Take me to your leader, whoever that may be!
DAILY FRIEND / 03 MAY 2020 - 11.23 / SARA GON
President Cyril Ramaphosa, according to recent surveys, enjoys a 67% approval rating at this time of Covid-19.
Ramaphosa as leader is an illusion. This illusion is created through a persona that appears before the nation (late every time), once a week to remind us how the virus works and what the government is doing valiantly to combat it.
The set is suitably formal for a presidential appearance and Ramaphosa has the perfect appearance: he is comfortingly bear-like, almost huggable, his voice is calm and measured, and, in dulcet tones, he reads diligently what appears on the teleprompter. He doesn’t have to answer questions afterwards.
This is not leadership. Ramaphosa is the front man for the African National Congress (ANC) as president of South Africa. Pundits are wrong about Ramaphosa being caught between the Zuma-ites and the Loony Left, and that if he could just find the space, he could break out and lead us to the reforms he knows the country so desperately needs.
Wrong! Ramaphosa said the relaxation of the lockdown to Level Four included the sale of cigarettes. The cigarette industry withdrew a court application on this basis. But the ‘Smokers’ Gauleiter’, Minister of Co-operative Governance – a misnomer if ever there was one – Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, persuaded her colleagues to support the 2 000 representations that cigarettes should remain banned. There are over 11 million smokers.
Peter Bruce (surprise!) said on 19 April ‘…Ramaphosa cannot balance the health and economic sides of the dilemma he is in. And in the face of his indecision… the rats are out to play. Much, but not all, of it revolves around the lockdown bans on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol. With the rest of the world in lockdown, our bans are unique. They are the work, primarily, of three ministers – Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who we know has a thing about smoking and drinking, Bheki Cele, who prefers policing a country where no-one can move, and Ebrahim Patel, who loathes big business anyway.’
‘Loosening’ the lockdown to Level Four changes nothing. Minister Patel, who should be getting the economy working again, continues the ban on unfettered e-commerce. The reason? Lord have mercy! It’s because it ‘would be construed as “unfair competition”. If we open up any one category, let’s say e-commerce, unavoidably there’s enormous pressure to do the same for physical stores, for spaza shops, for informal traders, so there is fair competition.’ The major retailers weren’t shut down for unfair competition against spaza shops.
In a rare display of exasperation, Michael Avery, the presenter of Classic FM’s business show, noted that no one in government had ever run a business let alone started one.
Gareth Cliff on ‘The Burning Platform’ (30 April) describes Patel as “a f..ing communist”, which probably explains why our trades and industries are on life support. As economist Friedrich Hayek said, ‘if a socialist understood economics he wouldn’t be a socialist.’
The boorish bullying of police minister Bheki Cele and the clownish breaches of lockdown social distancing requirements by transport minister Fikile Mbalula are now legion.
Minister of tourism Mmamloko Kubayi-Ngubane insisted that applications to the relief fund available to suffering businesses would be considered in strict accordance with the industry’s B-BBEE charter. (The North Gauteng High Court agreed with her, but that’s for another article.)
Then, just to add injury to injury, the Minister for Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, confirmed in Parliament on 28 April in response to a question by the Democratic Alliance (DA) that B-BBEE would be applied to all applications to government’s SMME Debt Relief Fund.
The DA said Ntshavheni aggressively specified that ‘BBEE is a fundamental requirement for transforming the economy of this country. We cannot choose as and when we use it.’
The DA complained that her admission was at odds with her previous utterances. When the first lockdown was announced, a leaked document clearly indicated that B-BBEE criteria would be used to determine the beneficiaries of relief funding. The DA intervened and the government moved to assure South Africa that all applications would be treated on an equal basis, regardless of race.
The DA called the ANC government morally bankrupt for seeking to discriminate and exclude any individual from accessing relief during a crisis.
As of 29 April, the DA planned to take the Minister to court on the issue. Maybe they’ll have better luck in the Western Cape High Court.
All the while our Dear Leader is MIA. There are three possible reasons for this: he doesn’t have the power to override this lunacy; he agrees with what’s being done; and/or he’s a fanatic consensus-seeker and the majority shall prevail. Some people who sat on company boards with him said he always voted with the majority.
Stephen Grootes says that from now on the government’s decisions will only become more nuanced and complicated. Ramaphosa’s popularity may not survive this.
Mandy Wiener‘s psychologist friend said that ‘Stockholm Syndrome is a trauma response,’ noting that we are all experiencing a degree of trauma.
‘There’s definitely a feeling, a notion, of the collective and we have been awaiting instructions from this paternalistic figure in the form of Cyril, so in a way there has been a trauma and we have regressed to a situation where we don’t have to make decisions for ourselves.’
It’s unlikely, however, that South Africans will remain meek and compliant when faced with hunger and irrationality.
Steven Friedman (surprise, surprise!) is correct in saying that ‘Covid-19 is meant to have changed everything. One thing it has not touched at all is this country’s obsession with “leadership”.’ He points out that many government heads have enjoyed a boost in the polls, even when they haven’t seemed that good at handling the crisis. Zuma led the fight on Aids but not because of Zuma’s ‘leadership’; it was about the politics of the time, a break from the Aids-denialism of the Mbeki years, and the result was a strong campaign led by the department of health, says Friedman.
Ramaphosa repeatedly ‘acknowledges that the measures he announces are not his alone. They are the work of a national command council, the decisions of a government, not an individual.’
Ramaphosa has not acted against the excesses of Cele or Mbalula. He hasn’t suspended the legalised racism of ANC empowerment edicts. But he did act decisively over Minister of Communications and Telecommunications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. The Minister tweeted a picture at lunch at the home of former Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana.
Ramaphosa leapt into action to suspend her (the first ever suspension in 26 years). Pity it mattered so little in the overall scheme of things.
Perhaps Ramaphosa can go on television next week to explain why cigarettes cannot be sold, why exercise may only be done between 06h00 and 09h00, and why we must come together to fight this pandemic but not benefit from its relief funds?
Maybe he will show South Africans the respect they deserve, even if Dlamini-Zuma doesn’t.
Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER