There is little doubt that Cyril Ramaphosa the caretaker president of South Africa, is living through his most excruciating week in charge of South Africa. On the back of what some dubbed a buoyant SONA 2019 address, Ramaphosa ought to have been floating in his bubble of wooing liberal minds, business and those who believe in his interpretation of economic change, yet he was not afforded space to gloat in the aftermath of the SONA 2019 address, since the Eskom load shedding demon or tokoloshe showed up in its ugliest form yet. On Monday incidentally, the day that Mandela 29 years ago walked out of prison, South Africa learnt that Eskom has it in stage-4 load shedding crisis.
Ramaphosa who at the time was not in the country but attending an African Union (AU) gathering, responded to the news of Eskom with a claim of being ‘shocked’ and personally ‘angered’ at hearing this news. His usual suave and measured responses simply did not realise this was not a moment of sweet-talking and that his personal SONA address mileage was long exhausted since many directly asked him, but how can you be shocked and angered, on the basis of what did you speak on Eskom in the SONA address? He quickly was facing a barrage of legitimate questions. Please note in South Africa, questioning someone is often conveniently considered a personal attack.
Not even his makeshift constituency outside the ANC spared him reprimand, these are usually easily swayed by his broad smiles and charm offence. Questions began to swirl as to how Ramaphosa can claim any justified ignorance when he in 2015 headed up the Eskom war-room? How he could be in any sense shocked. These questions extend to why he and his Minister Pravin Gordhan who heads up Public Enterprises could not keep the Eskom Board and the executive team accountable as a shareholder for the mess Eskom finds itself in.
Ramaphosa stood accused of being part of a team that intentionally deceives South Africans on a deal that long was agreed upon to force Eskom into IPP contracts that are choking the life out of Eskom. It didn’t take long before the linkages between a Ramaphosa kinship, immanent in his two brothers-in-laws longest serving minister, Jeff Radebe, Minister of Energy and billionaire Patrice Motsepe owner of among others, African Rainbow Mining was made. Motsepe who has undeniable vested shareholding in the independent energy producer sector the same who benefits from the Eskom – IPP contracts., that we are told costs us R193million per- day for the first phase of the IPP’s.
The scene was set for the SONA 2019 debate, a standard practice in the life of a democratic South Africa. The scheduled joint-house debate governed by joint-house rules was now informed by Eskom and its runaway crisis that has led to more than national discomfort where economists advance, the economy losing R4 bn per day since the Eskom 4 stage load shedding. Apparently, each stage of load shedding represents a monetary figure of an R1bn per day according to economists.
Well, the biggest shock was not Ramaphosa’s so-called “shock” or the suffering public’s genuine shock at an irrational summer load shedding schedule. The unplanned but biggest shock would come from, COPE’s leader Mosioua Lekota, who delayed his address because Ramaphosa had temporarily excused himself from the sitting. Lekota would insist he wants Ramaphosa present, finally Ramaphosa walked and took his seat. Lekota chose to address Ramaphosa and told him, of a time in 1974 when they all were arrested, Lekota in his own words, “When it was difficult, you wrote to the special branch, that we put communist ideas in your head. In doing so, you condemned us to the special branch. I say this to you because the special branch rewarded you as they always rewarded their victims and sent you home. We headed to Robben Island. This invitation you are issuing on Friday, you should have issued it then. We should have travelled together to the island to serve years for the struggle of our people.” Lekota then told Ramaphosa you delivered us up to the special branch while you were rewarded with freedom ad never made it to Robben Island. Lekota told Ramaphosa you sold your comrades out. With this Lekota told Ramaphosa, he will not join Ramaphosa who is leading people to Bosasa corruption.
Ramaphosa was now dealing with the Eskom crisis and an announced historical mistrust issue raised by a former ANC comrade, who served alongside him in another epoch, although now not part of the ANC anymore.
The crisis of legitimacy so often raised around Ramaphosa was waving itself again in the profundity of this claim. With the Lekota statement, Ramaphosa’s known legitimacy challenge was exacerbated and flared open since no one yet publicly in such a platform proved this daring to assert him not a trustworthy leader, who has betrayed his comrades in the darkest moment of the night.
