EDITORIAL: ANC happy with a puppet president
Cyril Ramaphosa is clearly not a man for conflict with the ruling party
When Cyril Ramaphosa won the ANC presidency for a second time in December 2022 there were high hopes that a more direct and purposeful executive would be the result.
The threat from the radical economic transformation faction had all but disappeared and Ramaphosa could henceforth be his own man. He could begin to fulfil the promise that Nelson Mandela is said to have seen in him. This has proved a false hope, and like so much else with Ramaphosa, what you see and hear is not quite what you get.
SA has a tradition of strong leaders.
Mandela was feared and respected and thought nothing of overriding and ignoring the internal democracy said to be at the heart of the ANC’s consensus machinery.
The former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke warned once about the concentration of powers in the person of the SA president, as allowed in the constitution. But unwritten in the constitution is the enormous power that vests in the party that captures the majority in a national election, for the kingdom is truly theirs.
With the right personnel, offices such as that of the public protector have served as a brake on executive privilege, notably in the case of former president Jacob Zuma and the unlawful upgrades to his Nkandla homestead. But it is unfortunately also true that the ANC has been able to subvert and neuter at various times organs of the state designed to curb the arbitrary and corrupt use of power.
Not even the Zondo commission, conducted at great expense, has been able to roll back the ravages of state capture in a significant way. The party has ignored it, adopting a strictly minimalist interpretation of its findings, including against some of its own prominent leaders.
As the ANC has kneecapped state institutions and companies such as Eskom and Transnet, with enormous damage to the economy, the failures of the state are seen by some as the failures of the government of the day, and by others as a failure of the whole liberal-democratic exercise.
It is for this reason that it has become quite usual to hear ANC ministers talking almost as if they are in opposition to the state, or at the least that they are incapable of actually leading their departments in a meaningful and imaginative way. For many ANC ministers the Treasury and its legendary tightfistedness remain the biggest problem to the implementation of their pet projects. And in the case of the public service, all caution was thrown to the wind by a government that simply ignored its own accountants.
The extent of the failures of the ANC in government are directly proportional to the alarming tendency of the ANC as a whole to regard itself as wiser somehow than the collective expertise gathered in state departments. The ANC’s national executive decides that only a “state of disaster” can help solve the problem of load-shedding and the government dutifully obliges, proclaiming such a disaster and then quickly abandoning it in the face of a court challenge.
Another example. Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa decides burning coal is the best and quickest way to end load-shedding, and that the fiscus must stump up for it. The cabinet is not so sure, but the ANC’s national executive committee a few days later thinks it is a grand plan. On the basis of what expert input such a decision could have been reached is anyone’s guess.
Ramaphosa is clearly not a man for conflict, more especially conflict with an ANC that saved his bacon from a Phala Phala impeachment inquiry in parliament. He knows that when he speaks his word is only as good as the ANC will allow it to be.
His advisers are letting him down, that’s certain. But it is the poisoned political climate within the ANC, the sense of panic as 2024 approaches, that is the real source of the jitters we are seeing in the government, and its mixed messages on important matters, not the least of which is our diplomatic profile as the Russia-Ukraine war drags on.
The ANC simply will not allow a strong presidency that takes difficult decisions on behalf of the whole nation. It wants a puppet in that office, all the better to serve its populist inclinations and save its electoral chances next year. The result is confusion, with a president unsure whether he should speak his mind or simply report the latest in-vogue notion of the comrades he has just met in the national executive committee.
Whatever he does, though, the last thing the ANC wants is a leader who will actually lead, a leader for all South Africans.
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