Redi Tlhabi: A moment for Ramaphosa to rise to the occasion

For the moment, whilst Cyril Ramaphosa was delivering his State of the Nation Address, I could not help but be grateful that he had prevailed at the Nasrec conference, writes Redi Tlhabi.

I was never swayed by Ramaphoria. Nothing personal against the man. I had seen this scene before; an entire country swept up by an evidently flawed man, all because he was "affable," could belt out an achingly beautiful tune and could easily be crowned the winner of Jika-Majika.

I didn't fall for it then and I was not about to do so now. It is not cynicism, just an unwavering resolve not to give politicians my unquestioning adoration and acquiescence.

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But, even the hardest cynics amongst us, the toughest adjudicator, must concede that Cyril Ramaphosa IS very presidential and it is a welcome relief that he demonstrates a grasp of the issues he talks about. He commands the space, in Parliament and on the global stage. Early in his presidency, he travelled overseas, telling investors and heads of state that South Africa was open for business. During one of those important events, he was asked if he saw himself as the Eisenhower of South Africa.

Some captains of industry shifted uncomfortably, remembering a recent president who would not have known what that question meant. Ramaphosa rose to the occasion and adroitly answered the question.

His answer proved that he knew that Dwight D Eisenhower was famous for many achievements, mainly his "New Look" policy which postulated long term changes to the economy. His budget reduced his predecessor, Harry Truman's budget by $5bn. Throughout his two terms in office, the economy grew gradually, recording some 2% to 3% growth each year.

The average life style of Americans improved, and social mobility was attained by many. Although World War Two had ended eight years before he took office, America, like much of the world, was still recovering from the devastating effects thereof. And achieving economic stability at the time, was an illustrious achievement.

Ramaphosa did not giggle. He knew that this was a serious question, coming whilst South Africa was in the grip of a recession. The question was, and still remains, can he lead the country into economic stability? Can he amass enough men and women around him, whose desire for progress and hope, is bigger than their personal ambitions?

Zuma is the president who should have been most successful. He inherited a vexing but promising country. Whilst the economy was not creating enough jobs, growth was up between 2005 and 2008, at one point reaching 5.6% in 2006 and 5.4% in 2007. The recession hit and we grew at just over 3%. Our banking sector was rated a strongly positively feature of our economy. And there was goodwill and an euphoric ambiance brought by the Soccer World Cup 2010.

There is a lot that an incoming president could have done with that. Instead government debt to GDP shot up astronomically in the Zuma years, our stubborn unemployment rate kept going up, education standards dropped and our institutions, created to be the bulwark of our democracy were systematically stripped of life.

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It was never going to be a comfortable transition. Whoever took over from Jacob Gedleyehlekisa Zuma was always going to need exceptional qualities, including moral courage and an unwavering commitment to basic principles of right and wrong. The job of cleaning up after Zuma, requires nerves of steel and pure ingenuity. 

I feel sorry for Ramaphosa. Our country is on its knees and some who currently serve with him are either complicit or directly benefitted from the looting and corruption.  

He leads a Cabinet and ANC full of some prominent people who do not pay for their own security at their homes, their holidays, school fees, cars, meat and booze and some are constantly in need of "loans" from companies that do business with the government. How can he clean up when the filth saturates the very air we breathe? Can he succeed?

There is plenty of time to debate some policy contradictions – from a State of The Nation Address that gravitated towards the role of the investor and creating a bigger stage for investment, whilst his party's policies are calling for more state led interventions. The winds of change that are about to sweep through Eskom, indicate a departure from the ANC's obsession with the state as the main shareholder.

But for the moment, whilst Ramaphosa was delivering his speech, I could not help but be grateful that he had prevailed at the Nasrec conference. I am willing to bet my last cent that had he not, SARS would be the rogue unit that it was under Tom Moyane, Shawn the Sheep would still be warming the chair at his NPA offices, the former minister who moonlighted as a porn star, would still be at Treasury and the trail of destruction at state-owned enterprises happening under his watch as public enterprises minister, would be ongoing. 

The Zondo commission into state capture, the Mokgoro commission into the NPA, would have concluded their business, without any useful testimonies. And the Guptas, the men who ran off with our assets and national pride, would still be at Saxonwold, summoning grown men and women to dance to their music. And for a few millions, many would still be dancing.

One question that will follow Ramaphosa is "Where were you and what did you do whilst Zuma and many of your comrades were looting? Why didn't you speak up?" These are fair questions. But I suspect that the more apt question now is "Where would we be if he had spoken up and taken Zuma on?"

I am certain that the answer is; it would not have been Ramaphosa giving the State of the Nation last Thursday.

- Redi Tlhabi is an award-winning author, journalist and talkshow host.

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