Cyril Ramaphosa waves after taking the oath of office at his inauguration in 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Cyril Ramaphosa waves after taking the oath of office at his inauguration in 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

If his first missive of the year is anything to go by, President Cyril Ramaphosa awoke from a weekend reverie to find himself in 2012. It was there that he happened upon the ruling party’s National Development Plan — in particular, chapter 13: "Building a Capable State".

Its key takeout was a need for a number of specific things: a transformative, developmental state, a public service "insulated from undue political interference", officials with the experience and support to do their jobs, and clear governance structures for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to allow for accountability.

And so, eight years on, Ramaphosa — who was deputy chair of the commission that produced the original document — blithely informs us that the "capable state" is "perhaps the most pressing" of SA’s challenges, before laying out the very issues identified in 2012 (and waving a hand vaguely at "district-based delivery" as a catch-all solution).

"This is a task that does not capture the imagination of most people," he pontificates, "yet it is essential to everything we want to achieve."

Only, the poverty of imagination would seem to rest entirely with the ruling party. The general populace — the poor in particular — are quite seized with the importance of a state that delivers. They imagine only too well a halcyon world in which children attend school without fear of drowning in pit latrines; where people, women especially, leave home in the morning secure in the knowledge that they will return; and where an enabling environment ensures individuals can provide for their own most basic needs.

Higher up on that hierarchy of needs, there may even be a power utility that can keep the lights on; policy that attracts investors instead of threatening them with a stick; a programme that successfully marries the demands of the environment and energy provision; and perhaps even a communications authority that can manage digital migration in less than a decade. Just imagine.

Yet Ramaphosa’s rehash of these most basic of ambitions — arguably the prerequisites of governance — is indicative of the dearth of ideas that has paralysed the ANC and is strangling SA. His cheery chat with the nation just reiterates how out of touch the ruling party really is.

The president says he is "disheartened" by the places he’s visited that "struggle to provide social infrastructure and services". He notes the feature these towns share: "The state lacks the necessary capacity to adequately meet people’s needs." It’s as if he was writing a blog post about a visit to a different country and saying that it is a shame about their lack of development, that things would be so much better if they had a functional state.

He seems oblivious to his own party’s contribution to the current situation. And this is a cognitive dissonance that is rampant in his party.

Which is why the ANC lekgotla at the weekend seemed so familiar. Sure, there was entertainment value, like the spectacle of Malusi Gigaba trying to gain the moral high ground over public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.

But most of the resolutions had a stultifying circularity about them: no political interference in SOEs, rationalisation of SOEs, strengthening local government, deploying only the fit to public office, crime is bad, BEE is good, women are important. They may as well have been read by Nelson Mandela 25 years ago.

Last year, Ramaphosa came in for fearful stick for his futuristic flight of fancy at his state of the nation address around "smart cities". But that at least had vision. His latest utterances are nothing more than a cut-and-paste of formulas that have never delivered on their promises. It’s another sign that intellectually, the ANC is a spent force. Quite frankly, we’re almost shocked.