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Dear Cyril, we’re gasping for air

South Africans are waiting for clarity from Cyril Ramaphosa on the future of Jacob Zuma, but with every meeting called and statement issued without definitive information, the country's faith in the ANC's new leadership takes a substantial knock. Mphuthumi Ntabeni writes a second letter to the new ANC president urging him to act swiftly or risk losing everything. 

Dear Cyril,

I am sure you’re aware that South Africans have been gasping for fresh political air for more than eight years now. Many hoped you'd be that fresh air, but the recent dilly-dallying around the political fate of one Jacob Zuma, still our first citizen (much to the chagrin of the nation), has made some of us start doubting whether you're the bold leader we desperately need. Instead of acting firmly and communicating your intentions clearly, you’ve chosen to go for vague messaging. This, sir, is clear depiction of a party in disarray and the leadership out of its depth.

It is becoming obvious that your first priority is the unity of your party. I understand your dilemma; the pussyfooting around the Zuma issue comes as no surprise. So too does the risk that your actions will eventually cost you your personal reputation, and punish your party during the 2019 elections. But that is no reason for no action. Assuming a foetal position when you should be firing from all cylinders is tantamount to copping out, and your current positioning is leaning towards the former. If you require public trust then you’re not doing a great job building a case for it.

No leader worth their weight in salt can expect the public to go by with the “trust-us-on-the-details” mantra in these politically stressful times – especially in this age of instant information. In fact, your actions and vague messages appear to be contemptuous of public opinion – the very thing the public detested about the Zuma administration. You cannot expect the public to play follow-the-leader games of galvanised discipline as if they’re part of your political base – worse when you don’t even take them into confidence.

The EFF, in character, has begun its narrative of conflict politics. South Africans no longer dismiss the EFF as just a party of sensationalism. Julius Malema can be obnoxious and arrogant, but he has his ear to the ground and his muscle-flexing, most of the time, extends to substance. The opposition parties have every right to accept gripe and error from the ruling party as a political gift, and optimise it in an opportunistic manner. Your vague silences are exactly a gift that'll feed their frenzy.

Cyril, your public star is waning fast. Many are calling you weak and out of your depth. Perhaps things will change, but for now, I must admit, it doesn't look great from my viewpoint. Personally, I don’t believe you to be weak. However, you tend to over-think things, and there’s perhaps the issue of being still shell-shocked by your Nasrec victory and the poisoned chalice you were handed. But nobody gets anywhere in politics by keeping their fingerprints out of everything, expecting others to always do the dirty work for you. If you don’t act presidentially soon, yours would have been a Pyrrhic victory.

You might be leery of the public, or tell yourself you don’t care about the kerfuffle outside the structures of your party. That’s exactly the attitude Zuma adopted eight years ago. You may even be tempted to dismiss this letter as just a rap from yet another carping writer. But no better friends a man can have than those who tell him the truth, especially when it is opposed to what he wants to hear. I am sure you’re aware of the saying: If you shoot at a king don’t miss.

You've instead chosen to wound the king, hoping he will bleed to death soon. That, sir, is not how politics works. All eyes are on you, but are getting weary from waiting. We're no longer holding our breath; we're gasping for air.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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Mphuthumi Ntabeni
Mphuthumi Ntabeni lives in Cape Town where he is a political commentator and writer. He writers for the Southern Cross and his book, The Broken River Tent is published by Black Back Book, an imprint of Jacana Books, in early 2018.

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