Just like the sitcom made famous by tony Danza 30 years ago, in SA’s upper echelons it isn’t quite clear who’s the boss
Boone Pickens as far back as 1928, on leadership, told us “be willing to make decisions, That’s the most important quality of a good leader. Don’t fall victim to what I call the ready aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome, you must be willing to fire.” SA may for the first time have a president who despite appearing the avuncular and affable ever-smiling guy, is yet to convince us that he is making his own decisions and leads from the front.
It does not look like SA’s caretaker president enjoys making his own decisions or that he is willing to make his own decisions. It appears he prefers to have others make the decisions and he is comfortable to be led by those. It seems we have in the words of Pickens a ready-aim-aim-aim president that allows others to lead through my office – syndrome.
I have consciously decided to refer to the current SA president as a caretaker president for two primary reasons. One, while SA may have a president finishing off the last months of a fifth Administration, the last ballot-elected and trusted the president of South Africa, remains Jacob Zuma. It is for the same reason I have never regarded Kgalema Motlanthe as an elected president of SA despite a constitutional frame. Secondly, it increasingly looks like the current SA president does not take his own decisions regardless of how unpopular these may be.
I am still waiting to hear what singular authentic decision SA’s caretaker president has taken in the last nine months. It does not have to be a correct decision, it just needs to be an authentic Cyril Ramaphosa decision for which he stands up and can irrevocably claims was his alone.
Tracing back a litany of critical decisions since and before the ANC’s 54th Conference followed by the current SA caretaker presidency one quickly sees an emerging trend. Herewith some – definitely not an exhaustive list of – core decisions that have come to define the last nine months of this caretaker presidency of SA.
- When his alleged infidelity scandal broke last year, Ramaphosa after his failed attempt to use the courts to block the INL publication and his midnight confession to the Sunday Times, vowed to speak to SA on the subject matter. Shortly thereafter, he abandoned his own word and commitment, when he in a twist of events told South Africa after engaging a crossbreed of Northern Cape ANC leadership and COSATU among others he was advised not speak to SA anymore on the matter. Clearly, this was not an authentic Ramaphosa decision but that of others.
- The idea of a new deal, as an economic solution for SA, while promoted by Ramaphosa was claimed emanated from the Democratic Alliance philosophy of economic solutions. Ramaphosa stood accused by both the opposition parties, the DA and EFF, as having stolen without acknowledging the DA’ s input. On the other hand, he was equally accused to articulate economic solutions from the mind of Stephen Koseff. His economic solution thus in the height of his campaign for ANC high office, came accused as not his at all.
- Abandoning the agreed transition in February was not his decision. We know this since Ramaphosa in the week leading to that repeat of a 2008 wrong decision of the NEC informed SA how smooth the transition was going between him and his predecessor former president Zuma. We know that he met with Zuma on Thursday of that week and they were still on track. By Sunday he, led by the CR 17 hardliners, now came with a demand of an immediate resignation as the only means to navigate SA’s future. I leave it up to you to figure whose decision that was. Clearly not Ramaphosa’s.
- Delivering SONA 2018 therefore by extension was not his choice or decision, he was told he will and must deliver it and with this solidify his position as leading both the ANC and SA. Again, the CR 17 hardliners led the decision-making on this score.
- His maiden cabinet, which he must own up also was not his, his starchy face on that night confirmed it. It showed and we know he, hours before announcing it, attempted to change some names since he after consultation beyond the ANC top six was advised by another group of constituencies to offload Malusi Gigaba, Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini. Ramaphosa’s face in that 10 o’clock at night address, said it all. He was delivering a decision that was not his.
- Returning twice from foreign missions to attend to local “crisis” moments were not his decisions either but that of his now known overdrive PR outfit led by Steyn Speed. How can we forget how Ramaphosa abandoned his Davos trip, seeing him flying back as a crafted fire-extinguisher to deal with a protracted North West ANC and premier crisis? The latter was resolved weeks later.
- Attempting to wrestle the subject of a land debate from those who had controlled it in the ANC was not his. In a break with ANC practice his unconventional midnight show post-Lekgotla was also a PR action, less his personal mind but that of those who have been telling him, you need to take this space from those who control it in the ANC.
- The rushed and ill-advised decision of tying up a struggling Eskom into the alternate energy contracts: that it is claimed that this, while it may benefit Ramaphosa’s Shanduka Holdings business that has an interest in this sector, may not have been his decision either.
- Hitherto failing to engage a set of detailed questions sent to him on his role or absence thereof on the ‘Coloured boys of Bird Island’ saga, which dates back to an era when he served as the ANC Secretary General of ANC. He has remained silent. Is he silent because the president was told he must be silent? Despite TMoSA Foundation’s official communique to the president and his office acknowledging receiving the request, Ramaphosa hitherto has given no reply. Is it again a case of the advisers deciding, when perhaps Ramaphosa’s moral conscience may have attempted to prevail in the necessity of response? Is his confirmed lack to even utter one word in support of the victims a political decision? Who decided on that, if so?
