Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Seeing that SA’s deputy finance minister proudly describes himself as a Marxist, looking to one of Karl Marx’s most famous sayings to explain the rut that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration seemingly finds itself in, barely two months in, seems appropriate.

The president may, over time, make his own history, but it’s already clear that he won’t do it as he pleases, and the circumstances are definitely not what he would have chosen.

Unlike Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and even Jacob Zuma, he has embarked on his journey without a proper grip on his party and with enemies in every corner ready to trip him up.

His deputy, David Mabuza, who is seemingly Julius Malema’s new best friend, is not to Ramaphosa what Mbeki was to Mandela. Far from it. And the former had undisputed authority over the ANC when he replaced Madiba. Ramaphosa leads a divided and dysfunctional ANC.

When he’s not worrying about secretary-general Ace Magashule seeking to undermine him, he’s got to be preoccupied with Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s rather unorthodox approach to her role as public protector, with potentially grave consequences for his presidency. Her latest findings on Pravin Gordhan over the so-called "rogue unit" at the SA Revenue Service, a narrative that has been long discredited by other investigations, including the Nugent commission of inquiry into the tax agency, are just the latest manifestation of what he’s up against. And there’s Bosasa’s dealings with his son, Andile. Handed a loaded gun by the DA, whether intentionally or not, Mkhwebane seems determined to use it. These are dangerous times for Ramaphosa.

It’s hardly surprising that he is distracted. And the rest of us are right to be sceptical about the country’s economic future with a government needing to have its eye on everything except what matters the most, which is how to get the economy going and generate growth

Christine Lagarde’s nomination to head the European Central Bank (ECB) may seem an odd event to demonstrate the weakness of the government here. But the contrast to our ineptitude in filling vacant positions at the Reserve Bank is telling. Mario Draghi’s term as president of the ECB doesn’t end until October and yet there’s already a replacement, and markets have a sense of what to expect.

Six months after Francois Groepe resigned as one of Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago’s deputies, there is still no replacement. That was careless enough, and yet the government managed to let another deputy, Daniel Mminele, end his term without a replacement lined up. The lack of action has created uncertainty about the future of one of SA’s most important institutions, which also happens to be one of the few that escaped the ravages of state capture and still commands respect internationally.

How much better it would have been for the Bank if the president had identified a candidate months ago and made the necessary appointment. That would have allowed a proper handover period and Mminele would have been able to pass on some of the 20 years’ worth of institutional memory to his successor. It used to work like this. When Mandela was president in 1998, Tito Mboweni was identified as the person to replace Chris Stals as governor.

In another sign of how things have changed since then, and not for the better, the finance minister did announce, via Twitter, that names have now been recommended to Ramaphosa.

In 1998, with more than a year before he was due to take office, Mboweni was seconded to the Bank as an adviser to the governor, allowing a seamless transition. These days, the need for good governance plays second fiddle to internal ANC strife. There’s a big question mark on whether Ramaphosa will rise above it or allow his presidency to be forever held hostage by the bad hand he was dealt at Nasrec in December 2017. Only time will tell. The problem is that we don’t have much of that.