23 August 2020
Theatre of absurd is undoing charm offensive
There’s an analogy used to describe how one of the best we’ve had, President Thabo Mbeki, lost his way on how to lead the country.
And no, I am not talking about the much-vaunted HIV theories or quiet diplomacy toward Zimbabwe. The problem with Mbeki, many commentators said, was that he was so far ahead of those he led that they lost sight of him. He became a philosopher king much ignored by the ANC faithful.
He often reminded us of William Butler Yeats’ choice words: “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
The poetry didn’t save him. His then deputy, Jacob of Nkandla, was to famously use song, supported by a motley coalition of the wounded, to bequeath us what is now known as the nine wasted years. We knew then what Yeats meant when he said the “worst are full of passionate intensity”. The State Capture commission is a great refresher of how even non entities like Des van Rooyen became possessed of passionate intensity — at great cost to the fiscus.
And then Cyril Ramaphosa just seemed to know what to say to give us hope. He was a charmer. He promised to fight corruption. He, like Mbeki, quoted beautiful texts, preferring Nigerian author Ben Okri. He understood the issues.
He promised us an accelerated programme of land expropriation, not so much because he believed in it, but because he cleverly realised how this could become a rallying call for the red berets. Soon after his election, he changed the board members of several state-owned entities and seemed to have his grasp on what needed to be done to steer the ship off the Zuma-induced precipice.
For a distant observer, Ramaphosa was a leader with bespoke solutions for the myriad challenges faced by this country. Others aptly termed the deft management of the publicsphere Ramaphoria. He walked in the mornings, encouraging many to take care of their own health. A president who cares, man of the people! He was who this country needed, I thought.
And now? Discourse in the country is reduced to different stories about COVID-19 adventurism of a special type. The stories started with the Dikos but quickly transmogrified into a horror tale that would have befuddled even movie makers: How to steal R5-billion in days! The stories are the same, the characters different. The defences are invariable: those that benefited claim they received no help from their cousins in high office.
Thanks to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s decision that provinces must release lists of companies that benefitted from COVID-19 procurement, the churn has surprised even some of those who thought themselves politically connected. The release of the list has turned friends against each other. The result, to Ramaphosa’s horror, is an unending conversation about how rotten the system is, how powerless Ramaphosa is to do anything about it, how determined secretary-general Ace Magashule is to protect whoever gets caught with their hands in the cookie jar — what with comments about all ANC leaders doing business with the state.
Gauteng ANC, which held on to the province by a thread, is at obvious great risk. The urban voters are growing impatient with the shameless looting. In KwaZulu-Natal, the swearing into office of disgraced former mayor of eThekwini Zandile Gumede as a provincial legislator is an obvious giveaway that the province believes that with Mangosuthu Buthelezi battling Covivi and the DA in the grip of its divisive race politics, the voters can still be taken advantage of.
There is just no reason why, if Gumede is not good enough for the people of eThekwini, she would be good enough for the province – which includes eThekwini. Theatre of the absurd! It is evidence of a party that has grown tone deaf to corruption talk – despite corruption being all the country is talking about.
Looked at from a party machinations point of view, one can see what the provincial leadership is trying to manage. eThekwini is the biggest region of the ANC, or has been for a while. With the region firmly behind its tainted leader just as the province was behind Zuma’s corruption case, Gumede could easily become a divisive leader threatening the normal play of things. To manage her, the party ignores society. The more Ramaphosa is silent, the more he looks like the weak leader he confesses he would rather be seen as. To revert to Yeats: “The best lack all conviction.”
Whether it’s Gumede or the general malaise around covidpreneurship, Ramaphosa can’t blame Zuma and the wasted years anymore. He is in charge now, or so we would like to believe. It is he who, knowing his comrades, should have put plans and systems in place to obviate the looting on his watch. Where the looting happened, it is he who has the power to set up 2010 World Cup-type courts to expeditiously prosecute and jail the corrupt.
That none of this has happened tells us more about him than his comrades in the same way state capture tells us more about Zuma than his comrades and being ahead of his flock told us more about Mbeki than his comrades.
Our ship is stuck in the deep blue of corruption. Our leader has chosen to be a weak leader for the sake of unity. Mere anarchy is loosed upon our world…