- Going to Marikana which is a long overdue imperative for Ramaphosa, who for some despite Farlam’s hashed job of a commission remains directly linked to the massacre of 44 lives in that dreadful week in August 2012, is yet to be actualised. Despite the many opportunities Ramaphosa were presented with, he has been delaying, in what some claim is him dancing around the issue. Ramaphosa at some stage was going to go with the late Mother of the Nation Winnie Mandela, yet it never materialised. When the EFF leader Malema accosted him in parliament on this subject matter he as always said he will go and even invited Malema to go along with him. It is as if Ramaphosa is waiting for a perfect moment to show up to claim a hero status instead of prioritising the agony and plight of the families of the 44 victims. He had many opportunities – he occupied the second highest office in the last five years, now nine months as SA caretaker president he is still not showing up. It appears his stage-played attendance must come with some ‘Christmas lucky packet’ that will immortalise him as the hero and not the humble servant who is prepared to face the insults and abuse of those who keep him directly responsible for the darkest hour in our democratic sojourn
This nagging indecisiveness fueled by perpetual political climate assessments saturated in public relations intended exercises say more of how Ramaphosa lacks the grit to make his own decision and act them out regardless of the consequences.
Marikana’s victims need not a president to visit them with an entourage but the man who was a director of Lonmin at the time, the same one whose emails demanded concomitant action. Marikana needs an ordinary human being to come and say unreservedly sorry, not a veiled apology that seeks to benefit politically from his eventual visit when the ballot is the target. Exactly whose decision is Ramaphosa’s absenteeism at Marikana and its victims?
- Those who know claim the current temporal so-called financial rescue package relief was not Ramaphosa’s either. We know this since we were told that some high-powered Treasury-based individuals were occupied in an attempt of developing a response. Yes, Ramaphosa announced it, but it was not his leadership, ingenuity or foresight, it was as always, an advised response.
- Appointing the new Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, was equally not his decision. We know he offered the first job to the very controversial Mcebisi Jonas. The most recent appointment of SA’s latest finance minister, Tito Mboweni, for all intents and purposes, remains a last-ditch decision when Ramaphosa appeared to have played Russian roulette in offering among others Mcebisi Jonas, who declined, as is claimed, the offer. Mboweni by his own admission received the call at 9 pm on Monday night. We may, therefore, conclude that Mboweni was not Ramaphosa’ s first or outright choice and not Ramaphosa’s decision. Ramaphosa appears to have settled for Mboweni who was recommended by an advisory group.
- It can be argued the idea of an economic summit of consultation was not his idea either. The African National Congress under its subcommittee chairperson of Enoch Godongwana has over the last decade dismally failed to present a coherent economic plan for South Africa. The 2018 SONA address became what some of us as commentators defined a ‘kick for touch’ address on the critical matters of economic solutions and sustainable jobs. Ramaphosa outlined and told us of a litany of summits; to be delivered among those is an economic summit. The problem with the SA economy is not just its paltry growth statistics but its structural challenges. It goes without saying that finding an economic solution for the man who was marketed by white monopoly capital as the SA economic messiah, ought to be a priority, and the easiest way to approach it is to grasp for consultation as a means to find such solutions.
- Those who know argue that the idea of a job summit recently entertained was not his but that of his advisers. Given SA’s many conflictual and competing challenges, it goes without saying that key among the issues SA is dealing with and has to deliver on remains sustainable jobs. A job summit was therefore proposed as a means to this end. That job summit is and remains the playing ground of a colloquium of role players made up of government, business and organised labour as main players. The summit took place a week ago and we have yet to see what this will deliver because a comprehensive and coordinated strategy that harvests definite results is yet not a reality.
- Engaging the SARS commissioner debacle, Ramaphosa, as advised, opted to have two processes i.e. the Nugent SARS governance and tax administration inquiry and the disciplinary investigation. Both these processes have the fundamental aim to find against the SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane to have him relieved of his duty. This strategy and tactic with the aforementioned central aim is critiqued by some as a political strategy of ambivalence. Is it again the fancy footwork of the advisers?
- The media created ‘secret meetings’ among ANC present and former leaders that claimed a plot to oust Ramaphosa despite its many challenges, became a useful political tool for Ramaphosa to test the balance of forces in the ANC. He was silent on it because he, having stood accused in another season as a plotter against Mbeki, knew this was a crafted exercise bereft of true content. Yet Ramaphosa, buoyed by his erstwhile constituency of historic organised labour and more recently the SACP went to the Cosatu elections and dared to share an opinion on secret meetings and plots. Clearly, this constituency and its leaders demanded a response from Ramaphosa of that nature and he yielded to that. In that sense Ramaphosa’s response to the media-fabricated ‘secret meetings’ was not his but what his constituency wanted.
- The latest lack of decision-making on the part of Ramaphosa follows that he has extended an invitation to a number of legal organisations and other independent public institutions to assist him in identifying and selecting individuals for consideration as possible candidates for the position of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). This panel is to chaired by Minister Jeff Radebe who will be tasked to identify, screen and shortlist three candidates for final consideration. In typical Ramaphosa style, he seeks to make the appointment a collective decision and therefore lacks the grit to make his own decision as with so many other things. Clearly, the outcome will be a person that was recommended – hardly a Ramaphosa decision.
Leadership, as Pickens taught us, means take your own decision, stand and fall by it regardless of how unpopular it may be for some. Leadership means leading from the front, not constantly asking for the views of others, as a means of claiming transparency, when all this indicates is the adopting of others’ views as your own. Providing you with an option to, later on, claim “I was advised on my choice” meaning “it was not really my choice”.
Of course, I get it that consultation and perceived transparency constitutes core parts of leadership. I also get it that the SA’s caretaker president is at pains to be perceived as a consulting and transparent president, yet that cannot become an excuse for failure to lead in making core decisions of your own. This fuels the crisis of legitimacy and trust Ramaphosa consistently finds himself in en-route to a May 2019 national ballot.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine
Political Commentator and Writer