Ramaphosa must not let Mandela - or his country - down

Mandate in hand, the president has to make good on his promises

26 May 2019 - 00:07 By KAIZER NYATSUMBA

Cyril Ramaphosa was by far the best man available in the May 8 election to lead SA. Not only has he got the requisite presidential gravitas, but so far he has shown himself to be just what the country needs as it tackles head-on the excesses of our recent past and ultimately seeks to rid itself of corruption.
He has a presence and commands attention when he talks. During the year when he was finishing his predecessor's term of office as head of state, he did a commendable job, despite being hemmed in by all sorts of constraints within his own organisation.
Thanks to him, the ANC managed to hold on to a comfortable national majority in our sixth democratic elections. Were it not for the Ramaphosa factor, there is a good chance that the ANC would have struggled to obtain a simple majority in these elections.
As various opinion surveys pointed out over the past few months in the run-up to the election, Ramaphosa - whose popularity eclipsed that of his party - was by far the most potent weapon in the ANC's arsenal.
But, as the post-election euphoria subsides, we will all do well to remember that Ramaphosa is not a messiah. He is a fallible human being like any one of us. And while he may aspire to Nelson Mandela's values, at the end of the day he is just another politician.
After his inauguration, there are some things that Ramaphosa would do well to keep in mind.
Though it is very early days yet, Ramaphosa has the potential to go down in our history as the second-most popular and - hopefully - successful president after Madiba, should he surround himself with the right calibre of people and be humble enough to heed constructive advice.
Though doing so is certain to lead to the sharpening of daggers against him by some in his organisation, it is of paramount importance that he remembers that, from the moment he is sworn in by the chief justice as president of our republic, he is accountable to all South Africans, not only to his organisation or those who voted for it or him.
Yes, he will continue to have battles to fight within the ANC-led alliance, but he will have to bear in mind that leadership is not a popularity contest. No leader worthy of that appellation has ever sought - let alone managed - to please all the people all the time. Naturally he will have to work hard to sell his vision and values to the ANC, but he also has a duty to offer leadership, rather than always to seek consensus. He will have to guard against being prisoner to a mob.
Ramaphosa's evocative Thuma Mina in his state of the nation address last year was so powerful that it had the potential to be a potent rallying cry for SA. It reminded some of us of US president John F Kennedy's seminal speech in which he exhorted Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country".
Regrettably, that call was soon sullied as it was appropriated by the ANC to become the organisation's slogan, instead of the rallying national call it was meant to be to the country from the head of state. Ramaphosa was not without blame in this regard.
While much euphoria and optimism greeted Ramaphosa's election as stand-in president last year, by the end of the year much of that uplifting mood had waned considerably. Though the poor state of our economy, rising fuel costs and Eskom's parlous state were among the factors responsible for that situation, by no means were they the only ones.
Ramaphosa himself must take responsibility for at least one important factor. Responding extemporaneously to a parliamentary question from DA leader Mmusi Maimane about payment made by Bosasa to Ramaphosa's son, he chose to give the first answer that came to mind: the money, he said, was for services rendered by his son, who had a valid contract with Bosasa and he had had occasion to peruse it. Barely a few days later, his office issued a statement to amend that.
Rightly or wrongly, that incident raised uncomfortable questions about Ramaphosa.
Also, while he is well within his right to say things like "whether they like it or not", referring to the ANC's planned course of action on the land question when on the stumps or talking to the party faithful, it is hardly appropriate for him when speaking as the president of SA.
Finally, playing a populist hardly suits Ramaphosa. While one understands that the ANC was fighting for its life during the recent elections, it was inappropriate for a man who aspires to be "a new Mandela" to claim - as he did - that elections are not an opportunity for the electorate to punish the governing party. Elections are occasions for the electorate to express its happiness, displeasure or disgust with a party in power. They are precisely the moment when the electorate has an opportunity to reward or punish an incumbent individual or party, as it sees fit.
A more honest approach by Ramaphosa, then, would have been identical to the one he took when he delivered his final speech at the ANC's Siyanqoba rally in Johannesburg on May 5: to acknowledge the egregious wrongs done by his party and people associated with it, to apologise profusely for them and to undertake that such situations will not be allowed to recur in future. Nothing, after all, is as powerful as an apology sincerely proffered by someone who acknowledges the errors of his ways, with a firm undertaking not to repeat them.
So far, there is absolutely no comparison between Ramaphosa and his immediate predecessor. He seems to know what is required to dig the country out of its ditch and place it on a sustainable growth trajectory, and he appears likely to lead with integrity and to make us proud again as a nation. We should wish him well.
Mandela believed Ramaphosa was worthy of succeeding him as SA's president. He must be smiling with contentment from heaven as he looks down at SA today, now that his wish has finally come true.
Ramaphosa - who was co-midwife to our prized constitution - would do well not to let Madiba and us down.
• Nyatsumba is CEO of the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa

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