Successive presidents in the democratic era have not displayed a reluctance to leave home. Thabo Mbeki seemed determined to criss-cross the globe as many times as possible. Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa have also shown great enthusiasm for travel.
That is not to say that the president of SA should not travel. Indeed, in a globalising world, it is necessary for him or her to do so. It is the timing that is the issue. But what his return home from Egypt does show is that the Eskom crisis is so serious that Ramaphosa cut short a state visit.
Now Ramaphosa has announced that he will not attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This annual visit to the Swiss Alps has been obligatory for presidents in the democratic era. It must be pleasant there, even in winter.
Ramaphosa has also announced that he will not be attending an Africa investment summit in London this week, sending instead, to both events, finance minister Tito Mboweni.
His early return from Egypt showed that it was a mistake to go in the first place — rather like Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison returning to his burning country from a holiday in Hawaii.
Figures such as ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, and to a degree deputy president David Mabuza, have been emboldened by Ramaphosa’s passivity
There are a number of theories about why Ramaphosa is staying at home this week.
Yes, there are crucial lekgotlas of the ANC’s national executive committee and the cabinet, but they would not normally have caused him to stay at home. This is thus a move designed to signal to those plotting to oust Ramaphosa, the remnants of the so-called state capture project, that he is at last up for the fight.
If only a fraction of the reports and opinion pieces on Ramaphosa’s meekness being designed to placate his enemies in the ANC are true, this is a signal that he should have sent long ago. When his political capital was at its highest shortly after his election as president, and again shortly after the election victory last year, he had infinitely more space to get tough with his opponents then than he has now.
Make no mistake there is a fight to be had. Figures such as ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and to a degree deputy president David Mabuza have been emboldened by Ramaphosa’s passivity. Consider that Magashule predicted that the new order of Ramaphosa would not last. It was a public challenge to the authority of the newly elected president.
An alternative to the theory that he is ready for a scrap is the possibility that Ramaphosa’s staying at home shows that the threats against him are real. Again, if we assume that only half of all the predictions that attempt to oust him, even as early as this year’s national general council in June, are true, he has his back to the wall.
At least now, when his enemies and his apparent alliance partners, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP), start clamouring for him to fire public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan at the national executive committee lekgotla, he will be there to face them down. When they start to rail against any logical plan to rescue SAA or Eskom he will be there to tell them that they are mistaken — if he believes that this can be done without job losses, but that is another issue.
For Ramaphosa to take the fight to his opponents is critical, for his presidency and the country. For him to fail now, and for the state capture gang to return, before the damage of the Zuma years has even begun to heal, would be calamitous for the nation and propel us inexorably towards the status of a failed state.