At what stage shall we demand of Ramaphosa a farewell to his convenient ‘innocence’?

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Clyde Ramalaine

“Our real concerns are the palpable signs of a social breakdown all around us: the ever more blatant examples of greed and corruption involving public figures, who are expected to be role models for our youth…” These are words attributed to the late Neville Alexander as he shares in arguably his last published work entitled ‘Thoughts on the New South Africa.’ Alexander goes to the proverbial elephant in the room when he asserts, “Only an inveterate denialist or a fool will maintain that the new South Africa as a political and social entity is not currently facing one of its deepest crises”. This analysis of a society teetering on the brink of collapse on critical issues remains today more effervescent for its cogent and respiratory prophetic setting.

In this season a narrative of clean-up to corruption, an endemic reality in the South African society and fibre from the most basic aspect of water – supply in a local municipality to the next mining licence, is portrayed the cardinal focus of the end of the fifth administration leadership. So crippled is the society of South Africa where it matters, that the reality of corruption everywhere became a rallying point for those with political and economic ambitions to insert themselves as heroes of a saving of SA.

Corruption then as purely seen from one side became the rocket-fuel to propel some to the highest of offices. Yet while corruption warrants condemning anywhere and everywhere and a clean-up, is a necessity, it is bedevilled by a thin layer of people who make up the current new messiahs. Now in a normal setting, had these been completely new political entrants, innocent in involvement in a state apparatus and naturally not capital-bought themselves, there may be the remote chance of new thinking and genuine intention and ultimately an arresting of the system of corruption. The corruption spoken about in the congested traffic of discourse is a corruption that conveniently starts in 2009. We know this is the imagination of a factional group who find currency and self-worth from containing corruption in these frames with Jacob Zuma as the centrifugal reality.

Perhaps more deploring is that we have in SA a pervasive and aided innocence claimed by people who have shared the same political space, arenas and ate from the very same troughs they want to, in blissful history management, deceive us they can save us from since they were not involved. In this same space, the salience of their economic and political interests wrapped in claims of angelic innocence defines the canvas of our current thinking. Theirs is an absolving from and an unawareness of the reality of our society as to what went gravely wrong from a negotiated settlement in 1994 and its foregoing that mirrors deals cut between an entrenched criminal and corrupt racist apartheid system, its elites and an economically emaciated bush-war-dwelling and camped ANC members who aspired to become the new elite by any and all means.

it is a season of smokes and mirrors where it appears we are ubiquitously scripted to find refuge in individuals for a claim of moral political leadership. I wish to remonstrate that our challenge with corruption as real as it and warranting dealing with is muddied by the deception that the very ones who perpetuated, reproduced and maintained the unequal apartheid system of exclusive benefit with themselves as a buffer-zone, in post-apartheid context albeit in a new black elite, have overnight been washed in the proverbial River Jordan and upon rising became the innocent and clean propagators of economic justice, meaningful life equilibrium, earned a custodianship to fight corruption and what they brow-beat us to in claims of a national interest.

Our hope for redemption from the scourge of corruption however defined is dashed when we are again oblivious to trust people who while sharing the space of political and economic power with colonial and apartheid benefactors naturally are afforded custodianship to our corruption free society.

A prevailing ingredient of those who protest custodianship of a national interest is their claim of not knowing, by extension innocence. I, unfortunately, have to bring it home in honing in on the current incumbent and occupier of Mahlamba Ndlophu, Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa has served since 2012 as the Deputy President of the ANC and also since 2014 Deputy President of SA. He is since December 2017 the president of the ANC and since February 2018 the caretaker president of SA. He is, therefore, by no means a foreigner to the intricate political gerrymandering of party and state politics. He thus is and remains exposed to the full scope of what these two positions in the intertwined spaces of the party and state interests define.

Ramaphosa’s entire campaign to ANC high office was pinned on the subject of corruption and a fight against that to which he pledged his commitment. It goes without saying then that if one’s campaign is premised on the fight against corruption one would have made an analysis of its prevalence. That analysis equally assumes the luxury of being informed.

Firstly, it becomes essential to engage the notion of Ramaphosa who proverbially fell from space, this deception must be debunked. Ramaphosa made his billions in the same time South Africans were sold a lie of political freedom in which economic transformation remains a mirage for the masses. Ramaphosa made his deals and benefitted grossly from his political elite status. On top of that, Ramaphosa is made an angel wrapped in innocence when he until February served as a number two of an era that his backers defined as the worst for corruption. This then naturally and automatically places Ramaphosa in the circumference of the very crime scenes that Pravin Gordhan as the chief protagonist of State Capture crime so eloquently purports to link in dots.

Ramaphosa has been allowed to claim innocence and he has manipulated this innocent claim to his advantage with a litany of things under his watch. He is made to assume that he can get away without ever accounting for his not knowing. On November 6, South Africa’s caretaker president Cyril M. Ramaphosa stood up in parliament to answer questions.

