News / Opinion / Columns

Sydney Majoko
3 minute read
17 Jul 2018
8:30 am

Ramaphosa could use some Madiba Magic, but must first learn what it is

Sydney Majoko

The president has said he's trying to emulate Mandela, but if he's playing a cover tune then his guitar could use a tuning.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was ANC secretary-general at the time, stands next to President Nelson Mandela as he holds up a copy of the new South African Constitution at its signing in 1996. Picture: Robbie Botha – The Sunday Times

Five months ago Cyril Ramaphosa was the best thing that has happened to South Africa in the past 10 years. He represented a total breakaway from the worst president the country has had since the dawn of democracy.

Yet right now it feels as though the tide has turned against him. In his short time at the helm, the country has seen Value Added Tax increased for the first time in 25 years, petrol prices have been on an upward trajectory for months, and, to top it all, he hasn’t exactly gotten rid of those who enabled the looting frenzy that went on during his predecessor’s rule.

And because South Africans have really short memories, they do not remember how dark it was before Ramaphosa took over; in fact, a visitor to our shores would be forgiven for thinking Ramaphosa is the actual (or only) cause of the country’s problems.

Right now, the president could do with a huge dose of Madiba Magic. Seeing that we are in the midst of the centenary celebrations of the late statesman, Nelson Mandela, it is not far-fetched to ask that very hypothetical and sometimes irritating question: What would Mandela have done? If Mandela were in the same situation as Cyril Ramaphosa, would he have made any decisions different to what the current president is doing right now?

The answer to this question is a simple one: Mandela was a man of principle. Wrong was wrong to him and he wouldn’t sugarcoat things to make people around him feel comfortable – something that’s sorely lacking from Ramaphosa.

Over the weekend he was quoted as saying he would not compromise the unity of the African National Congress to be seen to be making the right decisions.

That is such a pity.

The president told the country the same thing his predecessor kept repeating on public platforms: the ruling party comes before the country. He would rather keep the appearance of unity that is holding the different factions of the tattered ruling party together than take bold decisions for the common good of all the citizens of this country.

That’s where Mandela’s principles come into play. In Mandela’s own words: “The time is always right to do right.”

Ramaphosa has dithered in doing the right things by South Africa because he believes “it is not the right time”, especially for the unity of his precious ruling party.

The truth is that Ramaphosa is worried only about one thing: his continued tenure at the helm of the the country should the ANC make it through the next general election. This is the only explanation for his retention of so many of Zuma’s acolytes in government, something Mandela’s principles would never have allowed him to do.

To be seen to be undoing Zuma’s damage the president has to get rid of the likes of Bathabile Dlamini and Malusi Gigaba from his cabinet. That would be leadership based on the principle that South Africa always comes first.

So as Barack Obama delivers the annual Nelson Mandela lecture to its biggest audience ever, Ramaphosa must listen attentively.

He must take notes on what made Mandela the giant he is.

He will learn that Madiba Magic was not a myth – it was based on a nation and circumstances responding in a positive way to the principle-based leadership of a man who was not only prepared to live out his principles … but because he believed in how right his principles were for his people and country, he was prepared to die for them.

Sydney Majoko.