Ramaphosa: Reminded, lobbied and plotted against
• By Ian Siebörger
PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa has had a busy month, and the list of things that have occupied his mind includes much more than high-profile matters like ending the National State of Disaster.
The sorry state of grassroots service delivery in our municipalities, appointing a new police commissioner and a possible ANC presidential campaign from Zweli Mkhize were top of the list, if my survey of March’s top online news articles is anything to go by. And each of these matters is clearly linked to looming threats that our country needs to avoid.
The problems with local service delivery were on full display when Ramaphosa held his first presidential imbizo in Mahikeng. There was almost a stampede as residents rushed to tell Ramaphosa their woes about everything from potholes the size of swimming pools to unemployment.
One of the two words most strongly associated with the president in March’s news is “reminded”. A woman in Mahikeng poignantly “reminded Ramaphosa of the pledges made during his State of the Nation address in February”.
I wonder if, as Ramaphosa was standing there, he was remembering his online address to municipal leaders at the South African Local Government Association (Salga) two weeks previously, when he “reminded attendees that municipalities were the first port of contact between the government and its people”.
“Municipalities” was another word strongly associated with “Ramaphosa” in March’s news. He is right to be worried about them. As he said, “poorly functioning municipalities damage the economy”. Nobody knows that more than those of us who live in the 64 dysfunctional municipalities in the country, using a very narrow definition of dysfunctionality.
Only five percent of our municipalities are financially stable. This adds up to immense damage to our already weak financial situation.
CHANGE YOUR WAYS
A large part of Ramaphosa’s headache is leadership, reflected by the fact that “leaders” is also strongly associated with his name. At the Salga conference, he “urged leaders to change their ways”. With the extent of the rot at our municipalities, he needs to do more than just urging.
The ANC needs to show real political will to change not only the political leaders in municipalities but also staff members who underperform, from municipal managers downward. We desperately need a culture of accountability to be installed in our municipalities if we are going to make service delivery happen.
A second matter on Ramaphosa’s mind was the appointing of a new police commissioner to replace Khehla Sitole, our former top cop who let the July 2021 unrest unfold in front of his eyes and obstructed several corruption investigations by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. The word “considering” was strongly associated with Ramaphosa’s name in March, as the president thought carefully about his choice in a process that has been criticised as secretive by Corruption Watch and the Institute for Security Studies.
The president had no shortage of people willing to help him make his choice: News24 reported that “Ramaphosa [was] being lobbied by different factions in the ANC and his Police Minister Bheki Cele to appoint Sitole’s successor.”
The word “lobbied” was tied with “reminded” as the joint strongest association with Ramaphosa’s name. Cele was probably anxious to find someone he could work with after the very public fallouts between him and Sitole.
It appears political allegiances were key as everyone wanted their man or woman in the top job.
Fannie Masemola, an experienced career policeman, was Ramaphosa’s choice for commissioner. His job is crucial in warding off many threats to South Africa’s stability, with xenophobic violence and vigilantism on the rise. Masemola has hit the ground running, trying to quell mob justice in Diepsloot, Johannesburg.
Operation Dudula is a seemingly well-organised group that is spreading quickly; the DA has warned that it may spark a repeat of the July 2021 unrest.
On the other hand, Masemola has the power to change the course of South Africa’s history by reviving our trust in the police, building a compassionate, service-oriented police force and keeping the threats of disorder at bay, as experts have pointed out. Let’s pray he is up to the challenge.
A final thing that may be weighing on Ramaphosa’s mind is the opposition he is likely to face at the ANC’s December elective conference. Former health minister Mkhize has emerged as the next possible challenger to the president, resulting in his name having a close association with Ramaphosa in March’s news.
This is despite the corruption allegations against him regarding the awarding of a R150-million department of health communications contract to his friends. He resigned when a Special Investigative Unit report confirmed these allegations.
In an interview, the Sunday Times asked Mkhize “if he is on the campaign trail to take on Ramaphosa and if anybody has lobbied him to run”. He was non-committal in his reply, and reminded them that 10 years ago he was “among senior leaders who approached Ramaphosa to stand for deputy” president of the ANC, when he could easily have run for that position himself.
But “he cannot deny that a campaign to have him run against President Cyril Ramaphosa has resumed”.
The last thing we need is another president-in-waiting who is embroiled in corruption accusations and, if Mkhize runs, it will be a shameless slap in the face to efforts to ensure clean governance (with apologies to Will Smith and Chris Rock).
It is still far from certain who will run against Ramaphosa in December, but the thought of a challenge from the pro-Zuma “radical” economic transformation (RET) faction of the ANC must be a constant cause for concern for him; it should be concerning to all South Africans too. Already, some are anticipating how civil liberties such as media freedom could be curtailed in the wake of an RET win.
Ramaphosa has his work cut out for him; what can we, as citizens, do as multiple threats to our collective well-being loom on the horizon? Charity begins at home; we need to keep campaigning for our failing municipalities to be turned around and for services to be provided to those who need them most.
We need to resist vigilantism and remember that violence begets violence. We also need to be champions of integrity in our own spheres of influence so that we can expect the same from our political leaders. And, above all, keep praying for South Africa.
* Ian Siebörger is a senior lecturer in the department of linguistics and applied language studies in the faculty of humanities at Rhodes University.