Opinion by Kim Heller
Cape Town – Let us be frank. South Africa is in bad shape. The fairytale of the Rainbow Nation has no happy ending, and the fiction of political messiahs is the telling tale of today.
Not only is the nation in the clutch of a global health pandemic but, with its untreated maladies of racially engineered structural inequality, poverty and unemployment, South Africa is itself a pandemic.
In his address on Human Rights Day this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “We are now in the phase of reconstruction and recovery. We are working to build a new economy that promises equal opportunity for all.
“In doing so, let us remember that this is a struggle for all of us far greater than ourselves. It is not a fight for our own piece of bread, for our own job to be saved, or for our own health and safety. It is a fight to preserve our common humanity.”
As always, the butterfly prose of the president is out of tune with the stark reality that poverty and joblessness is the daily bread of millions of South Africans.
The bleak reality is that with every new dawn the promise of an equitable economy and a common humanity fade. In the break of each new dawn, it is glaringly evident that Ramaphosa is not a man of promise but a man of broken promises.
In fact, in terms of broken promises, Ramaphosa has been a serial offender, both as president and deputy president.
His easy-speak assurances have come to naught. Undertakings to end the challenges at Eskom, attract golden international investment, create jobs, build more houses, and steward in a corruption-free government have all failed to happen.
Clearly, Ramaphosa is a leader who lacks the Midas touch. When he became president in February 2018, the pens of journalists, so long dipped in the anti-Zuma inkwell, were quick to write about how Ramaphosa would put an end to all social, political and economic ills.
Journalists, in a blinding spell of selective amnesia, did not script editorials about how Ramaphosa’s performance as deputy president was without distinction.
Today, the same journalists are “Ramaphosa-shocked” to realise that their man has failed dismally to “save South Africa.”
Last year, during a live television address to the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa flailed and failed as he attempted to fit his mask. As he groped, the mask fell over his eyes, a symbolic moment, perhaps, of a leader without vision. This real-time moment of floundering, by our head of state, garnered international coverage.
The president’s publicity machinery swiftly worked to turn this humiliating episode into one of humility and humour. But such quick-stitch public relations exercises, which have long been the easy spin of the Ramaphosa administration, are beginning to wear thin.
There is no trick and treat spin-doctoring or purchase of propaganda that can seal the unveiled truth that Ramaphosa is simply no A-grade leader. In the very same way the president failed to master the elementary mechanics of fitting a mask, Ramaphosa has failed to muster any significant achievements since he was elected president in February 2018.
The promised economic recovery and renewal was nowhere in sight in the pre-Covid landscape. Using the alibi of Covid-19 or scapegoating former president Jacob Zuma for current-day economic devastation have no currency anymore.
In my book No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa, I write that the New Dawn of Ramaphosa, is a “smash-and-grab” of hope in a quicksilver of hopelessness, as we wait for a miracle that may never dawn.
Last week, political commentator Ebrahim Fakir wrote: “If anyone was listening to the Zondo Commission and Cyril Ramaphosa’s testimony, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there is NO new dawn, instead we are looking at the sunset. The last of the rays shedding some wan light, after which… darkness!.”
For one, I am not “Ramaphosa-shocked” at the president’s lack of delivery on critical deliverables, his poor stewardship of the Covid pandemic, or his incoherent, inconsistent, and ineffective response to corruption within his administration.
Neither am I startled by his absence of presence over the past few weeks when South Africa experienced its greatest wave of social unrest since democracy.
After all, it has been “nine wasted years” since the Marikana Massacre and Ramaphosa has yet to visit this devastated community or pay homage to the widows of the miners killed in August 2012, as he promised.
I was not shocked by his lack of accountability at the Zondo Commission last week. Ramaphosa’s testimony at the commission on his knowledge, involvement and role in state capture during his tenure as deputy president must qualify as one of the greatest acts of physical distancing of our times.
Fakir writes: “From Ramaphosa’s ‘testimony’ it would appear as if no one really was responsible for all the things that went wrong, it was all just mistakes, system failure, mishaps and systemic problems. No one is responsible. As if mistakes and mishaps happen on their own, or systems exist in a vacuum.”
In January 2018, I wrote that Ramaphosa would not have procured my vote for ANC president, had I had a ballot at the party’s December electoral conference in Nasrec in 2017.
I would have favoured a candidate “whose past deeds on radical economic transformation were fully concomitant with their spoken word”.
When Ramaphosa was elected president, I was clear that I was not going to be, like many others, a sudden praise-singer of Ramaphosa or change my tune because of shifting power relations.
Rather, I wrote that I would judge Ramaphosa on his words and deeds. The painful truth is that Ramaphosa has demonstratively failed. His words, plentiful, and replete with promise and platitude, have produced nothing of deed.
His razzmatazz roadshows, task teams and investor “begging bowl” circuits have failed to ignite and fuel positive change.
Ramaphosa’s promises of organisational renewal are at odds with the reality that the ANC is more divided and weaker than it has ever been.
As the ANC combusts, the real tragedy is that ordinary South Africans are collateral damage.
The Ramaphosa administration has been a wholesale failure and the recent Cabinet reshuffle brings no ray of promise for a better tomorrow. South Africa, once the place of Great Expectations, is facing its darkest days since democracy.
There is a popular saying that “it is darkest before the dawn” but we are headed into the heart of darkness.
l want to raise my mask to cover my eyes to block out this painful sight.
Heller is a political analyst and author of best-selling book No White Lies: Black Politics And White Power In South Africa.
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