The burden of responding was now upon Ramaphosa, he, as is standard, is afforded to close out the SONA debate. Ramaphosa knew he could not ignore the issue, regardless of how he purports to have been advised by some to simply ignore it. Ignoring Lekota’s statement and claims were never going to leave him untainted, but it was going to feed the festering boil of distrust. Ramaphosa relented and responded. In his response he was emphatic that he never betrayed any comrade, he shared how he was asked to betray others but refused which saw him landed in prison for six months, a common practice exacted by the apartheid regime used in the 1970s, ’80s and early ‘90s. He categorically denied ever selling out asserting all he ever did was to work for the liberation of the masses. As was to be expected the ANC two months before a crucial national election closed ranks as it always does and condemned Lekota as engaging in spurious claims that cannot be substantiated.
While the drama over Ramaphosa’s apparent selling out of fellow comrades was engaged in the joint sitting, outside COSATU, the first to have nominated Ramaphosa to lead as far back as November 2016, when it red-carded Zuma, an erstwhile supporter of Ramaphosa took to the streets in its national strike to fight job losses. Cosatu’s protests are cognisant of the reality of job losses at Eskom mooted in the number of +20000 should unbundling evidence the expected almost undeniable privatisation. With this COSATU confirmed its claims that it was never consulted by the Ramaphosa led government on its intention of unbundling Eskom. While its general secretary Bheki Ntshalitshali tried to down-play the turbulence in COSATU on the matter which in turn is confronted with as it relates to calls to withdraw its support for the ANC in the upcoming elections as its Gauteng component already raised, what was now emerging was an ANC and Ramaphosa associated labour fraternity that also is red-carding Ramaphosa’s leadership on the Eskom matter. NUMSA went a step further in threatening filing papers to stop the unbundling of Eskom.
Internally at ANC level, the Secretary-General of the ANC Ace Magashule told SA, Luthuli house will oppose calls for Eskom unbundling if they include possible privatisation of the power utility. In what was the clearest sign of the reality of two centres of power in Luthuli House, Magashule charged, “We have said to NUM that we understand their worry about retrenchment. We told them that our position is that there will be no retrenchments at Eskom and there will never be privatisation.’ What Magashule said next was a clear aim at Ramaphosa when he said, “This must be our public posture. We should not say it in boardrooms and then go out to say something else. Workers are worried when they talk about unbundling.” It is clear the ‘they’ Magashule allude to hear is his ANC president who in the absence of having won the ballot is and remains the SA caretaker president.
Subsequent to the joint-house sitting Ramaphosa’s response to Lekota in Parliament, an ANC response on unbundling and privatization, when some thought the dust would settle, a social media post from a Kallie Roux was doing its rounds on social media. In the tweet or posting attributed to Roux, we read, “ Here is another allegation: In 1984 CR was the NUM head honcho and he caused 15000 (no mistake here fifteen thousand) workers to be dismissed within a 24-hour cycle at Venterpost GM Co. Ltd in Westonaria. The mine manager was Mr Bob Hartslief and yes, he is still alive to corroborate my allegation, said CR then begged said Mr Hartslief to allow them to go back to the compound and resume operations. His request was refused. During the same 24-hour period, we signed on a whole replacement crew sourced from TEBA, same CR stood in the area where his members were fired and sent home and signed on the new guys, this guy has no conscience whatsoever.” [sic]
While this social media posting for some may be condemned as mere social-media banter, on another level, again confirms the emerging aggregate thinking of South Africans regardless of apartheid racial classifications on its current leader.
This crowned out the week of serious credibility challenge immanent in articulated distrust from cross sectors of South Africa’s populace as swirling around Ramaphosa’s head. What is undeniable as the ANC stumbles on to May 8, 2019, its advanced day of political slaughter, its leader remains suspended between a crisis of legitimacy and the reality of deep distrust. He continues to evidence a leader scantily trusted to lead, but one who often puts deals ahead of principle.
Will Ramaphosa ever shake this distrust, and legitimacy crisis that more than threatens his legacy as he seeks to survive beyond May 9, 2019?