President Cyril Ramaphosa is like a moving target for many South Africans. Those who remain wary of the ANC – with reason, of course – but who would like to reach out and hold his hand, hug him, take a morning jog with him, and assure him that they appreciate the good actions he’s taken or instigated over the past six months to gradually undo the toxic damage wrought by his predecessor, expect more assuring messages from him.
They just want him to tell them a lot more often that he’s doing all of that for South Africa first, then the ANC after.
It might seem banal to some, but it would make news headlines if Ramaphosa were to do that, and assure South Africans that he’s doing what he’s doing with both eyes on the interests of the country they love, because he too loves South Africa first – and not with one eye on the numbers ahead of the 2019 general elections.
I’m tempted to say he should say it even if he doesn’t mean it, but I won’t go that far.
For many, reaching out to hold Ramaphosa’s hand remains like putting one’s hand through a grille to stroke a nice-looking wild animal that is said to be tamed and harmless. Ramaphosa might be harmless; he most probably is harmless; but he shares his room with characters proven to be harmful to the interests of South Africa. The political company he keeps is toxic; and we may hope this never ends up rubbing off on him.
South Africans, underutilised brand ambassadors
Usually, when the reputation of a long-standing brand gets damaged, such damage emanates from within the brand.
It could happen through deliberate sabotage by unhappy, disgruntled employees; through greed and criminal conduct by someone taking or paying a bribe or manipulating reports; or even through carelessness, by someone trying to take a short cut to finish a task in record time.
Often, when brand communication messages get sent out to assure communities with a stake in the brand that all is under control, the sabotage of such messages can also emanate from within the brand, especially when internal stakeholders do not feel taken seriously by the people in higher positions.
They do this by refusing to endorse the superficial feel-good messages when asked by the media or other outsiders or, in some cases, by directly rubbishing their veracity and honesty.
Restoring investor confidence
So, when Ramaphosa announced his proposed five-point economic stimulus plan last week, I was particularly impressed that he included the need to “restore investor confidence”. He’s absolutely right. Reputational damage, at home and globally, has wrought the most harm onto our institutions by the Gupta-hoodwinked and Zuma-led ANC over the past decade.
But there are no short cuts in reversing the damage; and the primary constituents of Ramaphosa’s healing messages are not located out there, in world capitals. They’re right here, at home. They’re students, the unemployed, the unionised and un-unionised workers; and they’re small, medium and large enterprises.
In their diversity – and poor, middle class, or wealthy – South Africans have been the primary victims of state capture. They’re the betrayed, emotionally wounded, and waiting people. And many of them do not care about the identity of the people running the country, as long as those elected or appointed do their work ethically, lawfully, and with dedication. Empathy, care, and appreciating that they are in those positions to serve the people of our country ahead help as well.
Beyond this, everything becomes superficial politicking. And these people, too, want their “Thuma Mina” call, irrespective of their political allegiances.
Showmanship or the real deal?
They must be convinced that the steps taken to reverse the damage of the past 10 years are for the long term, not done for mere electoral showmanship or to keep a morally bankrupt political party that has run out of ideas and people to recycle in power.
If Ramaphosa manages to convince South Africans that he’s for real and will, unlike Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma, never stand in the way of criminal investigations against his comrades, irrespective of what position they hold or how close they are to him, then South Africans will stand behind him in growing numbers – despite the conundrum that comes with indications that he is being used as a front, a Trojan Horse, by corrupt comrades.
He must convince South Africans at home that he is genuine and they, in turn, will be the brand ambassadors he needs, endorsing the messages he communicates to the world of investors out there and persuading their friends and relatives in the diaspora around the world to do the same.
He must speak more often as president of all South Africans and remind racist political opportunists that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. It will always be a diverse country, no matter the sizes of the chips on the shoulders of such racist political opportunists.
Next, as part of the economic stimulus drive, steps should be taken to lessen the red tape and prohibitive costs that hold back productive South Africans like my friend, Stephen de Villiers – who invented an innovative power saving device. This will help them get their products to market, earn a living, create jobs, and export such products to the rest of the world as proudly “made in South Africa”.
Global investors will not flood to our shores merely in response to colourful country public relations campaigns that lack resonance on home soil. They will come in larger numbers – and not just from China – when they sense a surge in local confidence by businesses already based here and the broader South Africa society.