With the national elective conference coming perilously close, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s observation that “the bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone” could not be more apposite. To avoid bitter tears over a seemingly unavoidable demise, the party of liberation has one more chance to look in the mirror. And the image is grotesquely unsightly.
“His rise to ANC presidency in 2017 was a result of a combination of money, manipulation, and misrepresentation, aided and abetted by external forces on a level not previously experienced in the ANC. His application to the court to seal the CR17 funds was a cover-up and still casts a dark shadow over the integrity of the outcomes of the conference.”
“And, of course, the ongoing Phala Phala affair continues to put the ANC and the country in a bad light.”
“Under this leadership, the ANC has disbanded all its leagues, which represent an essential aspect of its ongoing existence. The organisation finds itself in the intensive care unit. We are unable to honour basic employment contracts with staff and workers, and we are nonchalant about it, even arrogant in our failure to care.”
Ouch! That must be painful. Instead of evaluating whether the above assessment is true or false, Ramaphosa’s drum majorettes have been quick to shoot the messenger. This is understandable. They have, after all, tried, and unsuccessfully so, to portray Ramaphosa as a champion of transparency, accountability, and organisational renewal. The truth has a way of coming out. Sisulu simply stated what has become common knowledge.
In his article, “No accountability in the Ramaphosa administration” (Sunday Times January 10, 2021) Justice Malala observed:
"It must be nice to be in President Cyril Ramaphosa's administration. Imagine we were back in the year, say 2016, and a virus had come along and killed thousands of South Africans … Jacob Zuma, who was president at the time, would have been eaten alive. Not so in the age of Ramaphosa. This administration, after a spectacular shambles in the handling of the vaccine rollout and a clear lack of strategy, is continuing in its opaque ways, with little or no noise from most quarters. There is no accountability, no taking responsibility, and no consequence."
Nothing exposes Ramaphosa’s rank dishonesty and lack of accountability than the Phala Phala imbroglio. Before the Phala Phala matter surfaced in June, Ramaphosa could still project himself as an embodiment of incorruptibility and political morality. With a deceitful grin, he told fawning journalists in January: “In my own history where I am conflicted, I have a sense of integrity to step out of the way to say I’m conflicted on this, and I have ingrained that in the way I do things so that fingers should not be pointed at one about favouring oneself when you are conflicted.”
Phala Phala changed all that pretence. Ramaphosa has since changed the tune to say he will step aside only if he is charged. He knows full well that none of his appointees, who are currently at the helm of the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Services, would have the temerity to act against their benefactor.
His story continues to change. When pressed to be truthful about Phala Phala, Ramaphosa hid behind the gag order issued by the Public Protector. The gag order miraculously disappeared when his comrades in the NEC could not tolerate his excuses. Earlier, he had indicated that he could not comment as he did not want to undermine due process.
In 2018, Ramaphosa committed his government “to find jobs for our youth; to build factories and roads, houses, and clinics; to prepare our children for a world of change and progress; to build cities and towns where families may be safe, productive, and content. Our public employment programmes have created more than 3.2 million work opportunities.”
Beyond embarking on public relations exercises to sell himself or sell the country (as some have argued), Ramaphosa’s presidency has little, if anything, to show. Clueless about a human settlement, Ramaphosa promised to build one million houses in Alexandra. The people of Alexandra are still waiting in vain. In his defence, his sycophants point out that he didn’t say when.
Ramaphosa’s acolytes have finally accepted that he has turned out to be a major disappointment. Faced with the difficulty of selling their candidate, they have embarked on a two-pronged strategy. The first is to discredit anyone who raises his or her hand. If they can’t find enough dirt on a candidate, they must invent one. When this does not work, find them guilty by association. This strategy worked when Hillary Clinton ran for the Presidency of the United States. She was guilty of sins of commission or omission by her husband. The idea of judging her on merit was too risky.
The second aspect of the two-pronged strategy is to resort to fear-mongering. This is an old-tired tactic and the most nonsensical idea imaginable. It boils down to holding the whole country to ransom to safeguard the interest of a non-performer.
Editor-in-Chief of City Press, Mondli Makhanya, phrases it elegantly when he argues: “South Africa cannot be held captive by a president who does nothing because we fear what will happen if he is not there to do nothing. We cannot be afraid to hold him to account – including chasing him out of the Union Building – because we believe he is the best of the worst and that it will be better to put up with his indolence and aversion to accountability than risk democratic processes taking their course.”
If truth be told, Ramaphosa’s presidency continues to be based on lies. This is the same person who proclaims ignorance regarding who funded him and that there is nothing amiss or to hide, yet he hurriedly approaches the court to ensure that the country is in the dark.
Ramaphosa wants us to believe that he did not know who funded him. And that he was shielded from the whole funding campaign. Yet, this very champion of transparency sees nothing amiss about going to court to ensure that the funders of his campaign are not known. Five years later, the public is still clueless. Mr Clean and Transparency ends his first term as President of the ANC with a party that is riven with division, a country that is helplessly plunged into darkness, sky-rocketing youth unemployment, a stagnant economy, and the lowest business confidence since the early 80s.
This picture was not lost to the ANC when it met in its last NEC meeting before the conference. Given the divisions in the NEC, the meeting preferred not to entertain whether Ramaphosa should step aside. The decision was outsourced to the parliamentary panel that is looking at the Phala Phala matter.
Ramaphosa supporters were also hoping to use the panel’s recommendation as an excuse to finally walk away from him, with his money. The request to extend the submission of the report towards the end of November leaves the ANC and the country in limbo – all because of one man!
* Seepe is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Institutional Support at the University of Zululand