29 March 2020
Over the past few months, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been under tremendous pressure to deliver on his bold promises to turn the economy around and arrest those involved in state capture.
Various sectors have been growing impatient with Ramaphosa’s leadership style in the face of the deepening unemployment and an economy in recession due to the unreliable electricity supply by embattled power utility Eskom. State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have continued to be a drain on the public purse and are the biggest danger to the country’s economy.
Despite the ongoing efforts to fix the criminal justice system, no high-profile arrests have been made to underscore the fight against state capture, which was Ramaphosa’s battle cry on his way to the Union Buildings.
Many have said Ramaphosa is a weak leader, governing the country through “consensus”, instead of providing decisive leadership.
But it is the president’s social compacting that has seen him galvanise the nation into action to face the reality of the catastrophe that will be visited on us by the rapid spread of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Consensus is that the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic is the greatest challenge the world has faced in modern times. Leadership in times of crisis can save or ruin a nation. It can also make or break a leader.
Timing, in these kinds of circumstances, is everything. Some global leaders – in Italy and Spain, among others – acted too late in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. For the most part, Ramaphosa has provided commendable leadership during this trying time. He has mobilised support from every key sector of society.
Ramaphosa’s March 15 decision declaring a state of disaster in response to the pandemic, and the subsequent imposition of the nationwide lockdown on Monday, were bold moves in the fight against the rapid spread of the virus.
There is a great sense that Ramaphosa has put the lives of the people of this country first, over and above the economy and other things. It may well be early days in the management of the spread of the virus, but the president has so far managed to unite the state machinery and society to work together to flatten the curve. This has certainly been the turning point in Ramaphosa’s tenure at the Union Buildings.
We may not know what will happen in the coming weeks, but what we know is that March 15 is the day Ramaphosa led. At the very least, the severity of the virus will not be measured by the lack of urgent action on his part. This is the decisive president we need in dealing with the ravages of the virus and bringing to book the perpetrators of the state capture project.
Ramaphosa’s legacy could well be defined by how he is handling this health crisis – and so far, so good.