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By Eric Naki

Political Editor

Amid Covid-19 threat, Ramaphosa finds his presidential feet

President Cyril Ramaphosa has gone from being ‘an indecisive leader’ to the man ‘in charge’ and ‘providing leadership’, thanks to the measures he announced to curb the disease outbreak.

In a dramatic turnaround of his political fortunes, President Cyril Ramaphosa has gone from being accused by critics of being indecisive and a spineless leader – or even a “puppet of white monopoly capital” – into the toast of the country as the man “in charge”, “in control” and “providing leadership”.

Thanks to his announcement on the implementation of stringent measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, almost all the opposition parties rallied behind the president. Even the ANC and its alliance partners could not wait for the next day to issue statements praising the president’s move.

Even the general public and social media were abuzz responding to Ramaphosa with words like “that’s my president!” and “that’s leadership!”.

Twitter is notorious for its merciless criticism of people in high office and a few threw mud at the “too little, too late” measures, but his move was generally welcomed.

Political analysts said this was not surprising as a positive response was to be expected in a matter of national importance such as disease or war, which unites a nation behind the national flag.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga attributed the sudden support for Ramaphosa to a “psychological response to a crisis”.

He said that in a national crisis, people tend to unite to find a solution. But, even so, some of the opposition may still criticise the president when mistakes are identified.

The sentiments were echoed by another analyst, Dr Daniel Silke, who said a virus was an important matter which affected the nation and, therefore, it surpassed all other matters that caused differences.

The praise for Ramaphosa was an acknowledgement by the opposition they were satisfied with the way the crisis was handled by the government.

“This is a temporary pause in the political infighting among parties,” Silke said.

Like Mathekga, Silke said this would change in the next few weeks as parties noted how health authorities dealt with the virus.

“The opposition themselves will monitor the government response closely in the next few weeks and months and then you will expect the level of criticism to increase,” Silke said.

Within hours after Ramaphosa finished speaking on Sunday night, the Congress of the People (Cope) expressed its full support for the measures and urged all people to do likewise.

“Cope believes this is no time to play politics, it is a time of crisis,” said Dennis Bloem, Cope national spokesperson.

“All of us must stand together and do everything in our power to strengthen the hand of the government to fight this deadly virus. For now, we have one common enemy which must be defeated. Coronavirus is vicious and does not discriminate, it kills and destroys economies.”

Democratic Alliance (DA) interim leader John Steenhuisen welcomed the president’s plan to inhibit the spread of Covid-19 and suggested the DA-controlled Western Cape government was ready to participate in the national emergency and “will work in full cooperation with national government in the interests of our country and its citizens”.

He said the DA would closely monitor the implementation and effects of the president’s announcements on the economy and public healthcare system.

“This is a crisis of the collective affecting us all, either directly or indirectly. We must band together to formulate a collective response to this virus in order to overcome it,” Steenhuisen said.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) welcomed the measures to tackle coronavirus. The party said from the outset, it condemned the state’s slow response in “what was an inevitable health crisis”.

“Although the president has declared a national disaster, exposure to the virus within the country has already gained expression. The reactive nature of our government will see our people vulnerable to harm and ill health, with no contingency plan to address emerging coronavirus incidents,” party spokesperson Vuyani Pambo said on Monday.

The EFF questioned how the government planned to police its ban of gatherings of more than 100 people. Pambo said they welcomed the intervention, “but we are concerned as to how this will be implemented”.

It called for a blanket ban on travel to SA from affected nations “regardless of their investments in SA”.

The EFF said the state was unable to impose effective travel bans on nations due to its lack of independence and capacity to manufacture its own goods.

Mathekga said Ramaphosa wouldn’t be able to bask in the praise for long as the opposition would be equally quick to criticise.

“They will change their approach when they become more aware of the details. The initial response is usually from a psychological point of view but watch in a few days’ time, or even a week, when they return to attack the president on the same issue,” Mathekga said.


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