In a recent TV interview, I heard the news anchor note that the bar for reputational tolerance seems to have been lowered in much of the contemporary world.
By implication, it seems, we shouldn’t be surprised if standards have dropped in SA, because this appears to be the case even in major democracies whose systems once commanded respect.
No specific country was mentioned, but the USA under Donald Trump springs to mind.
One may not have loved former leaders like Thabo Mbeki, Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, but they commanded genuine respect. Each of them had the requisite temperament for office.
Zuma had the Gupta spectre hovering over him like a shower, and Mnangagwa is haunted by the Matabeleland massacres – a chapter in his long political journey alongside one Robert Gabriel Mugabe that he most likely would rather the world erased from memory.
SA’s current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, does have the requisite temperament. But as many second-guess both his real intentions and what he can do, the jury is still out on whether he can be fully trusted to place the fundamental interests of South Africa ahead of those of the party he leads, the African National Congress.
He also still has to stand in front of a podium one day – whether or not the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture offers him one – to tell South Africans what he saw and heard during the time he was deputy to Jacob Zuma. It would be a pity if South Africans had to wait for the day he perhaps writes his memoir to know the whole truth of what he knows of the events of the last decade.
Davos: will it be enough?
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and a few others also have the requisite temperament for the offices they occupy.
If Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Russia’s Vladimir Putin enjoy anyone’s respect, meanwhile, such respect is underpinned mainly by fear; fear of their known, cold ruthlessness when faced with dissent.
So, as President Cyril Ramaphosa leads another Team SA to Davos this week, to remind the world of investors that South Africa is open for business – like he did last year – his own credibility will play a role in how seriously others will take him and our country.
In an era of the internet and a plethora of digital media platforms, ‘Big Brother’ is all over the place, literally omnipresent.
People around the world, including world leaders in politics and business, would be following developments in South Africa with keen interest, hoping for credible signs of real positive change following the decade-long plunder and misrule under Jacob Zuma and the ANC. They will not simply make important decisions on whether to invest en masse in South Africa on the basis only of the charming PR & sales messages consisting of colourful PowerPoint presentations, high powered promotional videos and speeches by Ramaphosa and members of the team traveling with him; especially if they do not believe the facts on the ground corroborate the sales and marketing pitches.
They will read diplomatic reports, watch media coverage of socio-political and economic developments in the country; and, for those with friends and associates in South Africa and its diaspora, listen to anecdotal accounts of what those people have to say about what is happening in the country.
It doesn’t help much that over the past 24 months alone, the number of South Africans who have packed their belongings, gathered their families, and left the country have gone up.
Those with crucial, scarce, skills have uprooted them and those who earn high salaries or own big money have taken much needed tax contributions away with them. The opportunity costs of such silent departures will be felt in time.
A poor PR team
Furthermore, it is unlikely that many of these recent ‘departed’ are positive country brand ambassadors at this stage. They can therefore not be relied on to endorse the PR and sales messages from Team South Africa.
We should hope that their impact will not mean that the investment South Africa made into the annual sales and marketing trip will not turn it into just another opportunity for earning S&Ts and wasted expenditure at the cost of the taxpayer.
Presidents Donald Trump (USA), Emmanuel Macron (France), and Theresa May (UK) will not be at the 2019 World Economic Forum, having chosen to attend to pressing national issues in their respective countries. Zimbabwean Mnangagwa had to return home after the fires in the streets of his country refused to die.
Trusting that things in South Africa are under control, with various inquiries and commissions hard at work trying to unravel the events of the past ten years, Ramaphose chose to press ahead with his trip.
With no Trump to steal all the limelight, Ramaphosa should have all the attention he will need. For his sake and that of our country, may Team SA return home the winners!