Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist


How Ramaphosa missed a great opportunity before State Capture Commission

Instead of cementing his leadership, taking accountability and apologising, the president instead proved to be the great obfuscator


It is a widely held principle that great leaders speak last, giving them a chance to learn from the previous speakers and giving a sense of accountability and ownership. Though unclear if this principle was behind President Cyril Ramaphosa being the last to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, his performance flew in the face of this principle. Instead of cementing his leadership, taking accountability and apologising for presiding over the grand theft of public funds and livelihoods, the president instead proved to be the great obfuscator. In fact, nothing could have summed up the gist of…

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It is a widely held principle that great leaders speak last, giving them a chance to learn from the previous speakers and giving a sense of accountability and ownership.

Though unclear if this principle was behind President Cyril Ramaphosa being the last to testify at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, his performance flew in the face of this principle.

Instead of cementing his leadership, taking accountability and apologising for presiding over the grand theft of public funds and livelihoods, the president instead proved to be the great obfuscator.

In fact, nothing could have summed up the gist of Ramaphosa’s testimony at the Zondo commission for me better than cartoonist Dr Jack & Curtis on Sunday.

During his two days on the stand, the president, who deputised former president Jacob Zuma during the grand looting of the state, wanted us to believe that he said and did nothing so he could fight the rot from within.

He was at pains explaining his five available options to resign, speak out, acquiesce and abet, remain and keep silent or remain and resist. But his hopeless defence antics would not escape the apt and crude interpretation by SA’s best political cartoonists, immortalising Ramaphosa’s shameful complacency in state capture in ink.

The three-panel cartoon’s depiction of his performance begins with the oversized-nosed Ramaphosa (read Pinocchio) explaining that as deputy president he had a choice to “step out of the tent and piss in, or stay in the tent and piss out”.

In the next panel, Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who chairs the commission and has his hands folded to his chest in great interest, asks the president what route he chose.

“I stayed in the tent and pissed in my pants,” the character depicting the president, head buried in shame, rightfully so, replies in the cartoon’s last panel. Ramaphosa has impeccable struggle credentials and played a legendary role negotiating a peaceful transition to democratic majority rule.

But his silence and inaction as Zuma’s deputy between May 2014 and February 2018 is inescapable. Part of the reason the ruling party is still clinging to power today is because Ramaphosa has pillared his administration on anticorruption, renewal and rule of law, but he missed an ideal opportunity to take his nation into his confidence.

Acknowledging there was rampant state corruption while he was deputy to Zuma and hiding behind sentiments of fighting from within when looting continued unabatedly is just not enough.

Ramaphosa has said the true extent of the loss will never be known, with state-owned entities run into the ground and compromised law enforcement agencies. But the Asset Forfeiture Unit is hoping to seize at least R50 billion in 17 cases related to state capture.

This was by all means a traumatic period for South Africa and Ramaphosa cannot hide behind the “see no evil, hear no evil” facade when he was part of the executive that presided over this traumatic experience.

What South Africans expected from Ramaphosa was an explanation on how this was allowed to happen and an apology but the president, instead, played the victim and missed the opportunity to salvage some respect

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