[OPINION] Cyril, the honeymoon is fast expiring
Attempting to decipher new President Cyril Ramaphosa’s next political move is akin to attempting to decode the new Afro-futuristic blockbuster Black Panther’s 'deeper esoteric' meanings, if indeed, there are any.
His presidency so far is all very exciting, entertaining, full of hope and promise but it remains a fantasy, albeit a refreshing one. Are we witnessing the patient application of a strategic mind, or the replacement of one patronage network by another? Whatever the answer, Ramaphosa needs to get a move on, his honeymoon period is fast expiring and South Africa needs direction, now.
“Give the man a chance!” is the popular response from some quarters when the question about Ramaphosa’s perceived tardiness regarding finalising decisions about his Cabinet arises. Indeed, Ramaphosa has only been president of the Republic for just over a week so to be asking questions about when he will finalise his Cabinet reshuffle may seem a little impatient, perhaps unreasonably so. On the face of it, this may be, but context is always the true arbiter of the disputes of political pundits. It would be useful to closely examine this one.
Ahead of his parliamentary election as president, things moved at break-neck speed and with uncanny decisiveness. There was a palpable and exciting feeling that a “new sheriff is in town” and the clean-up was well underway.
Shaun ‘the Sheep’ Abrahams seemed to have developed some testicular fortitude as we heard of moves by the NPA, the declawed Hawks and other law-enforcement agencies to arrest state-capture thugs and fugitives. The board at Eskom was summarily fired and replaced with new ‘competent’ people. Team South Africa was headed to Davos with a clear message of an SA that is ready to do business in a new political environment characterised by principled predictability. We even had a postponement of the State of the Nation Address, an unprecedented decision, one we were generally willing to allow as efforts to remove the ‘Casanova of Nkandla’ by both his own party ‘the glorious movement’ and opposition formations took hold.
It took no less than eight parliamentary attempts to remove Jacob Zuma from high office over a period of almost two presidential terms but, in less than a week, through extra parliamentary mechanisms, what had seemed impossible was finally achieved. In less than a week!
At the helm of all these feverish developments was the ‘Walking fresh prince of the promenade’ Cyril Ramaphosa, who hit all of the right notes in speech and deed, even seemingly taming the often foul-mouthed Red berets led by the bellicose CIC and their ‘after-nine’ lovers, the DA. Like the insatiable throngs of the tales of Wakanda, we all broke into a collective song and dance of renewed hope at the tunes of ‘Thuma mina’ by the Black Panther of Chiawelo.
It is perhaps beneficial to point out at this stage that all of the encouraging moves described above were of an economic nature rather than a political one. Or shall I say all these political moves had an interesting economic effect. Understandable, I suppose, because we need, we are told, to stabilise the economy so that we are not further downgraded by those all-powerful rating agencies… For much-needed growth, and so on. And indeed, we are eternally grateful to he who walks the streets of Khayelitsha and Athlone in drought-stricken Cape Town. Correct?
Allow me to emphasise the proficiency, decisiveness and speed with which all of these economically sound developments were carried out.
Prior to his election in Parliament, others had been calling for Ramaphosa to move with greater speed with regards to ousting Zuma and choosing a Cabinet for which he could be held accountable. I was among those who called for patience on the basis of the understanding that he had not yet ascended to the high office and that things should be done within the ambit of the law and the Constitution, albeit with great urgency. South Africa had been battered for far too long by incompetence graft and all manner of criminality for any further delays. I like many, understood the importance of a unanimous NEC decision to recall Zuma, the precarious political mine-field of contrasting interests in which such unanimity had to be achieved.
So when calls for him to speed up his efforts grew, I advanced defensive reasons for calm and patience. However, when the until-then elusive resignation came from Zuma and Ramaphosa was elected unopposed to the presidency, it followed in my mind, as it had for many others, that the momentum of decisive action would continue into realigning the Cabinet and the rest of government with the new ‘Cyril moment’ as he had done with the NPA, the Hawks and Eskom.
He was in a better position now that he had the constitutional mandate and authority to continue the good work of cleaning up, particularly his inherited Cabinet of (some) rogue ministers. Compelling reasons - ranging from the further cementing of both public and investor confidence, the shrinking of a bloated Cabinet, to the consolidation and enhancement of the goodwill within his own political party - were advanced for him to act on the Zuma Cabinet.
Instead, we were reminded of his negotiating prowess from the days of apartheid that saw the adoption of the Constitution, his business acumen and incisive strategic mind as we were told to shut up and wait for the smiling ‘Black Panther’ to apply his mind to these difficult issues. The uneasy familiarity of the beginnings of yet another personality cult around Ramaphosa began to well up in me, as he charmingly avoided answering important questions on his much publicised morning walks accompanied by doting sycophants. I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but why is he taking so long to normalise his Cabinet?
Well, as I have mentioned, some have explained the political difficulties of trying to merge the antagonistic factions of the ‘glorious movement’ to avoid yet another split. The need to somehow placate various power brokers (including traditional leaders) in and outside of the ANC through various forms of patronage in order to keep the ANC’s poll position as the leading political party in the country. Understandable, save to say that the internal party politics of the ANC seem once again to take the lion’s share of considerations in decisions that affect the greater Republic.
This is not right. A reality we thought we had escaped. Some have argued that considering his recent rise to the high office, perhaps it is both unreasonable and unfair to expect Ramaphosa to install a Cabinet for which he must be held accountable. Well, he has already influenced decisions with significant repercussions to our economy. Why has he not continued with the momentum?
These will be the questions that will occupy our minds as we observe with keen interest the unfolding developments in Ramaphosa’s presidency. However, as things stand a few considerations haunt my mind. Ramaphosa served very loyally in Zuma’s Cabinet, as have many of the rogue ministers he was expected to have removed. He has made no denial about his continued close relationship with Zuma. Nothing really has changed in ANC policy and form since the removal of Zuma. Also, the delivery of a questionable Budget vote by Malusi Gigaba, a very controversial figure, underscores his inability or perhaps refusal to part ways with Zuma’s Cabinet?
Could it be that the delay in Ramaphosa’s action is nothing more than a consolidation of the grip of the ANC on state power through a more sophisticated Cyril Ramaphosa network of patronage? Could it be a continuation of the legacy of ‘our turn to eat’? Questions have already been raised about Ramaphosa’s proximity to some of the senior executives who have taken over as board members at Eskom. I hope I’m wrong.
Whatever the answer, South Africa desperately needs decisive leadership more than ever, not a fantasy. Ramaphosa will soon reveal his spots.
Aubrey Masango is a presenter on Talk Radio 702. Follow him on Twitter: @702Aubrey