It's time to get behind Ramaphosa

08 January 2018 - 10:13
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa gestures on day two of the 54th national conference. File photo.
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa gestures on day two of the 54th national conference. File photo.
Image: SIMPHIWE NKWALI/ Sunday Times

Sometimes we have to choose optimism over our own‚ very human‚ instinct towards pessimism. Sometimes we have to cast aside our own inner misanthrope and do what humanity has done best through the ages: We have to believe in our future.

Since Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC in December there has been much commentary about our prospects as a country. Much hope has been placed in the man. Much cynicism has also been offered.

Some‚ like me‚ have said that he faces an uphill battle. We have said that he takes over leadership of the ANC with a deeply divided national executive behind him. We have said that his chances of success are slim. After all‚ who can succeed when surrounded by alleged thieves‚ women beaters and dissemblers such as Mosebenzi Zwane‚ Faith Muthambi‚ Mduduzi Manana and Bongani Bongo‚ among many others?

Many commentators have pointed out that Ramaphosa is no messiah. That‚ too‚ is true.

There is nothing wrong with such analysis. It is correct to give a clear-eyed‚ dispassionate reading of the lay of the land.

Yet as we begin a new year‚ I have to say that I enter 2018 with optimism in my breast‚ hope in my heart and a belief in the future. I am giving Ramaphosa‚ a leader dealt a very weak hand by his party‚ a chance.

I do so because the circumstances under which he comes to power‚ though extremely tough‚ are nothing like the way his predecessor came to lead the ANC. Ramaphosa has no rape allegations and corruption charges hanging over him. He does not rise to power on the back of mere anger against his predecessor. He is not leading a baying mob "of the wounded"‚ as Jacob Zuma did way back in 2007.

Instead‚ his campaign is about the return of principled politics to the ANC and to the nation. He stands FOR something: clean government‚ service to the poor‚ national pride‚ inclusive economic growth. Zuma and his cohort stood for nothing and thus delivered nothing in ten years of leadership.

I am also hopeful because of the man himself. Leadership matters. Ramaphosa's leadership successes stretch back to the 1970s as a student activist‚ the 1980s as a trade union and United Democratic Front activist and the 1990s as a democracy negotiator. In 2007 the ANC chose a dodgy leader‚ hence its precipitous decline over the past ten years. This time it has chosen a leader whose history and track record is far more inspiring.

In all the leadership roles he has taken on‚ Ramaphosa was dealt a lousy hand. The odds were stacked against him as National Union of Mineworkers leader‚ as democracy negotiator and as a business man in the 2000s. In all these roles he succeeded spectacularly.

Of course Ramaphosa faces a torrid time ahead. Zuma is still president of South Africa. He is still a dangerous man‚ and can cause a huge amount of havoc.

An example is the current free higher education fiasco unfolding nationally. On the morning of December 16‚ Zuma‚ without consulting National Treasury or any of his ministers‚ announced free higher education for poor university students. Who doesn't want free education for the poor? No one. Where is the implementation plan? Zuma doesn’t have one‚ thus leaving the system in utter chaos and disarray. That's Zuma for you. That is what Ramaphosa has to deal with.

All these issues will play themselves out this year. The ANC will continue to be in upheaval‚ and the country along with it.

Yet I am hopeful for Ramaphosa. He won by a narrow 179 votes at the ANC conference‚ but that's not the whole story. He also won against attempts to rig the contest. He won against a dirty tricks campaign orchestrated over years. He won against the Gupta family and their media machinery of hate. He won against the Zuma patronage network and its attempts to keep looting the coffers of the State.

This man cannot turn the tide alone. South Africans will need to intensify the pressure on the NPA‚ the Hawks‚ Eskom and other centres of corruption to be overhauled and cleansed. The battle against corruption and dirty government must be intensified at all levels by civil society organisations and leaders.

But I am optimistic. A principled and strategic leader is in place. It's a very good start.

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