If you think what the president says makes no sense, it probably doesn’t.

Political articles currently have the same thread running through them irrespective of who’s writing them. South Africans are more pessimistic than they have ever been.

Even watching apartheid peak and then slowly die, we never saw this level of pessimism – the death of apartheid was inevitable. We didn’t know when it would end, but there was no doubting that the end would come. Apartheid was unworkable and thus would collapse on its own contradictions, not least because it was economically ruinous.

Once apartheid died and democracy took its place, optimism spilled over throughout society. That extraordinary level of optimism couldn’t be sustained indefinitely, but South Africans remained positive enough. The economy grew during Thabo Mbeki’s tenure at 5% – for a period, it was greater than the global average. The African National Congress (ANC) provided hundreds of thousands of houses, and services were provided to an unprecedented extent. The black middle class grew, which promised to provide the stability that a democracy needs.

The first clear sign of the bankruptcy of every aspect of society was the ANC’s dismantling of the Scorpions (the independent Directorate of Special Operations) in early 2009. On spurious grounds, the ANC very quickly managed to get rid of a successful crime-fighting unit. They knew that the Scorpions’ ability to achieve results was going to be to their detriment, and particularly that of soon-to-be-president Jacob Zuma.

Then, with Zuma’s accession to the presidency – despite all the controversy surrounding him – we knew that his reign wasn’t going to benefit the country. What we didn’t know was how dreadfully bad it was going to be. And nothing would change because ANC Members of Parliament would sell their mothers to keep earning their parliamentary salaries; every dreadful decision would be supported in lemming-like fashion.

There was nothing the public could do politically. We fought, argued and showed our civil society mettle in the face, arguably, of treason by Zuma and his enablers through their acts of state capture. A definition of treason is the unlawful conduct of a person who owes allegiance to the state with the intention of ‘violating, threatening or endangering the existence, independence or security of the Republic’.

Eventually, though, the pressure did rid us of Zuma, but he managed to spend nine years at the helm, destroying the very fabric of society.

However, because we had had better, our dismay was tempered even if somewhat sceptically. We could be great again! So, again, we didn’t end up quite in the depths of despair.

There were two nagging issues to consider, however, when Cyril Ramaphosa, ‘our saviour’, came to power. First, what had he been doing while Zuma was impoverishing the country? And, second, it was Ramaphosa who had been responsible during Zuma’s second term for cadre deployment, the ANC policy chiefly responsible for the decline of our country’s assets.

Ramaphosa is a chameleon. In an elections stump, he promised residents of Alexandra that one million houses would be built in 5 years. It was so obviously dishonest, he couldn’t possibly have meant it. Those who heard it directly aren’t likely to have believed him.

He is also highly adept at telling one audience one thing and another audience the opposite. What’s really galling is that he either thinks we’re stupid enough not to notice or he doesn’t care.

Big business has long held on to the myth of Ramaphosa the businessman. Ramaphosa is not business friendly, notwithstanding the jobs summits and the investment summits. He has never said he’s business or free market friendly. What he has cleverly cultivated is an impression that by virtue of his many years on boards of big business, he is a man who would support business when his time in the presidency came.

What he has stated clearly, if somewhat surreptitiously, is that he is a socialist; he supports the economy-destroying ideologies of the National Democratic Revolution and cadre deployment.

He was deployed as a loyal cadre to earn the ANC money and in the process became extremely wealthy himself. It’s an open question whether he actually learnt or cared about the business of business. It has been said more than once that Ramaphosa would arrive at board meetings with his board pack unopened, listened but said little or nothing, and when a vote needed to be taken he always voted with the majority. And he was always late.

In an attempt to cosy up to China (anyone but the West), he threw his support behind Huawei, displaying embarrassing ignorance about the Huawei saga. Simultaneously, he denigrated what is still the richest and most powerful country in the world by describing the United States as being ‘jealous of Huawei’.

Reacting to the responses to his State of the Nation Address (SONA) in May, Ramaphosa said the private sector was lagging behind in transformation compared to government.

‘We must admit that we’ve made tremendous progress in the public sector as far as transformation is concerned,’ Ramaphosa said. ‘The same cannot be said for the private sector.’

Advancing the transformation agenda has been a key focus area for government, but the results have been mixed, with the private sector often being accused of not doing enough to promote inclusion in the workplace.

‘We will be seeking to hasten the pace of transformation in the private sector through the laws we’ve already put in place,’ said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa clearly thinks that success is only measured in the achievement of highly problematic racial quotas. This is what matters, not the success of a business or state entity. If he thought otherwise he’d have to admit that hell-for-leather numerical, quota-driven transformation underpinned by cadre deployment has contributed to varying degrees of state dysfunctionality at every level – failing infrastructure, including water and sewerage, the degradation of hospitals, and the criminal destruction of the largest state-owned enterprises.

Cadre deployment and black economic empowerment (BEE) do not spell success. Foreign and local investors cite BEE as one of the most significant factors in the decision not to invest in South Africa.

Ramaphosa recently lauded some youth employment initiatives that government runs. Research has shown that most of these either don’t deliver or they are sites for corruption and tender-rigging.

We mustn’t be fooled by his decisive position on tackling corruption. No one, not even his corrupt colleagues, can be seen to be opposing a crackdown on corruption. Ramaphosa knows that it will take some time before any convictions will result. It is, however, a way of eventually getting rid of some of his enemies. But can we wait that long?

Ramaphosa also said at his SONA: ‘We disagree with the view that the most effective and efficient way to provide services to our people is through the private sector.’

He must be challenged on that statement. Is it an informed view or an ideological view? On what informed basis is it made? On current government performance, he cannot possibly make that statement and believe it.

Ramaphosa will have settled some fears with the reappointment of Lesetja Kganyago and the appointment of acceptable figures as deputies.

Or is he merely appeasing the investment sector, knowing all the while that the policy to nationalise the Reserve Bank will press ahead when the time is right?

Watch carefully – if you think what he says makes no sense, it probably doesn’t.

 
Sara Gon is the head of strategic engagement at the IRR.

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