Cyril bends over backwards to placate the ANC, but the rest of us long to see him moving forwards

05 August 2018 - 00:00 By barney mthombothi

Cyril Ramaphosa has at last got the job he's been waiting for for over two decades. He was the perennial candidate, his name cropping up each time possible contenders were mentioned. Which was no surprise; after all, he was billed to succeed Nelson Mandela before the prize was cruelly snatched from his grasp by Thabo Mbeki.
He seemed to have been preparing for the job all his life. Black mineworkers were among the most neglected and discriminated against of the labour force, working under poor and dangerous conditions and living away from their families in single-sex hostels. Ramaphosa moulded them into a potent political force, which not only improved their lot but played no small part in the fight against apartheid.
When the ANC was unbanned, he took over from the somnolent Alfred Nzo as secretary-general, bringing his organisational skills to bear as he led the party during the Codesa negotiations.
He had all the credentials to take over from Mandela. But when he lost out to Mbeki, he didn't sulk; he put all his energies into drafting the new constitution, before he was "deployed" in business, where he made oodles of money.
His business experience made him an even more attractive candidate for the top job. All his predecessors had been party ideologues, seen as hostile to business. Now business would have a sympathetic ear, if not a friend, in the government. He had a clearer perspective of what needed to be done to grow the economy. He was the new broom that'd sweep clean; a breath of fresh air.
Even his enormous wealth was seen as a bonus. As Gwede Mantashe remarked rather cheekily during the stultified campaign for the ANC presidency, Ramaphosa would not steal from the state because he had his own money, an undisguised dig at Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and her supporters, notably Jacob Zuma and the Guptas.
And there was a collective sigh of relief when Ramaphosa prevailed over Dlamini-Zuma at the Nasrec conference in December. We thought we'd seen the back of Zuma and his corrupt entourage.But now Ramaphosa's supporters are wondering what's become of their man. They're confused and bewildered. "What's happened to Cyril?" has become the constant refrain. People who were full of hope when he took over are beginning to despair.
An impression is fast gaining ground that Ramaphosa is not only a weak leader but a coward. He buckles easily under pressure. Such chatter is gaining traction. It's too early to say that he doesn't have the stomach for the job, but his courage seems to be deserting him at crucial moments.
A more generous explanation is that he's biding his time, that he'll show his true colours after the elections. Problem is, there's no guarantee that the ANC will prevail. Everything seems to be in a state of flux. The country is angry and restless.
This week was probably the nadir of his short reign. His announcement at night - à la Zuma - that the ANC would go ahead and amend the constitution to expropriate land without compensation took everybody by surprise, and spooked the currency into shedding all its recent gains. His defenders say he was merely repeating an ANC conference resolution. So why come to our living rooms in the middle of the night like a ghost? And why pre-empt the ongoing nationwide public hearings on the matter? It was quite odd.
But Ramaphosa didn't look too happy about it either. He looked like a hostage who's been given a piece of paper to read. His demeanour was reminiscent of when he announced his cabinet six months ago - flat-out dejection. His heart was not in it.
The real crisis facing the country, the horrific unemployment figures released the same day, was not even mentioned. It's almost as though the daily struggles of ordinary people were none of his business. The appalling burning of trains in Cape Town, another national emergency, received no presidential attention either. That's run-of-the-mill stuff, I guess.We were told he was merely relaying the views of the national executive committee. So, unlike his predecessors, the president doesn't lead. Even Zuma was able to get the NEC to do his bidding. But Ramaphosa hides in the crowd. Or leads from behind. One can now understand how the vast state capture complex materialised under his nose without him raising an eyebrow. He seems to wilt under the slightest pressure, be it from his party, Julius Malema or the Zulu king.
But maybe there's another explanation for his timidity. His sojourn in business, the one thing that made him eminently qualified for the job, may be proving to be something of a handicap. He comes into the job after a sustained campaign by Bell Pottinger on behalf of Zuma and the Guptas to demonise business. His bitterest foes have even vilified him as a front for the outlandish white monopoly capital, a view reinforced, to some, by his role in the Marikana massacre.
His desire to embrace everybody in the party is an attempt to prove to the other side that he can be trusted; that he hasn't gone rogue. Trying to unite the ANC is, however, a fruitless exercise. It's like herding stray cats.
But if he were to concentrate on doing the right things - like fighting crime, corruption and general lawlessness and taking all reasonable steps to grow the economy and boost jobs - the country would rally behind him, and the party would have no alternative but to fall in line. It, too, likes a winner, not a weakling...

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