Opinion / 29 December 2019, 11:15am / Bongani Hans
As the year closes on Cyril Ramaphosa’s damp performance as president of South Africa, the lowlight is his telling international investors that the country was recovering from his predecessor, Jacob Zuma’s “nine wasted years”.
Eskom’s load shedding, which this month reached an unprecedented Stage 6 level, was another incident that put an end to “Ramaphoria” (a PR exercise aimed at boosting his support), said political analysts.
He received a lot of backlash after he told delegates of the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Zuma’s term of office had been “a wasted nine years”. He had been Zuma’s deputy during that time, making him the second-most powerful person in the country. Ramaphosa had also held portfolios such as chair of the deployment committee, head of government business and head of the committee into state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
Political analyst Thabani Khumalo described the statement, which Ramaphosa later retracted, as being reckless and dishonest.
“He was not honest, in fact he was just politicking as that is how politics works. He was part of that chaos, but the fact that he admitted (the past mistakes) and came forward to say ‘yes, those nine years were wasted, I am prepared to take this country into the new dawn’, we have to give him the whole space and support,” said Khumalo.
Those who differed with Ramaphosa said they were not nine wasted years as two new universities - the University of Mpumalanga, and Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape - were built during Zuma’s term of office.
This year, Ramaphosa has been on a collision course with King Goodwill Zwelithini who blamed him for orchestrating a plan to destroy the Ingonyama Trust, which administers 2.9 million ha of KwaZulu-Natal rural land on behalf of the Zulu Kingdom.
The presidential advisory panel on land reform and agriculture, which conducted an investigation into land, recommended that the Trust either be reviewed or scrapped.
The king accused those who wanted the Ingonyama Trust Act repealed of being driven by “Zuluphobia” and hell-bent on destroying the Zulu nation.
“I wanted to see if he was not disrespecting me because I have my own easy way of dealing with those who are disrespecting me,” the king told his subjects during a Reed Dance ceremony at his Enyokeni Palace at Nongoma, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, in September.
“I wrote to him and I invited him to talk to the Zulu nation at a stadium and tell them what he intends to do with your land.”
Ramaphosa was elected ANC president in December 2017. He took over as president after the party’s victory in that year’s May general elections.
Some critics have accused the Ramaphosa administration of delaying the amendment to the Constitution which aims to expropriate land without compensation.
There has also been criticism of the unbundling of Eskom into three entities, a move seen by critics as an attempt to privatise the power utility.
Early this month, financially unstable SAA was placed under business rescue for the first time in its history.
Khumalo said Ramaphosa’s administration had not been a walk in the park as he failed to achieve most of his goals.
“The nation was expecting more from President Ramaphosa. Unfortunately, he seems to be moving slowly because of the post-Zuma problems which forced him to move slowly,” said Khumalo.
He said the New Dawn, the concept Ramaphosa came up with in a promise to renew the country’s economy and fight corruption, had not been realised. And the National Prosecuting Authority had not been seen dealing decisively with corruption.
“You would have expected that by now most senior guys would be heading towards an orange uniform (prison), but that isn’t happening.”
Khumalo said Ramaphosa has not been able to deal with the rising levels of unemployment the weak rand and the troubled economy.
“Within the ANC, we still see some leaders with clouds hanging over their heads and rearing their ugly heads. And you start asking where this New Dawn is when the guys, who have been controversial over the past 10 years, are still given responsibilities within the government.
“We still see people whom the nation perceived as enemies of his Dawn enjoying the space within the ANC.”
Ramaphosa’s reputation was also tainted this year when the news broke that his 2017 CR 17 ANC internal campaign had been bankrolled by a R500 000 donation from controversial company Bosasa.
His son, Andile Ramaphosa, also allegedly received a payment of R2 million from the company’s chief executive Gavin Watson, who died in a car accident near OR Tambo International Airport in August.
However, Khumalo said there was hope in Ramaphosa’s administration as he was showing a willingness to deal with challenges facing state-owned SOEs.
“We also saw the issue of Eskom, when he cut his visit to Egypt short and came back to face the problems head on.
“He has managed to show leadership skills and that he was prepared to face problems head on.”
Khumalo also praised Ramaphosa as having shown skills of communicating with the public during difficult times.
“We saw during the xenophobic problems that he decided not to go to the UN General Assembly meeting.”
Another political analyst, Protas Madlala, said the president’s investment campaign, which he launched this year with the aim of attracting R1.2 trillion in new investment within five years, was hard hit by a lack of energy as a result of Eskom.
“He appointed investment ambassadors to go overseas looking for investors and while overseas campaigning, he had to come back home because of the electricity problems.
“The lack of economic growth is hitting hard because other countries, which have smaller economies than ours, such as Egypt and Malaysia, keep growing at a rate of 6%,” said Madlala.
He said the SOEs collapsed under Ramaphosa’s watch, which was an embarrassment.
“It is difficult because his hands are tied by unions who are saying ‘you cannot touch workers’.
“In countries where the economy is growing, the unions are not this strong.”
Madlala, who said he did not see anything positive emerge from Ramaphosa’s administration, said Ramaphosa was trying his best “but things have become so bad”.
“Corruption is being uncovered by commissions (including Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s state capture commission) but no-one is being arrested. But I don’t blame him because he is trying his best.”
Madlala said Ramaphosa’s achievements were because of Zuma’s initiatives.
“He is even being blamed for Zuma’s mistakes.”
He said that it was unfair to blame Ramaphosa for mistakes, which happened while he was the deputy president, as he effectively had no powers to oppose Zuma.
“We can blame him because he was the deputy, but presidents are directors behind the scene.
“You are a deputy at the mercy of the president and you cannot oppose your bosses because your job is going to be on the line,” said Madlala.
Most recently, Ramaphosa has been praised by opposition parties such as the EFF and the United Democratic Movement for the release of AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo and #FeesMustFall activist Kanya Cekeshe from prison.
Ramaphosa’s 2019 highlights and lowlights
Ramaphosa blamed Zuma’s nine years of administration of being wasted.
King Goodwill Zwelithini clashed with Ramaphosa over the Ingonyama Trust Board.
News broke that Ramaphosa had received R500 000 for his CR17 ANC campaign.
In March, Ramaphosa launched the Business Leadership South Africa Connect and SA Small Medium Enterprise Chief Executive Officers Fund Circle.
This month, Ramaphosa announced the granting of a special remission of sentences to 4 647 prisoners, which saw AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo and #FeesMustFall activist Kanya Cekeshe being released from prison.