While Ace plays Judas, and Zuma the devil, Ramaphosa pretends backbone is unnecessary
Families are still picking at the leftovers of the festive season; the country has yet to digest the matric results; parents are counting what's left of the Christmas bonus to buy school uniforms; and politicians are already knocking at the door, asking for our votes.
That, in a nutshell, may explain our problem. Politics always takes precedence over everything else. The political season starts early in the year, thanks to the ANC's much-vaunted January 8 statement. And of course there's an election, and by some people's reckoning, it could be a make-or-break year. The elections could clarify a few imponderables.
Will Cyril Ramaphosa stem the haemorrhage and lead the ANC to a resounding victory? Will Ramaphosa finally grow a pair? Will the EFF eat the ANC's lunch? What of the DA, which has often flattered to deceive? Will it finally make an impact outside its Western Cape stronghold?
And many little parties have suddenly sprouted to cash in on the elections. The common denominator of these little parties (it's being generous to even call them parties) is that they are being formed by individuals who are unemployed, or have no discernible source of income.
They have surmised, correctly, that there is a significant chunk of the electorate foolish enough to send them to parliament, and thus guarantee them an income. But then George Bernard Shaw, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, described democracy as "a government of the fools, for the fools, by the fools". It's an exaggeration, of course, but there's a kernel of truth in that.
Improving ordinary people's lives is the furthest thing from these people's minds. The only improvement they have in mind is that of the size of their bank balances. A seat in parliament ensures sheltered employment for five years. It is one more reason why the electoral laws should be changed to stop charlatans abusing the system for purely personal gain.
Many reputations are at stake in these elections. And promises will be made without the slightest intention of them ever being fulfilled.
The big issue is obviously the land question, and parliament's intention to amend the constitution in order to allow the government to seize private property without the prospect of compensation. It is the issue around which the elections will primarily revolve and the parties have already set out their stalls. The country has, in a sense, come to a fork in the road.
Will expropriation without compensation deal a fatal blow to an already sluggish economy, as its critics contend? Or, as Ramaphosa - a recent and an enthusiastic convert to the cause - asserts, will it be the panacea that unlocks the country's capacity to generate wealth, thus enriching all and sundry? Is land an entitlement, or an expression of value or wealth, which understandably has to be earned? These are critical questions which the election campaign is unlikely to resolve.
With the campaign in full swing the ANC leadership fanned out across KwaZulu-Natal this week, giving the impression of listening to the concerns of voters. Why the party chose this particular province for the marquee location of its annual January 8 statement is puzzling. KwaZulu-Natal has a tendency to expose Ramaphosa's weaknesses and insecurities as party leader.
Perhaps opting for KwaZulu-Natal was aimed exactly at confronting and slaying that dragon. But it has magnified his difficulties. Nothing attests to his haplessness more than Ace Magashule, the Judas in his party, pleading with the faithful to be nice to their leader. I bet Magashule is enjoying every slingshot aimed at Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa's lack of backbone doesn't help his cause either. One would have thought that he would by now have found an effective way of handling Jacob Zuma, his nemesis, especially when confronting the lion in its lair. He evidently hasn't. His sucking up to Zuma after his supporters had let it be known that he was going to give Zuma a serious talking-to was embarrassing. He was trying too hard to convince Zuma's supporters that he was not being nasty to their hero. He forgets there's a bigger and more important audience out there - and it's not impressed.
Zuma, let's not forget, is a suspect already on trial who'll spend his days alternatively in the dock and on the campaign trail. In a country ravaged by crime, the ANC seems comfortable to have a crime suspect as one of its main vote-getters.
Promising to deal decisively with corruption while giving a fulsome embrace to the man who personifies the scourge is tantamount to insulting people's intelligence. Ramaphosa's dalliance with Zuma this week invites all sorts of rich and unflattering expressions. He talks from both sides of his mouth; speaks with a forked tongue. He runs with the hares and hunts with the hounds.
They all mean the same thing: he has no backbone. There's a lack of courage. Will the real Ramaphosa please stand up! Will the man ever show the courage of his convictions? Those who've had a peek into his inner thoughts seem to believe he'll come into his own after the elections. He'll be in a firmer position to locate his backbone. But there's no evidence either from his past or current conduct that that will come to pass.
Even the most corrupt or dishonest of politicians tend to be on their best behaviour during an election campaign. They put their best foot forward, and pretend they are able to distinguish between right and wrong. Not those in the ANC. Either they've sunk too deep into deceit and malfeasance that it's difficult for them to extricate themselves, or they've become too arrogant to care.