The public spectacle of President Cyril Ramaphosa fumbling to wear a mask, following one of the mind-numbing “family meetings”, best sums up the ineptitude of his administration.
In a strange twist of fate, Ramaphosa’s ineptitude expresses itself most profoundly in the very areas he promised the nation would define his Presidency. The areas include the economy, job creation, sorting out the mess in Eskom and SAA and busting corruption, as well as how Covid-19 pandemic is being handled.
Ramaphosa has failed on every front. The economy has gone on a downward spiral. The outlook remains bleak. Unemployment has rocketed. Youth unemployment worsened, at 74.7%. Evidently, the promise of a million paid internships by last year was just a pipe dream.
The situation is no better on the energy front. Eskom seems to be crumbling fast. Reports indicate that in just a year, Eskom used 130% more fuel oil than anticipated for coal-fired power stations. Under the current leadership, “power stations tripped 711 times over the past year – 72% more than the previous year”.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, it was Ramaphosa who, when given the task of turning around Eskom’s fortune back in 2015, promised that in “another 18 months to two years, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened”.
A fact-based assessment of Ramaphosa’s performance was provided by Tony Leon, the former DA leader. Leon argued that the “president loves big numbers and big talk but it’s all fantasy economics… (and despite) the fanciful promises, on Cyril Ramaphosa’s watch debt service costs and public service wage bill now gobble up 79c of every tax rand.” (Business Day May 27 this year).
The R500 billion relief fund, intended to combat the spread of Covid-19 and offset dire economic losses resulting from lockdown, is mired in allegations of fraud and corruption.
Isolezwe, the biggest daily newspaper in KwaZulu-Natal, with a readership of 339 000, is as blunt as one can get in its description of Ramaphosa’s performance when it proclaimed Iqiniso malingafihlwa, uhlulekile uRamaphosa (Let the truth not be hidden, Ramaphosa has failed). The observation was made in February last year, before the onset of Covid-19 on our shores. In other words, Covid-19 should not be used as an alibi. The mishandling of the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges.
South Africa’s handling of the pandemic has been described as scandalous, unforgivable and disgraceful. Not mincing his words, Wits University Professor Shabir Madhi was quoted recently that South Africa has “fallen short dramatically when it comes to the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines. That has been just an absolute disaster.”
Despite having the most advanced infrastructure, South Africa has been the worst virus-hit country on the continent, having registered the threshold of 60 000 coronavirus deaths.
Just three months ago, South Africa had vaccinated just 0.3% of its population, with 183 000 jabs administered. This contrasts sharply with the UK which was vaccinating almost 900 000 people in a day. What is scandalous is the fact that, 16 months following the onset of the pandemic, the country has vaccinated a measly 0.8% of its population.
While Ramaphosa has been engaged in public relations exercises of blaming rich countries of hoarding the vaccines, a country such as Cuba, with a population of 11 million, people has developed five Covid-19 vaccine candidates. Two million have been immunised. Instead of focusing on developing our own vaccines, we have resorted to outsourcing the responsibility to others. We have mastered the art of begging. When this does not work, we behave as if we are entitled to that which we have not produced.
The country’s performance, compared to its neighbours, is equally embarrassing. As reported elsewhere, “whereas South Africa has delivered only 1.6 vaccines per 100 people, Namibia has delivered twice this rate, and Botswana and Zimbabwe more than three times this rate. South Africa accounts for 43% of confirmed Covid-19 deaths but only 3% of vaccinations in Africa”. In other words, whichever way you look at it, we are not doing well.
One would have expected that with such demonstrable failure on all fronts, Ramaphosa would be advised to appear in the media less, until things improve. It seems that he is either misadvised or under the illusion that the country’s problems can be resolved via public relations gimmicks. His penchant for the podium did him a disfavour recently when someone allegedly stole his iPad. The episode was revealing. Ramaphosa was speechless. He had to sit down. He couldn’t even bring himself to mumble a few words. The abiding impression is that the country is led by a person who is clueless and has no thought of his own.
It is possible that Ramaphosa comes from Winston Churchill’s school of thought which holds the view that “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. Somehow, Ramaphosa has become arguably immune to his failures.
* Professor Sipho P Seepe is deputy vice-chancellor, Institutional Support at the University of Zululand.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.