With the rise of Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency of the ANC, we have seen the rise of hope, potential investment, and the Rand. Will the new party leader make good on his promises and can he do what desperately needs to be done and stem the tide of greed and destruction popularised under Jacob Zuma's leadership? Can he rid government of corruption? Mphuthumi Ntabeni writes Ramaphosa a letter in which he reflects on the leader's political journey and encourages him to act swifty and decisively.
I have heard the opportunity and privilege to work with you as one of the party researchers during the early days of Codesa. Everyone lauded you then for being a natural born conciliator and skillful negotiator. That is true. As a young student at Wits then, with hot blood the young usually have, I found your conciliatory tone towards the Nats, frankly, exasperating. As much as I still disagree with some of your decisions, prompted by Madiba, standing now at what is the start of my autumn years, I understand your motivations better than I did in my spring. What I appreciated most about your negotiation skills is the precise, clear and substantive manner in which you communicated them, leaving no one confused as to where they stood. We knew when we conceded a point to the opposition and why, and vice versa. We also knew when not to compromise on a principle.
Things became vague when the exile group, under Mbeki, took over the driving seat. Most of the time the things we had caucused as committee didn’t even feature during the negotiation session. And we felt forever a step behind our opponents on what was being said, making us realise in the end that there were preliminary talks we were not privy to. And the documents we strenuously prepared were unceremoniously put aside, and we were ambushed by new ones in the meetings whose origins we had no idea of. I personally, like you, lost interest in the whole thing because we always felt like we were being treated like ciphers and real power lay somewhere else. Mbeki's secretive style of leadership – probably necessary during exile – jarred under an open democratic system when it was most imperative to be transparent. Sadly, it is what – in the end – made possible for a compromised and corruptable figure like Jacob Zuma to rise to the helm of ANC leadership. I digress.
Let me first congratulate you on your election as the president of the oldest political movement in Africa. You must now always be mindful of the fact that you have stepped on the shoes of the giants, and that you carry a burden of history in your shoulders.
Cyril, I wish I had confidence that you would be able to clean the ANC to be what it was established for – a vehicle to make better life for all in Southern Africa. But I have a nagging feeling that the culture of patronage has gone too far within the organisation. And jostling for positions for cushy government positions is the cancer that can no longer be contained within the party without changing its culture. Nevertheless, I applaud the quick-made decisions to remedy the situation within our SOEs. But the real question is who you’ll be replacing those individuals with. Better still, what steps are you, or the party, taking to make sure it is not just replacing one group of pigs on the trough with another who feels it’s their turn to eat. Which brings us to your New Deal (ND).
You’ve been uncharacteristically shy to take us into confidence about the details of this ND: what does it entails; how will it be implemented, and when will this happen? Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of time on our side – the foundations of our economy are shaking. From things things you’ve hinted and said you want your presidency to be remembered as an epoch of real change, hence the ND talk. Historically, this kind of talk goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), the 32nd president of the United States of America known as the president of the Great Depression. It has, in recent times, been updated by Barack Obama – as The Recovery Act – who assumed power when the US economy was tottering to the 2008 economic crisis.
Your campaign talk about the ND gave me confidence that you understand what is at stake here – the depth of our economic mess and all. But the understanding of the challenges does not automatically translate to capability to solve them. Hence, we are still eagerly awaiting the bolts and nuts of your ND. And we were extremely concerned you didn’t mention it on your January 8th Statement, which, I am sorry to say, was just a drumbeat of feel good gotcha stories whose noise we’ve learned to understand signifies nothing of substance. This omission to mention the ND, let alone details of, sent a worrying signal that you’ve not been able to sell it to the group-think of your ANC colleagues. The beginnings of great leadership Cyril, if I may be so bold, is in taking your campaign promises very seriously. You don’t become great by aiming to grab 24 hour news cycles and 10 second soundbites about populist policies that are not well thought.
The state of our economy calls for swift and bold actions towards creating jobs and laying foundation for a new path that’ll overhaul our entire economic system away from its apartheid origins. That, sir, is the ND we are looking for. This crises is an opportunity to jump-start our shift, for intance, to new means of energy by building new green industries through shovel-ready programmes that abound in private sector but are waiting for government policy and seed funding. Cutting the policy red tapes and granting them seed funding with conditions of training our youth kills many birds with one stone:
- Stimulates economic growth
- Acts on our major bane, the youth unemployment
- Invest towards creating a smart grid that’ll tackle our energy problems in a more sustainable environment friendly manner
That is just one example of many you should be initiating. Establish a parliament of mayors, and require from them shovel-ready projects you can fast-track by funding directly. This way you cut-off the corruption-filled delays of the departments and provinces by infusing investments directly to the local sphere where it is most needed. Beef up the Auditor General's office with needed powers and resources, and allow them to assist you with bean counting service, and taking rogue government officials into specialised commercial courts. This does not require rocket science, Cyril. You just need to surround yourself with people who knows what they are doing.
We’ve wasted too much time making one man a symptom of everything that is wrong with our country, instead of facing up to real issues that ail us. Now that he will soon be gone, this will expose the fact that the problem is not only the individual, but also the dearth of vision in all of us. I include here the opposition political parties also, especially those that only depends on winning the news cycle culture through confrontational and conflict politics. Your first weapon against them is to cut off the cancer of corruption in governance. And this cannot be done with Zuma still the president of the country, not if you want people to take you seriously. If you keep Zuma into the SONA then you must take the blame portion of being an enabler of our useless conflict politics who noise has no real substance to move the country forward.
Unless we transcend the pettiness of politics, both internally and externally, the challenges we’re faced with henceforth will see us perish as fools. These are no times for partisan divides, or tone deaf politicians, nor grandiose Obamaseque hopey-changey speeches that have no substance. We need to repair a broken government and jolt a stagnant economy into growth levels we require to produce jobs. Otherwise our rampant youth unemployment in particular is going to drag us into a Mzantsi Spring.
Lastly, if the age of Luthuli and Tambo was that of Founders, that of Mandela and Mbeki was of Statesmen, and Zuma ushered the age of Demagogues, then the question is, are you able to revert the demagoguery trend or will you be a part of it? If so, what are we to call this age? This, sir, will depend on your actions and policies. We shall, for now, give you the benefit of the doubt, by putting our hands on the deck of your ship. This moment is yours to rise in greatness, with our nation. Or, like your predecessor, to plumb us into the depths of ignominy. Either way, the ball is in your court.
Image: (Photo: GCIS)