Many South Africans and other observers often argue, with reason, that former president Jacob Zuma has lowered the presidential leadership to the lowest level ever. 94babb69ae7144ce8dd4f75d1b79795f

It should therefore not be hard for anyone to outperform him in anything presidential, from delivering speeches, coherently and consistently leading cabinet teams, to representing the country at various bilateral and multilateral forums. They further ague, again with reason, that Ramaphosa shouldn’t just be judged on how well he speaks, how convincing he sounds and how presidential he appears, compared to his predecessor.

He should be judged on the extent to which he manages to raise the bar again, not only to the heights left by former President Mbeki, but higher.

The damages of Zupta state capture

Few will disagree that at the heart of the damage done to South Africa during the Zuma administration was the hallowing, weakening, and repurposing of South Africa’s state institutions; State Owned Entities (SOEs), Chapter Nine Institutions, the Criminal Justice System, apart from the courts, Local Government Institutions, etc., to benefit Zuma’s family and friends, including the Guptas who, going by information that has since come out, seem to have been more like ‘handlers’ than ordinary friends.

From the time he came into office, Zuma ensured that all the people who coalesced around him after he was fired as Deputy President by Mbeki, following alleged criminal conduct in partnership with a previous financial advisor, were rewarded in one way or another. This was done through lucrative tenders and other business with government entities, high-paying jobs through-out the civil service, at home and in South Africa’s Foreign Missions abroad, and through preferred BEE partnering with big companies seeking to invest in SA.

The relationship with big business was a symbiotic one, as corporates who sought advice from government are said to have been referred only to existing, politically connected BEE groupings, or to ones that were formed as the need arose. Many such groupings would either be awarded multimillion-rand tenders before they were fully registered or as soon as they got registered, having never done work in the said field before.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s Promises

Ramaphosa should know that while presidentially well-presented and touching on many of the key issues affecting a broad spectrum of South Africans, the 2019 State of The Nation Address came at a time when South Africans had already seen enough and heard more than enough.

They might not all have processed the avalanche of information coming out of various disciplinary hearings, commissions of inquiry, and media reports with equal ability to connect the dots – for there are many to be connected – but they have become on the whole an abused people; taken for granted, insulted, and, for some, made to feel that they do not belong, in South Africa, and should gather their families, pack their belongings, and leave the country.

Sadly, many have already done so in recent years, taking businesses away, or shutting them down, rendering employees redundant and growing unemployment figures, or simply taking key, exportable, skills away from South Africa. In all cases, the global impact has been a further reduction of the country’s tax base when it is most needed.

It is unhelpful to also consider that while Ramaphosa often says the right things, he continues to harbour in his cabinet – our country’s Executive – some of the people who have been repeatedly named as the culprits who aided, abetted and, now we have seen in the recent Agrizzi testimony in the Zondo Commission – directly benefitted from all forms of wrongdoing against the interests of the country.

When Ramaphosa dares South Africans to “watch this space” in his discussion about plans that are being put in place to boost the capacity of the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) to do its job without fear, favour or bias, many of us literally watch the space around him, the President, for signs of “leadership from the front”. So far, there is no indication that he, the President, has taken the initiative to remove from his cabinet all the compromised ministers.

This lack of action on his part makes it hard to imagine how he could possibly expect South Africans to take him seriously when he cannot, or will not, act in an area where he can.

Granted, unlike the cases of corruption and state capture implicated senior ANC officials who have been elected by party members and who cannot be unilaterally removed by the president, government ministers serve “at the pleasure of the President” and should be removed as soon as it becomes clear that their conduct has not been in line with the values so beautifully propagated in the State of the Nation Address.

If Ramaphosa hasn’t grasped this, yet, someone he trusts needs to sit him down and calmly explain to him that levels of trust in anything said by politicians have long been depleted in South Africa. Beautiful speeches alone will not cut it.

In fact, South Africans will marvel at the beauty and eloquence of the speech at the time it is delivered – especially following almost ten years of badly written and delivered speeches by his predecessor – but they will, the very next day, sober-up and start unpacking the speech to look for anything they can hold on to. This is what is being done to his beautifully delivered SONA.

The political programmatic intent touching on education, land issues, small business development, growth of tourism, attracting more investors, restructuring Eskom into three business units falling under Eskom Holdings, etc. are all great, but the one area that continues to frustrate South Africans has to do with the levels of arrogance and impunity in the party he leads.

Most South Africans are hopeful that the new NDPP, Chamila Batohi, will do a great job, especially because she will not have to rely on the compromised SAPS and Hawks that still report directly to a politician who might also have skeletons to hide, but they want to see the President doing what he can, in his space, instead of waiting for Batohi to do it for him so that he never gets to take political responsibility for firing compromised ministers.

Only action can get more sceptic South Africans a little more trusting of Ramaphosa’s intent. But that will not happen while he says all the right things while he harbours criminals in his cabinet.S