SA hopes Ramaphosa will survive Zuma's snake pit - but he'll have to grow a spine
Many South Africans are caught in a dilemma. They rightly blame the ANC for corruption and profligacy and want to see it punished at the polls, yet they hope President Cyril Ramaphosa, leader of the offending party, will survive the skirmishes in the snake pit.
They may not like his party, but they think he's the right man for the job. His heart is in the right place. But he needs to locate his backbone, quickly. Courage is a critical element in leadership.
As with Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki before him, Ramaphosa's supporters are not necessarily ANC adherents. Many, if not most, have nothing but contempt for the party that's made life so miserable for them. Jacob Zuma, on the other hand, was propelled to power and propped up by a small clique of partisans with eager eyes on the cookie jar. Their achievement is there for all to see.
South Africans of all shades knew that the status quo was untenable when the ANC held its conference to elect a successor to Zuma. Perdition was assured unless there was a change of direction.
Retiring presidents often want to pick their successors in order to fortify their legacy. Zuma was no different. But instead of choosing Ramaphosa, his loyal deputy, he espoused Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife.
She tried to project her own personality, but she could not escape his embrace, which tainted her. She could still have won, though, had it not been for the betrayal of David Mabuza, who switched sides at the eleventh hour. Ramaphosa squeaked in. And we heaved a collective sigh of relief. Mabuza will want his pound of flesh some day. You may think he's unsuited for the top job, but like Zuma before him, he won't be satisfied with playing second fiddle. Ramaphosa will have to be careful of what he eats.
The word "transition" has been bandied about, but that's just to con people to forget the mess the party created. Ramaphosa's ascendancy to the presidency was welcomed all round. Non-members of the party seemed to like him more. Sentiment towards the country improved. Business confidence rocketed. People who had given up on the ANC thought of giving it another chance. Ramaphosa had given them a reason to want to vote for the ANC again.
Ramaphosa is clearly an improvement on Zuma. But the hope that greeted his rise to power is beginning to dissipate
Opposition parties had to recalculate. The ANC, with Ramaphosa at the helm, would be a different proposition in next year's elections. Maybe to make a statement, the EFF, suddenly bereft of Zuma, walked out when Ramaphosa took the oath of office. Mmusi Maimane theatrically told him they'd meet in 2019. As a statement of intent, it fell flat. That was not the place for such bravado.
Ramaphosa is clearly an improvement on Zuma. But the hope that greeted his rise to power is beginning to dissipate. Many are beginning to lose hope. Some projections are that the ANC may fail to gain a majority next year even with Ramaphosa as leader. It seems we're back to square one.
His supporters regard such criticism as unfair. Ramaphosa is not getting the credit he deserves, they say. They correctly point out that he's done a lot in the six months he's been in office. There's a new board at Eskom, and the utility, though bankrupt, is no longer a feeding trough. Tom Moyane is out of SARS and an inquiry is under way to find why such a fine institution was destroyed. A commission of inquiry into state capture has been appointed, although why it's still faffing about remains a mystery.
Ramaphosa has made some first-rate cabinet appointments. In Nhlanhla Nene the National Treasury seems to be in good hands again. Pravin Gordhan is doing a good job cleaning up the parastatals, the Gupta meal ticket not so long ago. There's also some bad apples. One can understand why Bathabile Dlamini is still in the cabinet: the ANC Women's League has been an elusive constituency for Ramaphosa. But it's hard to understand why Nomvula Mokonyane has a seat at the cabinet table. She's corrupt and incompetent, and has no support base to think of. She destroyed a whole department. If the New Dawn is to mean anything, such people should not be allowed to come within sniffing distance of power.
What those who support Ramaphosa don't talk about are the obvious decisions he's failed to take, some of them low-hanging fruit. Why is Shaun Abrahams still head of the NPA when the high court ruled long ago that Ramaphosa, then deputy president, should appoint a replacement? Why was Arthur Fraser transferred to correctional services instead of being fired for abusing millions of taxpayers' money as head of the State Security Agency? Does Fraser have a fat file on those in power? Why did it take such a long time to get rid of Supra Mahumapelo in North West?
Shortly after Ramaphosa was elected ANC leader, Ace Magashule, the man who, as secretary-general, runs the party, told an exuberant crowd in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma's battleground, that it was a matter of five years before they had their organisation back. In other words, Ramaphosa would be history in five years. Why didn't Ramaphosa rebuke him for such blatant insubordination? And do it publicly so that the whole world, including Magashule, would know who's boss?
Ramaphosa's caution or timidity has emboldened his enemies in the party. KwaZulu-Natal has almost become a no-go area for those perceived to be Zuma's enemies. And they've also started regrouping in the Free State and North West. That's pretty demoralising to those who wish him well. How can he run a country if he can't get his own house in order?
The country obviously wants him to succeed. But he'll have to grow a spine.