There are times when it feels as though we South Africans are mercilessly caught up in a maelstrom of repeated political promises that will never be fulfilled: Lies, arrogance and impunity by untouchable political criminals. They remain victorious, laughing in our faces after every election, untouchable as they manage to hoodwink sufficient numbers into voting for them yet again, with the belief that any alternative would lead to an apartheid-like hell all over again. Twenty-five years later, it is quite depressing.

We keep falling for it, and they know there will always be enough of us that are too lazy, uninterested or incapable of connecting the dots, who will fall for the same lies over and over again. Lies told through fancy dances at stadia ahead of elections, colourful party regalia food parcels, drinks, t-shirts, caps, music, dance, walkabouts in local areas by politicians pretending to care; endless stories of claimed heroic battles against apartheid. Names of past heroes and heroines – known and unknown, remembered and forgotten – are evoked, peppered with more colourful anecdotal accounts of what they said, did, and hoped for, or more of what they would have expected of us today. People are reminded of the debt of gratitude they have vis-à-vis these dead heroes and heroines, or their memories (whatever the difference) and that is enough to get them to fall for the blackmail. It always works.

The period leading to the 2019 elections was no different; neither were the pre-electoral promises. Cyril Ramaphosa was to be our only hope – that of the party he leads and, by extension, of our country; we were told ad nauseam. Voting for him would give him the strength he needed to sort out the mess in his party – the mess that affects us all and makes it hard for us to focus our energy on a concerted post state capture economy rebuild – in order to do what is right for South Africa.

Some ethically and legally discredited people have been shown the door, probably because they dreaded the prospects of moving from the front benches to the back benches in Parliament. Either way, it is good they will no longer be in our faces on a daily basis, reminding us of our stupidity and weakness.

Promises, promises

But it is not enough that they’re simply no longer there; it will not be enough until they are processed by the country’s criminal justice system – a system some of them helped to weaken – even if they have to be called back from retirement to come clean on the roles they played to enable, shield, and benefit from state capture and other forms of wrongdoing. It is thanks to their conduct that our country’s once sterling reputation has been trampled upon.

Some wrongdoers have stubbornly remained in the system, however, as if to dare us to remove them even when they know our hands are tied. And we’re being told again to be patient, as they too will go, eventually, despite several of them having been rewarded with more ministerial positions; rewards that only serve to strengthen their belief that they have convinced us to forget the roles they played during the state capture economy. They prance about and make lofty political declarations yet again with their noses in the air, protected and fed at our expense. And there is nothing we can do about it, except wait for the ostensibly newly empowered NPA to begin showing its new set of prosecutorial teeth; teeth that we have so far only read about in the media.

The longer the NPA remains quiet, the harder it becomes for the cynics in some of us to prevent ourselves from suspecting the authenticity of its independence. Who determines the timing of its actions yet-to-be-seen? What else should explain its absence of action even against the most high-level political criminals in our mist, including the senior officials who have been forced to leave SAA, Transnet, SARS, Eskom, Denel, SABC, and other public institutions following the exposure of their well-documented acts of criminality?

We’re urged to be patient because these are intra-party matters that are beyond us, outsiders, even when they affect us. It’s like being told not to mind someone who constantly smokes in our presence even when their smoking exposes us to health risks.

Undermining Ramaphosa’s authority

So, South Africa must wait while these intra-party issues that stubbornly keep rearing their heads are sorted out, we’re told. But recent indications are that the fight back by those who have a lot to fear is far from over. Being elected officials who can only be removed at the next elective conference, they will remain untouchable, playing the system to their benefit.

They do so by constantly undermining the authority of ‘Ramaphosa the state president’ by playing him against ‘Ramaphosa the party deployee’. While the former must act on behalf of all South Africans, the latter is constantly reminded of the party manifesto and decisions made by a handful of party delegates that, if implemented, would send our economy into a tailspin never seen in many years.

It is as if the people who lost party elections in December 2017 continue to insist that their programme be implemented, despite it being out of sync with the realities of today, or the ‘New Dawn’ principles that were sold to us – not to mention the work South Africa must do to arrest the rot and recover from the institutional and reputational damage of the past ten years.

South Africans are tired. Their morale has been bludgeoned repeatedly by developments in the governing ANC. It is time Ramaphosa showed them that he can put his foot down, as the boss he is, and remind his detractors in the ANC that there is work to be done out there. If the internal party clean-up doesn’t happen and discipline is not restored, we shall find that we’ve crossed a line beyond which recovery will remain a chimera.