One year on, it's high time Ramaphosa stepped out of Zuma's grim shadow

03 February 2019 - 00:00
By barney mthombothi AND Barney Mthombothi
Almost a year since Cyril Ramaphosa became the president, the author wonders if he'll finally step out of Jacob Zuma's shadow.
Image: GCIS Almost a year since Cyril Ramaphosa became the president, the author wonders if he'll finally step out of Jacob Zuma's shadow.

A year ago a freshly minted President Cyril Ramaphosa - days after finally grabbing the mantle he'd craved all his life - mounted the podium in parliament to deliver his inaugural state of the nation address. By the time he finished the gallery was in raptures, the opposition was a bit confused, and everybody else was either dancing or whistling Thuma Mina, the ditty that Hugh Masekela had sung with gusto without anybody noticing until the new leader latched onto it.

The ANC, well, it couldn't believe its good fortune. It had dodged the bullet, it must have thought. All the looting, the corruption, the sheer greed and debauchery over which it had presided, the poverty it had failed to address as its leaders feasted on the gravy train, the criminals who are running amok ... all that seemed to be forgotten. The party had done everything but govern.

And yet that didn't seem to matter now. It had escaped the noose, it figured. The ANC had found its messiah in Ramaphosa, the magician who'd play tricks with the electorate. He'd wave the magic wand. "I wanna lend a hand/ send me," Ramaphosa crooned.

Only Faith Muthambi, Lynne Brown and Mosebenzi Zwane, the Guptas' loyal sycophants, didn't seem impressed. Morose, they sat with arms folded as everybody around cheered. They were a study in defiant disinterest amid the hubbub.

The commissions are a double-edged sword for Ramaphosa. While appointing them was a good thing, the graft they're exposing is hurting him and his party
Barney Mthombothi

There was already a celebratory mood thanks to the resignation of Jacob Zuma, the great Satan.

"We will meet somewhere," he said somewhat bafflingly, if not ominously, as he departed in the middle of the night. A cloud had lifted. Like a witch, Zuma has always done his dirty deeds at night.

Cabinet reshuffles were nocturnal affairs. He wreaked so much havoc during his nine-year reign it doesn't bear thinking about.

On Thursday Ramaphosa will again mount the podium to make yet more promises. Last year, it was just talk. He had no record on which to be judged, other than as Zuma's unctuous sidekick who averted his eyes and blocked his ears as his boss plundered and looted with gay abandon.

This time he doesn't only have a record; he is the boss. The buck stops with him. Of added significance is the fact that there will be elections in four months. The public will have an opportunity to have its say, to pass judgment on the performance or lack thereof of Ramaphosa's government. The elections will be uppermost in his mind as he addresses the nation and as Tito Mboweni, his finance minister, delivers his budget speech two weeks later. There'll be promises galore.

Last year the EFF, having built a party and reputation solely based on Zuma's wrongdoings, was momentarily dumbstruck as to how to deal with Ramaphosa. Zuma, its meal ticket, had disappeared in a flash. There were no longer any allegations of corruption to exploit. The new man appeared squeaky clean. There was even a nascent bromance brewing between Ramaphosa and Julius Malema. Or at least Ramaphosa sheepishly tried to get one going. This time, however, Malema is promising to torment Ramaphosa with the kind of chaos he visited on Zuma. And by the way, Malema tells us he's forgiven Zuma. They're friends again. And Ramaphosa is presumably now his avowed enemy.

But what of Ramaphosa in power? His record is mixed, confusing and even muddled. Shamila Batohi started work this week as national director of public prosecutions, replacing the feckless Shaun Abrahams, who, if evidence at the Zondo commission is to be believed, was appointed to the position at the behest of Gavin Watson, the boss of Bosasa, who, it turns out, was one of Zuma's many paymasters. Her appointment is a breath of fresh air, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. She's but one individual in a snakepit that makes a mockery of the organisation's original mandate.

Of all the looting and corruption over which Zuma has presided, nothing has been more harmful to the country than the wilful destruction of the institutions that are the gatekeepers of good governance - the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Hawks and the SA Revenue Service. Hopefully once Batohi has resuscitated the NPA she'll go after the big fish, the politicians who're living large on ill-gotten gains. We want to see them being marched to prison in chains.

And there's no shortage of evidence of wrongdoing. The public has been left numb with shock and disbelief from the litany of allegations of brazen criminality coming out of the commissions of inquiry. And more is to come. But what's even more disconcerting is that nobody seems to want to act on the information.

The commissions are a double-edged sword for Ramaphosa. While appointing them was a good thing, the graft they're exposing is hurting him and his party. It simply confirms the ANC as a cesspool of corruption that has ladled out state resources for its own enjoyment. Despite the revelations, though, the ANC tells us with a straight face it is the only party qualified to rescue the country.

As George Orwell would say: "The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential, command."

Ramaphosa says he's intent on fighting corruption and bewails the "nine wasted years" that have left the country in a precarious situation, and yet he won't part ways with Zuma.

As he prepares to deliver his second state of the nation address, the question is: will he finally become his own man, or will he continue living in Zuma's dark shadow?