Ramaphosa plays cards close to chest
SONA 2018 was delivered successfully. The responses from the opposition parties were entertained and we sat through a very calculated and sober reply from President Cyril Ramaphosa. The Budget 2018 speech was delivered by a buoyant minister who held his own. We shuttle through the week of the country’s president to see what it meant.
In a whirlwind of claims with Mandela-epoch euphoria as the backdrop, a new dawn, as we are told, sees President Ramaphosa in his daily fitness walk captured along the Sea Point promenade, and later on his Gugulethu to Athlone walk. One of his first public addresses since his inauguration was at the Armed Forces Interfaith Service held in Kimberley.
Ramaphosa, as Commander of the Army, met with General Solly Shoke last week and obtained a firm commitment that the SANDF will not involve itself in any political battles. We were told by Ramaphosa that the SANDF is committed to serving the country as led by whoever was democratically elected as president. This initial meeting and subsequent attending of the interfaith service was significant since it aimed to confirm the SANDF is under a new commander.
Subsequent to this, we heard of a planned cocktail dinner hosted by the president in honour of the former president Zuma, the cabinet and senior staff. One cannot help but see the work of Rolls Royce public relations that has the Ramaphosa Presidency ticking all the boxes. He appears to have endeared himself to a variety of conflicting constituencies in his short term of a week in office. The Sea Point Promenade saw him embraced by those that apartheid extended a classification of white for an identity.
Right here some asked when last have you seen an ANC and SA president so embraced by whites, since Mandela? Naturally, the Sea Point walk had, as expected in SA, a backlash, which in all probability gave birth to the afterthought of a Gugulethu to Athlone walk.
The opposition, united in its endless pursuit of removing former president Zuma, appeared to have lost all necessary sense to realise what the true role of opposition means in a democracy. Ramaphosa, in his charm offensive, has in a sense disarmed them for now and they appear gobsmacked. We will have to wait and see how long this last, but for now it’s safe to conclude the opposition is mollified.
In his reply to their Sona input, he spared them no space to their joint accountability and responsibility to build a better South Africa. On Marikana, the president was categorical: he is willing to lend a hand to assist victims in what he unequivocally admits remains the darkest moment in democracy. He offered to do his part beyond the Farlam Commission findings, reaching out to the victims and those affected. Again, this is a necessary gesture. We must wait and see how it will be received and what it means since the EFF was threatening a court case against Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa’s reply to the Sona debates was another sign of him having wrestled control away from the opposition. He made it clear to them that they will not direct or determine his intended cabinet reshuffling. He equally rebuked them for the vilification and depersonalising members of the executive.
Ramaphosa was also unequivocal on land expropriation as a policy implementation that will be pursued. He justified this by citing his early morning chat with a Mr Cedric Alberts who now resides in Athlone but was in 1969 forcefully removed from District Six by the apartheid regime.
In using the plight of this individual who hitherto has no place of his own but is still renting, he attempted to show the DA and Freedom Front the reality of our history that warrants redress.
On white young people being sidelined, he expressed the view that opportunities should not be determined by the colour of one’s skin. This was in some circles interpreted as BEE and Affirmative Action having their collective days numbered.
He reminded all that the average unemployment for blacks is at 30% when that same reality for whites is 7%. Whites, therefore, remain the most empowered in corporate leadership and it is also male-driven. With this Ramaphosa showed where the priority of his administration in focus will be.
Ramaphosa defended his litany of intended social compacts, commissions, summits, task teams and discussion groups for which some of us cautioned him in not outsourcing his presidency.
His rationale for these, he remonstrated, is anchored in what he deems a consultative government.
He found an appropriate slogan of - “nothing for the people without the people”. While consultation is always welcomed, and the idea of an economic advisory team is good, it may mean that until the establishment of this team, and its exhaustive deliberations, economic policy direction will be unclear.
Ramaphosa, upon being accused by the EFF of having no plan, was quick to reply, there is a plan and that plan is the National Development Plan (NDP). He committed his presidency to the plan that his predecessor gave birth to and thus confirmed the important aspect of continuity. The NDP may have many critiques, yet it is the first plan of a unified South Africa ever produced. In the run-up to Sona 2018 and the subsequent Budget speech, many were baying for the blood of Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, saying he should not present the Budget. Ramaphosa was wise enough not to bring unnecessary instability in this ministry and opted to keep Gigaba to deliver his Budget speech.
Equally, Gigaba shifted loyalties to the new president, which is to be expected. We can hardly criticise them for this, politics includes making the right choices for self- preservation and to embrace a new era. We are not sure if Gigaba will hold his job until 2019 but, for now, he is the de-facto minister of treasury.
Ramaphosa has indicated his keenness to reconfigure his cabinet. Just for reducing the size of the cabinet Ramaphosa will score brownie points, and while it may not even remotely deal with the current deficit, it is a symbolic gesture that underscores the Ramaphosa presidency so far.
Despite a slew of conflicting lists going around, the jury is out as to when Ramaphosa will announce his new cabinet. He has been pressurised from diverse quarters, almost hounded to announce his new cabinet. Yet he plays his cards close to his chest.
On Tuesday night, Ramaphosa hosted Zuma, the cabinet and senior staff, affording them an opportunity to say their goodbyes, perhaps the major symbolic gesture for the party. This gesture, needless to say, was both criticised and celebrated. Some suggested it was politically expedient and too early to stage an honouring a week after the former president was asked to resign. Others felt it was an important move since it augurs with the symbolism of a new dawn.
Amid the conflicting interpretations of what this may mean - I hold it was important for its symbolism if nothing else. Zuma also showed magnanimity in honouring the invitation. Ramaphosa thus managed to close a presidential chapter in a unique moment seldom seen in democracy, despite the awkward reality of turbulence, in particular in the KZN and Free State branches who have registered their discomfort with the NEC’s decision.
* Ramalaine is a political commentator, writer and chairperson of the TMOSA Foundation.
The Sunday Independent