The many aspects of Ramaphosa’s dilemma are self-inflicted
President Ramaphosa’s recent whinge shows how out of touch with reality he and his party are and how tenuous their control of events. And how useless is his ‘right team’.
This handout picture taken by RIA Novosti on 17 June 2023 shows South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa arriving at Pulkovo airport in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to attend the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. Picture: Grigory SYSOYEV / RIA NOVOSTI / AFP
Poor diddums. Being the father of the nation is not for sissies. Following last weekend’s ANC national executive committee meeting, President Cyril Ramaphosa unexpectedly decided to bare his soul in a “conversation with the media”.
As with all the “conversations with the nation” that he held during the pandemic, this was another of those where he spoke and everyone dutifully listened.
“No president has gone through or faced the challenges I’ve faced,” he told the hacks, his voice cracking with emotion. He had counted up to 14 unique challenges that ranged from state capture to broken SOEs and state organs, the Covid pandemic and the July 2021 unrest.
Yet the nation remained unappreciative: “South Africans want things to be done yesterday.” They do not seem to understand, he whined, that “when you lead in a situation like that, you don’t have an immediate silver bullet”.
There are also impolite rejoinders to be made to this indulgent whinge from the president. One could start by pointing out that the many aspects of his dilemma are self-inflicted.
But what makes Ramaphosa’s comments noteworthy is that they are a reminder how out of touch with reality he and his party are and how tenuous their control of events. And how useless is his “right team”.
For even as the president was confiding how vexatious it is to have the public not appreciate his burdens, the country was again caught in a bout of violent chaos. Three major transportation arteries had been blocked by gangs setting fire to 20 truck-and-trailer rigs.
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The ANC response was the usual schizophrenic and ineffectual muddle. Perhaps based on the fact that the destruction was on the eve of the anniversary of the July 2021 riots – which he had described as an insurrection – Ramaphosa said this was economic sabotage. Bheki Cele dutifully agreed.
These were “organised, coordinate and sophisticated operations that seek to undermine and sabotage the state”, he said. But they “definitely” had nothing to do with the anniversary of the riots.
They could have been ordinary criminality. Or a labour dispute. Or part of service delivery disputes. Or wars in the trucking sector. Whatever the cause, said Cele, not to worry. The police and State Security Agency were on top of it. They knew who the people behind the attacks were. There were 12 of them and arrests were imminent.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it is.
After the 2021 riots, the ANC leadership announced that it knew who the 12 people behind the riots were. Arrests of the “dirty dozen” were imminent. That’s never happened. This kind of desperate bravado is a Ramaphosa and ANC tradition.
In December 2021, Ramaphosa labelled the burning of trucks to blockade the N3 as “economic sabotage”. This “is an act we are going to be coming down on heavily”, Ramaphosa warned. Nothing happened.
In 2019, when the first clearly coordinated torching of trucks closed the N3 for almost a week, he said the same thing. Nothing happened.
When I spoke to Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association, after the 2020 events, he had been blunt: these were well-planned military-style attacks; the security agencies lacked their own intelligence but were unresponsive to information gathered by the freight sector.
When I speak to him again this week, he tells me that “nothing has changed”.
“We passed through a lot of information and the police acted on it. But since then, they appear to have taken their foot off the pedal.”
Either that or Bheki Cele, like his “nobody-understands-me” boss, is feeling unloved. Poor diddums. He’s right.