At such moment in response to a question from the leader of the opposition, Mmusi Maimane, Ramaphosa in a rare twist of the history of public life claimed apparent full knowledge of his son’s business interest understood in contract with Bosasa. Ramaphosa told parliament, “I have made sure that I get as much information as I can, “I asked him [Andile] at close range whether this was money obtained illegally,” the president said, “To this end‚ he actually even showed me a contract that he signed with Bosasa.”

It would turn out that on Friday, November 16, Ramaphosa would retract his entire statement in explanation of the R500,000,00 deposited into a trust account of his son Andile, as real money donated for his CR17 campaign. What was missed in the entire first and second statements is a perpetual claim that he did not know. In both instances of a deposit into his son’s account Ramaphosa did not know, again in his second statement he denied he knew of the deposit. Vintage Ramaphosa, plead innocence, it was not my fault. These things happened to me.

With this, Ramaphosa refuses to wave farewell to his makeshift innocence and convenient lack of knowledge. It was not the first nor the last time Ramaphosa would claim no knowledge. The discerning ear and eye will see an emerging tale of how Ramaphosa makes a political life from claiming not knowing.

Ramaphosa the make belief – messiah and saviour of a SA is the embodiment of a claim of innocence, one who easily informs all who want to listen of how surprised he was to hear of the extent of the media crafted State Capture crime. He is afforded a free pass because the ANC and SA are scripted to believe without him, we SA is falling into the abyss doomed.

When we argue Ramaphosa cannot claim any lack of knowledge and any innocence, it is against the backdrop that Ramaphosa’s function as Deputy President of SA was outlined by Minister in the Office of the Presidency, Jeff Radebe back in 2016 with the following words, “To avoid any confusion it is confirmed that the Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by Deputy President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, is responsible for overseeing the stabilisation and reform of state-owned entities.”

This naturally and innately must mean anyone given jurisdiction and mandate to oversee stabilisation and reform must acclimatize him/herself with the actual state of the SOE’s since stabilisation is not remotely possible devoid of an extensive appreciation of what was happening at the SOE’s.

Equally so reforming the same warrants an in-depth analysis of performance, exposure and leadership challenges. Ramaphosa was, therefore, to understand more than anyone of his ministerial team the details of what was going on at SOE level, yet he evidently by his own admission was either not interested or simply inept too busy imagining himself in a position he told Dolowitz in the late 70’s he was going to become president of SA.

In case you assume we are unfair to Ramaphosa, remember how he claimed complete ignorance as to the ‘magnitude’ of the problem of ‘State Capture’ as driven by the media. At his meeting with editors, he profusely thanked the media for the role it played in uncovering and making known the crime.

He would say, “You guys [media] were already raising a number of issues on a piecemeal basis… but when you finally prised the whole thing wide open with the Gupta emails‚ I think it became patently clear to everyone that we were dealing with a much bigger problem than we had ever imagined.” As captured by the Times, he also said “we didn’t know how bad it was”

We would see this again with the VBS scandal which now has resulted in its complete liquidation. There was a claim made that he was duly and personally briefed on the state of VBS and its sordid dealings. Yet Ramaphosa claimed as always, no knowledge. His spokesperson Khusela Diko would tell South Africa, “President Ramaphosa has no knowledge of any meeting where he is said to have met any person associated with VBS Mutual Bank where he was purportedly briefed on the matter.” She went on, “Likewise, the claim that President Ramaphosa was forewarned about the impending implosion of VBS Bank is unsubstantiated.”

More recently Ramaphosa claimed no-knowledge that Nene requested permission to be fired. Equally so, in appointing Nene into his maiden cabinet Ramaphosa dismally failed to do his due diligence on Nene prior to appointing him. Had he done so, he would have been apprised of the fact that Nene had met with the Guptas as he shared in his State Capture Commission hearings.

While Nene told us all that he requested Ramaphosa to fire him. Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman Khusela Diko is on record to have responded with the following words: “We are not aware of Minister Nene asking to be relieved of his duties,”

Ramaphosa is apparently not aware of the sickness of Deputy President David Mabuza who visited Russia on sick leave. When approached for comment, the president’s spokesperson replied with, “These matters are best answered by the office of the deputy president as they have all the facts about his movements since he requested time to rest from the president two weeks ago.” He will forgive us to see his maiden cabinet on auto-pilot since he knows very little if any details where it matters.

What hope then do we have that we may ever lay the demon, corruption to rest, with a caretaker president who purports to plead ignorance and seldom-owns up to the basic knowledge of what his job entailed as deputy president of SA.

How does he in this season become the natural messiah of South Africa given his direct role in the governance of an era he benefitted from economically and now he is seeking to capitalise on politically in claims of him not having known of the corruption. Can we afford Ramaphosa this media invented and stage-managed angelic status when he was there all the time despite his protests of not knowing anything?

Shall we let him get a free pass because the hate for Zuma is the fuel that propels his ascendance? Do we not have a moral duty and obligation to confront Ramaphosa and demand from him to wave his self-invented innocence farewell.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation