President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s own Inaction Man, has been striding the world of late, doing what he does best. Uttering platitudes on women empowerment, climate change goals, the responsibility of the wealthy to eradicate poverty, inequality, and injustice and how to bring about peace in our time.  

He wants us and the world to believe he is a democratic statesman who cares for the poor and the downtrodden and has advice the world should heed.  

I’ll give this to him: The President of our country can walk and talk at the same time. He can hold his own in the rich and privileged circles he seeks out. He has more EQ than many who surround him, notable manners and a streak of charm that has seduced boards of businesses, the media and a bevy of guilt-afflicted whites who have come to be known as Ramaphorites.

But Ramaphosa is also a hypocrite.

His foreign speeches, rich in social justice and human rights jargon, and delivered most recently to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, are nothing but a distraction for voters from what is happening at home and a cover for his major aim – to extract whatever finance he can from rich nations and donors and so keep the family business, not the country,  going.

Ramaphosa is not known to have personally committed any heinous or murderous acts (unless you count his failure to hand over some cattle to a man who gave him a cash payment for them, or the killings at Marikana, which some among his enemies like to pin on him) so it is perhaps possible that others in the wider world may regard him as one of the good guys. Particularly if he is compared to someone such as Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi. (Iran is scheduled to take over the Chair of the Human Rights Council Social Forum in November. The resolution is being opposed by the UN Watch NGO, which previously succeeded in overturning the inclusion of Iran in the UN’s Women’s Rights Commission.)  

But does anyone really fall for Ramaphosa’s schtick? 

Surely a good proportion of the representatives of the governments and people he addresses are weary of the Africa-as-victim pitch for handouts and loans from a man who has helped beggar his own country?

There must be more women empowered in government, Ramaphosa insists self-righteously in his speech to the UN. (‘where are the women’ is the favourite and sometime only question his more ignorant MPs will pose to every group that presents to a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee). 

Yet most of the women Ramaphosa has chosen to empower with cabinet posts haven’t proved worthy of their promotions, and his party has so far (one can trace its origins to 1912) failed to elect a female leader. 

Ramaphosa talks of ‘ inequality’ and ‘poverty’, while  his  own government consistently  fails to pay over social  and education grants to the poor, young, disabled and old. Is this social justice? Really?

He ventures onto even more dubious ground by suggesting the lifting of  ‘sanctions against Zimbabwe’ because ‘they  are imposing untold suffering on ordinary Zimbabweans’ . 

He fails to illustrate how the limited, targeted sanctions in place against selected individuals are hurting the people on the ground. 

Not surprisingly he makes no mention of the blatant act of nepotism of the freshly elected Zimbabwean president in appointing his political newbie son as Finance Minister.

The concept of ‘family first at the trough’ is neither foreign nor anathema to Ramaphosa. 

The recent nullifying vote, by the African National Congress (ANC), and, let us not forget, the lone Pan Africanist Congress of Azania member of parliament, Mzwanele Nyhontso, against the Democratic Alliance’s bill to outlaw Cadre Deployment, has again shown our ANC rulers up as a powerful elite intent on bogarting all positions of power, business opportunities and the riches still available to be tapped in South Africa. 

They regard cadres as vital extended family members, who together with close relatives (spouses, children, sisters-in-law, nephews, and even the odd drunk uncle or other- side of the blanket offspring) must continue to be deployed to take on roles and jobs that will enrich the family as an enterprise, secure its power and along the way also benefit themselves. 

I am only 200 pages into Simon Sebag Montefiore’s 1263 page (not counting 37 pages of bibliography)  The World: A family history  when it occurs to me that, for those of us who’ve had ring side seats and been summoned to televised ‘family meetings’, Ramaphosa is nothing more nor less than the current patriarch of a  despotic, megalomaniacal ruling ‘family’,  sustained by a subservient ‘tribe’ of millions of dependent voting serfs comprised mostly of the poor, the uneducated and the unemployed.

The ANC would probably have had a chance of making it into the modern chapters of Montefiore’s epic history if it had been a little more adept at warfare and building things, and a little less protected by the world’s deification of Nelson Mandela.

The dust jacket blurb punts Montefiore’s book as the ‘story of humanity from prehistory to the present day told through the one thing all humans have in common, family’. 

Montefiore has as his starting point the story of a powerful woman who lived 4000 years ago and ends with a chapter on ‘Trump, Xi, the Saudis, Assad and Kim’.  He covers the ferment in southern Africa in the 19th century and the story of Shaka’s murderous rise to power, his military innovations, his clashes with other clans and his assassination. He tells how Moshoeshoe defeated the British, Afrikaners, Zulus and Ndebele and established a cattle-rich mountain kingdom. 

The families Montefiore includes in his sweep of history tend, he says, to be exceptional. Many of their methods of murder are particularly innovative and macabre.  But there are also the more common place methods, familiar to us, such as poison and assassinations. There is much lasciviousness, madness, and opulence. There is tragedy, pathos, plotting and more plotting, intrigue and betrayal. Sometimes heroism and bravery.  

Montefiore says today’s liberal democracies pride themselves on pure rational politics without clan, kin and connection and family matters much less. 

But we know at present we are not such a democracy and it is obvious we, the people, black white, poor or not, are not included in this particular family or much thought of people whom it has a responsibility to serve. 

Montefiore maintains that most politics remains as much about personality and patronage as it does about policy. He points out that in power families, danger comes from intimacy.

If the coming polls don’t beat the ANC down and no new, alluring leader arises perhaps a death blow or coup within the ANC family in the tradition of many other power families, may be the best we can hope for. 


Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.