Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

E-mail is one of the internet age’s more unpleasant inventions, and Cyril Ramaphosa has become the latest of the world’s more prominent figures to be exposed by it.

You’d think that in the 28 years since August 6 1991 — the day the web first became public — we would have learnt to manage e-mail better, but no.

Hillary Clinton watched her presidential bid evaporate after being outed first for using a private e-mail server for official public communications — including highly classified mails — instead of the properly secure State Department server, and then later having her staff delete a bunch of unwanted messages, which made her look like she was covering something up.

Then the Gupta family had their life and times revealed in excoriating detail when whistleblowers leaked thousands of e-mails to the SA media.

The savage feeding frenzy that followed both leaks, and the collapse of the empires from which they came, should have been an unforgettable lesson in how not to do politics, especially when you may have, in the murkier waters of your campaign, some sharks.

Germany knows this, which is why five years ago, after the BND secret service was caught passing confidential documents to the US National Security Agency, German politicians seriously considered securing their communications by returning to typewriters and ditching e-mail for good.

It’s tricky to hack a typewriter, and it’s a hassle to stealthily forward a note written on one.

All this is beside the point. Ramaphosa has been caught out. While his office states unequivocally that he has done nothing illegal, South Africans who signed up to his promise to root out graft and banish the scavengers who have hollowed out this country are worried.

Whatever the reality behind this sorry saga, Ramaphosa needs, in modern speak, to own it.