President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa listens to a debate at the South African Parliament in Cape Town, on February 15, 2018.
Poor Cyril. He looked rough when he was announcing his cabinet reshuffle.
He’s had a tough couple of weeks – getting a reluctant Zuma to resign, getting appointed as president himself, reshuffling his cabinet – and all the while, waking up super-early to stay fit by walking among The People.
Also, he’s having to contend with his every move being scrutinised by an entire nation who, individually and collectively, are waiting to declare him “good” or “bad” on the evidence of a scant few days’ performance.
Time will measure the man. For now, we can only analyse his actions as they take place. But I remain surprised by the expectations of the white South Africans who seemed to believe, somehow, that Ramaphosa was going to deliver an overnight reboot of all aspects of our country and its government.
It’s as if we expected that we would wake up the next morning and find ourselves back in Mandelaville, which was never as great as we remember it to be anyway. Bear in mind that the seeds of our current public education crisis were sowed way back then, and that Mandela proudly cast his ballot for Zuma as president when plenty was already known about the man’s corruption and misogyny.
What we all have to remember is that the troubles in the ANC were created by more than a few bad eggs. The margin by which Ramaphosa won the ANC presidency was extremely narrow. And Ace Mashagula won his position. This is not a party unified around anticorruption or progress. Many of its members want things to stay exactly the way that they were.
For now, Ramaphosa is working with a severely divided party with who knows what obligations and alliances to honour. Just as, I believe, he was shackled from speaking out against Zuma when he was deputy because he wanted to keep his job so that he could make changes one day, he now has to act from within the political web that his predecessors spun.
I also think that we have a tendency to expect anyone who was anti-Zuma to be pro everything that white South Africans hold dear. Which is why we’re wheel-spinning on the expropriation without compensation issue right now. It’s as if there’s been a collective WTF at the very moment that we celebrated the second coming of Mandela. How did this even happen?
How it happened is that we’ve lost sight of the fact that there’s a political game being played here, and of the fact that Ramaphosa is an ANC man through and through. When people said, full of disbelief, that his new improved-recipe cabinet was all about ANC unity, one really wonders what they expected?
He’s head of the party and the country, and as much as the country needs a lot of action on his part, he’s also going to have to fix a whole lot of things in his party – with, it can be expected, a great deal of resistance.
And again, we have to acknowledge that the “progress” made in South Africa in the past 20-odd years wasn’t enough. The ANC birthed the EFF because economic emancipation wasn’t happening fast enough or even at all for the majority of South Africans. Our country can’t go back to The Way Things Were – “South Africa 2.0 – now with less corruption”. We need to start making real changes that benefit all South Africans.
What this means is that some of the things that Ramaphosa should do – to be a truly great president – won’t be that palatable to white South Africans. We are – we should be – in for a bumpy ride. Ramaphosa isn’t here to keep us happy and safe in our ivory towers. That’s not his job.
I hope that he will manage to navigate the complexities of being a good man (I believe he is one) in a deeply divided party, and to deliver growth and jobs and education and all those good things. But I also hope that he won’t rely on “trickle down” policies to support those South Africans who really need it. Things need to get a bit less comfortable for those of us at the top so that those of us at the bottom can enjoy the comfort and security that is owed to them.
White South Africa isn’t going to get what it wanted overnight, and probably not ever. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.