At the heart of Zuma’s failure was the undermining of the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa itself. Instead of exercising leadership in all its facets, Mr Zuma mired the country into a narrative preoccupied with corruption. In so doing, he not only diverted the attention away from what a President is supposed to do (as opposed to what he shouldn’t), he also potentially lowered our expectations from those who sit at this most important office in our national life. In large part this explains the Ramaphosa phenomenon; the mood has been one of great relief. But in the throes of this long-overdue national sigh, let us also recall and reexamine what a President is, lest we suffer the same consequences again and again, writes UJ’s Dr David Monyae.
Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece entitled “Ramaphosa and the Gravitas of the Presidency “, published in Sunday Times Newspaper, 25 February 2018.
Having a clean corruption record is a prerequisite but not a sufficient qualifier for a great leader. A President is first and foremost a reservoir of inspiration for the nation at large and a Communicator-in-Chief. With President Zuma, this was all but lacking. What in theory should have been a people’s presidency quickly divulged into a Presidency seemingly at odds with itself and incapable of staying out of scandals.
Inasmuch as there are high expectations about Ramaphosa, a dose of caution is in order. The problems of the ANC, and therefore those of the country, are much bigger than Jacob Zuma. The problems, including the lack of service delivery, including also the corruption, are as a result of structural and systematic cracks. Zuma was merely the most visible manifestation of them. This is what will most likely make the renewed optimism surrounding Ramaphosa evaporate very quickly; as time goes, reality will set in and disillusionment will rear its head.
Underlying this is the incompleteness of the transformation project post-1994. Inequality has widened, poverty increased and very little change has been seen since the election in that fabled April. A lack of meaningful investment by multinational corporations has meant that they have been skating by and not conferring any benefits to the people. Despite the relative lack of scandal around Ramaphosa, he comes from a background (and is perhaps the face) of the elite; the elite, in fact, which formulated and benefitted the most in the negotiated settlement which gave birth to South Africa. Suspicions abound that this is where his true allegiance and priorities lie.
The masses will need to be the acme of his administration. How so? This is the biggest challenge facing him and his cabinet. He will need to go beyond rhetoric, and act accordingly. This also means, if only paradoxically, avoiding public opinion and avoid leading from behind. This is not to say he should be reclusive, quite the contrary – he should be communicative through every outlet at his disposal. A regular newsletter is indispensable so that the nation can understand the course he is seeking to charter. Although he will not be everything to everyone – a Mandela comes but once in a nation’s history – but he will be far removed from the unpredictable Zuma presidency. Whether in domestic policy, as well as in continental and global affairs, articulation is a necessity. Defining and spelling out the national interest is crucial.
In pursuing that national interest, President Ramaphosa ought to be balanced and pragmatic and avoid Cold War-like thinking. Neither the West nor the East are South Africa’s inherent all-weather friends, nor are they enemies. Incumbent on the President is therefore a realization that South Africa is faced by a myriad of challenges. Politics is a matter of fashion; and when the celebrations are over, South Africans will rightly demand demonstrable results. The only remedy to the oncoming criticism is to counter it as much as possible before it even germinates.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg