South Africa

Cyril’s loyalty lies with the ANC, not South Africa

The president has so far released no statements addressing some serious matters, to the surprise and anger of the public. The public is understandably crying out for decisiveness and courage, a bit of sharper or autocratic type leadership as opposed to the coordination type leadership, as described in Meredith Belbin’s book Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail, which President Cyril Ramaphosa seems to prefer in some of these situations.

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But if there is anyone to perform a “balancing act” for the ANC, the country and the serious challenges South Africans face, no one is better suited or qualified than Ramaphosa at this juncture of our democratic evolution. This is his modus operandi and forte.

Whatever decision he makes, criticism will not be in short supply. The headline of the Mail & Guardian newspaper (31 May 2019) on the appointment of his cabinet read “Behind Cyril’s juggling act” to reflect the dancing that must go on to build his “new dawn”.

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He had promised to reduce the size of the cabinet significantly, but by all statistical analysis he did not do so significantly. To retain almost all deputy ministers, who have no meaningful or justifiable roles to play in governance and without proper and justifiable job descriptions, illustrated more about the rife and intense internal strife in the party than the rationale for good governance. Loyalty rather than principle, ethics and rationale seem to be guiding decisions.

The recipe for success in teams is a team of nine team roles (Belbin) or, even better, a team of five, according to historian and author Northcote Parkinson. Our cabinet has all the characteristics of failure — unwieldy and compounded by a large coterie of deputy ministers.

It is composed of people who have little knowledge of their portfolios. No wonder there have been so many failures and incapabilities reported and acknowledged over this period.

The cabinet of President Nelson Mandela consisted of seasoned and capable ministers. The Mbeki cabinet was equally competent and focused on the transformation project. The cabinet of presidents Jacob Zuma and Ramaphosa are littered with incapable and incompetent people in most portfolios judging from the available track records — for example, the security cluster.

The hope we had that swept through society during the Mandela and Mbeki era has vanished, only to be replaced by despair and anger. It’s called feeling “gatvol” in our country.

As a consequence South Africa is regressing. A significant contribution to the failure to implement the National Development Plan (NDP) is state incapability led by the cabinet. The ANC government has made so many acknowledgements, apologies and asked for forgiveness it is no longer funny.

The administration was reduced from 72 to 64, a mere 12.2% reduction. According to Malegapuru Makgoba’s 2020 Cabinet scorecard: A reinterpretation of the M&G and News24 views, 23 January 2021, 56.7% of Ramaphosa’s cabinet members performed below the statistical mean score of 5.23 out of 10 in 2020.

Further, an analysis by the Democratic Alliance showed that since the cabinet signed performance agreements in 2020 only 241 out of 757 (32%) of service delivery targets were met. The Citizen in 2022 criticised Ramaphosa for leniency regarding low-performing ministers.

This fits well into the description of “political hyenas in feeding frenzy” or state-sponsored looting, as Zwelinzima Vavi articulated in Beeld in 2010. Leading a party of “hyenas” of many factions provides a leader with an opportunity to be bold, courageous, innovative, break with the past, create a new future path (a new dawn), test his own leadership skills and vision of coordination, decisiveness, boldness, courage, integrity, coherence, compact building, and social cohesion.

A great leader will seize the light at the end of the tunnel rather than the darkness of an approaching train. As Brutus in Julius Caesar Act IV, Scene III said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which taken at flood, leads to fortune,” meaning an individual must recognise and seize such important opportunities.

This is even more crucial for the characteristics of a leader. Equally, it can provide a leader with an opportunity to fudge issues. Ramaphosa has had several opportunities to seize the moment and demonstrate courage and decisiveness, but has failed to do so.

There are many pressing issues Ramaphosa is facing and should confront. Apart from tackling the rampant and pernicious corruption, the most destructive force of our new democracy, which he has done through setting up four important commissions — the Justice Raymond Zondo, the Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, the Judge Robert Nugent and the Justice Lex Mpati on state capture, the fitness of prosecutors, the South African Revenue Service and the Public Investment Corporation, respectively — he has to see to the successful implementation of the NDP, which he helped create.

He has to explain the ANC’s modus operandi of “collective responsibility”. Ramaphosa served for seven years as Zuma’s deputy and is a member of the ANC’s “top six” leaders. He was the government’s leader of business, the chair of the ANC’s deployment committee and created a “war room” to tackle the electricity crisis during the Zuma presidency.

He also served in other senior capacities in the party, for example, as the secretary general. But he seems to selectively take no responsibility — or, for that matter, collective responsibility — for the “nine wasted years” under Zuma, as then finance minister Tito Mboweni described it in Davos in 2019.

This makes a mockery of the much-bandied “collective responsibility”. If collective responsibility is the ANC’s modus operandi, how did state capture, the arms deal and the 10 years of AIDS denialism take place? Should one trust the wisdom or the stupidity of the ANC’s national executive committee or should one look for an alternative explanation? No reasonable person would believe “collective responsibility” as a reasonable explanation for these major blunders. How could one serve seven years as part of the collective and take no responsibility when the assessment of the collective becomes negative?

These memory dissociations are troubling. The president, who likes to describe himself as a “process person”, failed to adequately explain his role at the Zondo commission during the “nine wasted years” when his opportunity became available.

His decision not to act showed cowardice and a calculating strategy to realise his long-term ambition to rise to the presidency of the republic. This also revealed a well-known character of the ANC culture — that loyalty is more important than integrity, principles and ethics. He behaved in accordance with being a creature of the ANC – and his loyalty to the party rather than the country came through.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

Artmotion S.Africa

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