This makes the much-reported state capture pale into insignificance.

Understandably the widening budget gap limits the government’s capacity to both the infrastructure and social spending. For instance, the budget for the Department of Higher Education was reportedly cut by almost R10 billion for the year 2020/21. During a briefing to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education on its plans for the 2024 academic year, the acting CEO of NSFAS, Masile Ramorwesi warned: “Based on the calculation of the 10 percent reduction in university funding from National Treasury’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS), 87,712 students will be left unfunded in the 2024 academic period. This will increase to 120,976 students in the 2024/25 academic year.” This is a recipe for instability in the sector.

Mcebisi Jonas, Ramaphosa’s envoy, attributes the lack of leadership to have contributed to the country’s economic malaise. In an article provocatively titled, SA has lots of plans but who is in charge? (Sunday Times, 19 July 2020) Jonas argues that the government is “presented with a multitude of plans, but little sense that anyone is in charge”. “Debates are often stuck between competing ideological positions rather than developing and driving real productivity and providing jobs.”

On the leadership front, Ramaphosa has effectively outsourced the responsibility of decision-making to task teams and commissions. Mmusi Maimane, the leader of Build One SA sums it up well. “We are a State of big promises. We’re a State of Commissions, Task Teams, and Road Shows for every possible problem. But when it comes to actually doing things, we are a State of No Action.” (The South African Op-ed 12/02/2019).

For his part, former activist and professor emeritus at the University of South Africa, Raymond Suttner has this to say. “There is little in the record of Ramaphosa to suggest anything more than a self-indulgent, narcissistic attachment to the idea of being president, a presidency that has little content. What ideas, what vision, what ethics, if any, drive this man, and for that matter the organisation that he leads?” (The Daily Maverick, Op-ed 9/01/2021).

With failure writ all over his administration, Ramaphosa has become embarrassingly desperate and vaingloriously tried to use Covid-19 as an alibi. The Pretoria News editorial, A president reduced to fixing potholes (5/09/2022) sums up this desperation.

“The sight of President Cyril Ramaphosa patching a pothole in Mpumalanga while his fellow ANC comrades watch in glee is very sad. By all accounts, it shows that the governing party’s leader, and his organisation, have normalised the abnormal … These desperate actions suggest that the ANC has internalised its service delivery failures.” He pulled the same stunt a few weeks ago when he proudly opened a tap of water. As they say, desperate times require desperate measures.

The renewal of the ANC has become a pipe dream. Just weeks before the 2022 elective conference, the current Deputy Secretary General of the ANC wrote. that “under our [NEC] leadership, led by [Ramaphosa], we’ve done the worst”. “We have no leagues. All the provinces that we disbanded we’ve not rebuilt. We just saved Northwest. The Free State is difficult. Western Cape will not work out … We disbanded the Women’s League. Just a week ago we disbanded even the Veteran’s League, a body of elders. Who are we?… we have reached a point where we are scared of each other.” (Sunday Times 6/11/2022).

Things have not improved. The headquarters of the ANC found itself having to fend off the deputy sheriff from attaching some of its valuables due to an outstanding debt.

As he ends his first term, Ramaphosa has lost all forms of credibility. When he speaks, he is either reading a script given to him or he has come to believe his lies. Sunday Times columnist Barney Mthombothi’s observation that ‘Ramaphosa’s falsehoods are hurting his cause’ (13/12/2020) is as true today as it was then. Mthombothi wrote:

“Two years after [Ramaphosa] assumed office, we’ve yet to locate his backbone … Apart from his well-earned reputation as a coward, Ramaphosa is cultivating another unfortunate trait. He’s telling too many falsehoods, the one on Eskom being the latest. Most of them seem unprovoked and unnecessary. And these fibs are not only corroding his credibility.”

The Phala Phala scandal, which will be playing itself out in the courts, has put paid to Ramaphosa’s efforts of projecting himself as a crusader against corruption. As I argued before, the Phala Phala scandal has not only brought disrepute to his office, the ANC but also to the whole country. The saga has since hogged headlines of almost all major news outlets – be it television or print media.

As he concludes his term, Ramaphosa and his acolytes should take heed of the timeless observation attributed to the first President of the US Abraham Lincoln. “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Professor Sipho Seepe is an independent political analyst.