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Super-sizing President Cyril Ramaphosa is a giant error

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Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA) – ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa supporters in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal on Thursday April 15, 2021. Some analysts and media pundits are saying that it will be disastrous if Cyril Ramaphosa goes, but for whom? the writer asks.

By Kim Heller

The loud hailing of melodramatic theatrics around a potential political crisis for South Africa and the ANC if Ramaphosa loses his Presidential crown in December is a new verse in the ballad of super-sizing President Cyril Ramaphosa. It is not a song one will ever hear in the potholed streets of South Africa, where hope lies stranded and abandoned like a forlorn waif. Rather, it is a foghorn of elite and invested interests, who from the start invested in presenting a larger-than-life portraiture of Cyril Ramaphosa, exaggerating his political stature, leadership acumen and business know-how.

Equally out of tune is the monotonous, mono-tonal beat among Ramaphosa’s opponents that the solution to the woes of both party and nation is the removal of the incumbent President, Cyril Ramaphosa. If only it was that simple. The super-sizing of Ramaphosa into a leader of grandstanding, whose fall would be catastrophic, is a dialogue of denialism for it ignores that over his first term, Ramaphosa has failed dismally.

The same chord of denialism applies to the easy jingle of Cyril-must-go-and-all-will-be-well, for it overplays the role and influence of the incumbent President and downplays the deep-set fault lines and flaws in the party. These dialogues of denial are both deaf to the need for honest reflection on and solution-seeking to the multiple crises facing South Africa and its ruling party, the ANC.

Some analysts and media pundits are saying that it would be disastrous if Cyril Ramaphosa goes. But for whom? Ramaphosa’s failure would hardly be calamitous for the millions of unemployed citizens who despite their best intentions to do an honest day’s work, cannot find a job. It would not be ruinous for the scores of fresh university graduates whose hard-earned qualifications have little real worth in a failing economy. It would certainly not be devastating for the women of South Africa living in perpetual fear of attack in a nation torn apart by gender-based violence.

And surely Ramaphosa’s fall would not be disastrous for the ANC itself, for its electoral support fell to historical lows under his administration, and its own staff have suffered long periods of salary non-payment during his first term, and fierce self-serving factionalism among leaders and membership reached new heights under his stewardship. Ramaphosa’s first-term performance and delivery have been extremely poor. There is no denying this. The Citizen’s Sydney Majoko wrote an article this week entitled Cyril betrayed his promise. Majoko writes how when Ramaphosa took over the Presidential reins from Zuma, he promised to be “guided by Nelson Mandela’s example … to use the year 2018 (Mandela’s centenary) to reinforce our commitment to ethical behaviours and leadership”.

Majoko writes, “Now, four years later, his Presidency hangs by a thread because he strayed from the ethical behaviour he promised.” Majoko is correct; Ramaphosa’s reign has hardly been a victory of ethical leadership, anti-corruption, and accountable governance. The sealing of the CR17 Presidential funding records and the Phala Phala fiasco have made a mockery of transparent government and raised questions of possible corruption. Ramaphosa has failed to deliver on his supersized promises of a more robust economy, more jobs and better service delivery. For the ordinary South African, life has not improved. Ramaphosa has proved to be no saviour.

Rather than salvaging the nation, economically, culturally, or morally, he has sold its very sovereignty by super-sizing debt and plunging future generations into an abyss of dependency. And as for party renewal, never before has the ANC been as divided as it is today. Ramaphosa has been a disaster. But while he may well be the worst ANC President to date, his removal is unlikely to change much for ordinary South Africans. To super-size Ramaphosa as the greatest problem in the ANC is to ignore the trumpet of problems in the organisation.

The glaring lack of ethical, people-focused leadership in the ANC, its track record of poor governance and its failure to fundamentally transform the economic, social and cultural landscape and power relations in a post-apartheid South Africa is the anthem of the ANC as a whole. It is not the solo performance of any single President.

In Denial: The Danger in Rejecting Reality, Dr Barbara Ford Shabazz, an African American psychologist writes “one of Western society’s biggest problems is rooted in the defence mechanism theorised by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud”.

“Freud postulated that denial is unconsciously choosing to push back on factual truths because to admit them would be too psychologically uncomfortable and require facing the unbearable.” Shabazz writes that “when a person actively rejects facts and possible outcomes, despite overwhelming evidence” it is because they are either choosing to (a) turn “a blind eye” to hard or painful truths, or (b) trying to “minimise” or downplay the impact of the problem, or they are (c) shifting responsibility by acknowledging the problem but refusing to admit their role in the problem or taking the due accountability to resolve it.

With or without Ramaphosa, the ANC is a party in need of urgent repair. Those who are warning that things will get worse if Ramaphosa goes are peddlers of the same apocalyptic scare tactics that apartheid leaders used to warn of an impending crisis should apartheid fall. To super-size fear of the unknown is a clever weapon of propaganda in the arsenal of those who want to retain the status quo.

In his closing address at the ANC’s NEC meeting this past weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remains in poverty; without land, without tangible prospects for a better life.”

The President said: “Attacking poverty and deprivation must therefore be the first priority of a democratic government.”

In the ANC’s manifesto of 2004, it is written that: “For years, our economy ran for the benefit of the minority, with opportunities and facilities limited to a few. While all parties speak of improving the quality of life, only a government that represents the majority can be trusted to do this.” But the majority party has forsaken the majority, in the greed of personal feed.

In a glaringly true portraiture of the dismal state of South Africa, former Deputy Chief Justice Judge Dikgang Moseneke said a few weeks ago: “After 30 years our country must reset its fate, future, and vision. We cannot possibly prescribe the same medicine when the malady persists or perhaps gets worse. We are called to press the reset button.”

Moseneke spoke of the hamper of unfulfilled promises on the accessibility of public health, education, water, housing, transport and electricity. “I conclude with a heavy heart that the revolution has failed. The quest to alter power relations in society in favour of the excluded and marginalised masses of our people has failed. The high political and social ideals of those of us who were part of our glorious struggle have by and large come to nought.”

The promise of a wonderland for all under the ANC government has turned into a wasteland. The song of renewal has no resonance. It is a matter of “People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening,” to steal the lyrics of Sounds of Silence.

“What we don’t repair, we usually repeat,” writes Shabazz. What is required now is to super-size efforts to deal with the lingering crises of structural poverty and inequality, the Goliath levels of joblessness, landlessness, hunger and despair, and the economic and moral cripple of corruption in the public and corporate sectors. The need to repair and reset power relations in all ambits of society and cultural spheres continues to super-size whiteness and degrade blackness as apartheid did. This includes the Constitution itself. Luther King Jr said, “God has wrought many things out of oppression.

“He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create, and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.”

The melody of hope and cope has long been lost in South Africa.

Sweet songs of sorrow and joy are no longer soothing. For now, the shrieking sounds of ANC factionalism are the anthem of the day. The ANC’s lack of delivery is a broken record. And the band plays on.

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

This article was exclusively written for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.