Can you imagine if Zuma was our president now?
THE notions that “everything happens for a reason” and or that “at appointed times” certain things “will fall into place”, have, of late, pre-occupied my thoughts in relation to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his circuitous route to the Union Buildings.
Most of us would have been told, at different stages of our lives, to “trust the process” or been told that “patience is a virtue” by elders trying to tame the exuberance of youth that might lead us astray.
Some believe in the idea that success is forced – that there is a clear relationship between cause and effect. If you don’t exercise, you can’t build a strong body. That simple. Truth, though, is more complex that than.
You must “push” to the extent possible – but the rest is unmerited favour from God. Others call it fate. American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce calls it Tychism, absolute chance. Oprah once put it thus: “I trust that everything happens for a reason, even when we’re not wise enough to see it.” The Hegelian troupe will say “the rational alone is real, and the real is rational”.
Some detours in our lives, or chance events like death, disease or worldwide calamity like Covid-19 can make us question the foundation of our beliefs. Is it really God’s will for people to suffer and die quickly, disrupting lives in the manner the coronavirus has done?
Other detours are meant to introduce us to ourselves or to prepare us for our historic tasks. Take Ramaphosa who, more than 20 years ago, was ready to succeed Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s second democratic president. But it wasn’t to be. It was not his appointed time.
When Ramaphosa went up against Alfred Nzo and Jacob Zuma, trouncing them in the winter of 1991 at the ANC’s first national conference held in eThekwini, he achieved, for someone who was neither on Robben Island nor in exile, a feat that made him Mandela’s heir apparent. Further, Mandela described him as “the most accomplished negotiator in the ranks of the ANC”. Overnight, he mutated from the guy who held the microphone and umbrella for Mandela to his heir apparent. Others talked about how Ramaphosa was so much like Mandela.
He represented continuity, reconciliation, unity. Thabo Mbeki, on the other hand, was an unapologetic Africanist – a believer in black consciousness more than the Black Consciousness Movement.
The stories of how and why Ramaphosa lost to Mbeki after his impressive showing at the Durban conference are many. In the end, Mbeki won. When Ramaphosa did not attend Mandela’s inauguration, missing that famous “never, never again…” speech, it was reported that it was because Ramaphosa was more than miffed. He might, in consolation, have muttered to himself: “Everything happens for a reason.”
As he was licking his wounds, the train was moving. His deputy as secretary-general, Zuma, was now Mbeki’s deputy president – in line for the throne. When Kgalema Motlanthe emerged later as Zuma’s deputy 10 years later, Ramaphosa must have accepted that this presidency thing was never going to happen.
Then Motlanthe, a great leader of our country, decided he had enough of deputising for a bumbling fool and stepped down in 2014, swinging the pendulum: Ramaphosa was now back as a deputy to the man (Zuma) who once was his deputy. Three years down the line, he contested the ANC presidency – a position out of reach from 1994.
If somebody had told him then that he “must trust the process”, that “everything happens for a reason” or that he will lead this great nation at “an appointed time”, Ramaphosa might have thought this was a cruel joke.
Yet that theory of cause and effect, while it has some merit, also has gaps. Perhaps Ramaphosa, not by mortal design, was being prepared for this moment in our history. That moment, his moment, was not shortly after Mandela’s presidency. He had to lose to Mbeki.
Perhaps this teaches us to accept and understand why detours in our lives are not that bad. Some things happen for a reason. As a country, we needed to suffer the ignominy of Zuma’s rule to appreciate Matamela. Can you imagine if Ramaphosa forced his way and became president ahead of Zuma, and Zuma was only becoming our president now? I know. I know! Nuff said.
Elsewhere, the US had one of its best, President Barack Obama, succeeded by a buffoon. It is unfortunate for them that Donald Trump came at a time when the superpower needed leadership. At home, Trump has been unable to rise above the petty politics that has characterised his geopolitics. The result is that the US topped all countries with over 500 000 infections by the weekend with the second-highest country, Spain, at over 160 000 cases. As our nation appreciates Ramaphosa for his great leadership, perhaps God knew that Mbeki must trounce Ramaphosa and he must be in the wilderness for 20 years before he is ready not to mimic Mandela on reconciliation and unity, but to show us his own brand of leadership on Covid-19.
It is the sort of leadership he is unable to defer to Mandela about because the challenge at hand is one Mandela, Mbeki, Motlanthe, Zuma and no one else has dealt with. It is his to tackle. This is his appointed time to marshal this nation to a place of safety. There is no one history has prepared for this moment better than him. Everything happens for a reason.