Opinion

Running out of options, Cyril plays the struggle card

31 March 2019 - 00:02


Did Cyril Ramaphosa morph in the past few days from Teflon Man - to whom nothing sticks - to Mr Velcro, to whom every stain attaches?
Certainly, Bosasa is proving very sticky, and, given the sticky fingers of Gavin Watson and his gang who built their business on corrupting state tenders, that is entirely apt. But it is indeed unwelcome news for the president and his son, Andile. The former took, apparently without his knowledge, a hefty donation from Watson's crowd and the son knowingly went onto its payroll just after Dad became president.
Ramaphosa jnr's company is designated Blue Crane Capital, presumably a nod at SA's national bird. As our country's economic model appears to use know-who rather than know-how to achieve enrichment, there is some logic in that as well.
Of course, the Bosasa revelations will be, politically speaking at least, chump change by comparison with the fury of voters if electricity blackouts continue.
Here, Ramaphosa displayed rhetorical sleight of hand when he addressed the issue on Human Rights Day in Vereeniging. He channelled Harry Houdini to escape responsibility for what has gone wrong at the power utility in whose rescue he has been front and centre these past four years.
In his remarks near the site of the Sharpeville massacre, Ramaphosa performed a neat elision: he paired the entirely ANC-created Eskom disaster with the struggle against apartheid, and deflected presidential responsibility by invoking the collective.
"I call on all South Africans," the president intoned, "to join hands and work together to bring the energy crisis to an end."
Actually that is three collective calls in one sentence.
Then, to harken back to yesteryear, where this government always feels far more comfortable, came the reminder: "We will overcome the electricity crisis as we overcame the apartheid challenge."
Fascinating and heart-warming as these calls to our collective consciousness might be, I interrogated them at one remove.
Noting that the official opposition DA was marching to Pretoria on Friday to highlight its plan of action on Eskom, and had unsuccessfully sought a recall of parliament to address this national disaster, I wondered how its proposals had been received by the president.
"Joining hands", "all South Africans working together" presumably means the head of state has reached across the political aisle to get a "collective response" to a national crisis?
I messaged Mmusi Maimane and asked whether the president had reached out to him and the other opposition leaders who represent over one third of the electorate and a fair chunk of its expertise. His response: "No he has not. I have written to him requesting that we share ideas [but] it is just rhetoric on his part."
It requires the willing suspension of disbelief to imagine that those who landed us in this mess are the best ones capable of extracting us from it.
The ongoing confidence of the governing party that it has the magic fix for our largely self-made crisis has a psychological explanation. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which leads incompetent people to overestimate their ability simply because they cannot grasp how much they don't know.
If that seems a little harsh, the best antidote to the current crisis is for a complete rethink on a raft of policies that have been largely modelled on the Watsons' formula: pay off the politicians and all will follow from that. But that of course can only work when cadres have been deployed in key institutions for their partisan loyalty, not their subject knowledge or expertise. Short of ditching this entire raft of policies and the obsession with fixed racial quotas, there is no end in sight.
There's no light at the end of the tunnel either, unless it's the light of the express train carrying our next national crisis. But we can always invoke the collective approach with that one as well. At least when making a public pronouncement.
• Leon was a leader of the opposition and ambassador to Argentina

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