Residents of the Jeppe Men's Hostel waving batons during a march in Johannesburg CBD after SA's financial capital was hit by a new wave of violence, September 3 2019. Picture: MICHELE SPATARI/AFP
Residents of the Jeppe Men's Hostel waving batons during a march in Johannesburg CBD after SA's financial capital was hit by a new wave of violence, September 3 2019. Picture: MICHELE SPATARI/AFP

If President Cyril Ramaphosa is in the habit of listening to breakfast radio, he would not have enjoyed Bongani Bingwa’s show on 702 on Tuesday.

If there is any truth to the perception that we have a distant and detached president, a safe bet would be that he wasn’t listening and will probably be shocked to discover the extent to which, just four months after being returned to office, his presidency has lost its sense of momentum.

He was probably focusing on a stage where he feels most comfortable and putting the final touches to what he will tell delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) event that starts in Cape Town on Wednesday. If he noticed that the country is in flames he certainly didn’t feel moved to share that with his fellow citizens.


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The WEF event, titled “Shaping Inclusive Growth and Shared Futures in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, is an opportunity to showcase the country, not just as an investment destination but as the gateway to a continent whose time has come. Instead, the delegates arriving in Cape Town have been confronted by headlines that show a country at war; its leaders absent.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that our leaders had nothing to say, having not been shy of blaming foreigners for the country’s social ills and even suggesting excluding them from certain businesses

And no matter what some of the ANC leaders would like to believe, it’s not because the media is unpatriotic or gets some kind of sadistic pleasure in trashing the country’s image.

If he had been listening to the radio on Tuesday morning, Ramaphosa would have been moved by the anger voiced by Wits vice-chancellor Adam Habib, who spoke for many in the country.

Are we being lead? That was the question Bingwa asked as he reflected on the violence in Johannesburg and elsewhere overnight.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that our leaders had nothing to say, having not been shy to blame foreigners for the country’s social ills and even suggesting that they be excluded from certain businesses.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane may have grabbed headlines with  his call on Ramaphosa to “come out of hiding”, but his party has hardly proved itself immune to the odd episode of xenophobic baiting, dressed up as an appeal to secure our borders.

The chickens are coming home to roost. There is a toxic mixture of lawlessness, an ineffective state, a corrupt and dysfunctional migration system and a culture of impunity, all in what is now the world’s most unequal society. Is it really a shock that this kind of frustration boils over and leaves politicians paralysed? 

Raped and murdered

Among its many failures, the country has been synonymous with gender violence, so much so one would have thought the nation’s capacity to be shocked has long been exhausted. And then came the story of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a young woman, a student, raped and murdered while doing something as ordinary as picking up a package at the post office.

And what was our government’s response? A Twitter post that went viral implored the country’s women to speak out and “not allow themselves to become victims”. This must be the very definition of tone deaf, and the anger it caused countrywide was more than understandable.

A statement did eventually come from Ramaphosa’s office, but it was hours too late.

Whether it’s part of a grand strategy is unclear but it speaks to a general trend in which the highest political office seems far removed from urgent crises that are taxing minds in the rest of the country.

Ramaphosa spends far too much time abroad, at events and summits and making formulaic speeches to select audiences. Over the next period his priority should be right here at home. The government needs fixing; it is dysfunctional and a cause of escalating social problems.

The country is crying out for leadership and it’s about time Ramaphosa stepped up, got the government working and spoke directly to the people.