Cyril Ramaphosa: It’s time to protect the fragile gains of our democracy

2017-12-23 18:48

The ascendance of Cyril Ramaphosa to the ANC Presidency gives ANC a rare and wonderful opportunity to renew its strength.

As ANC members, we do not expect him to be a super-president.

What we want is a president who embodies our proud values, of honesty, integrity, commitment, sacrifice, and Batho Pele (people first) among others.

If in the next five years the economy does not grow with the high percentages we need, if we don’t create the millions of jobs to lift our people out of poverty, and if we don’t deepen social cohesion among the diverse sections of our people, it should not be because we did not do our best, with our best, or were just self-destructive.

The presidency of Jacob Zuma has shown us just how “things could fall apart very quickly” when our leaders are incompetent and inept, and do not protect the little gains of our democracy.

Under President Zuma, South Africa allowed itself to lose its fragile gains of a decade and a half.

In the first 15 years, South Africa invested massively on key socio-economic growth drivers in an attempt to transform the country into a more stable, modern, and prosperous country.

More importantly, the governing party, the ANC, understood that government is more than just providing tangible things. It is also about managing the country's mood and disposition.

Under President Zuma and the now disbanded national executive committee (NEC), all-important gains were at risk as they allowed and many times directly caused the economy to deteriorate.

In a middle income country, where basic provisions of social programmes are relatively good and security for citizens is guaranteed by the state, the next key responsibility of government becomes the economy.

On this responsibility, the presidency of Jacob Zuma failed dismally.

The Zuma presidency was supposed to effectively use monetary policy and fiscal policy to influence economic performance and help the economy achieve growth, full employment, and price stability.

Despite our Reserve Bank behaving like a helpless child, their monetary policy is supposed to be used to control the money supply and interest rates with the intent purpose of improving economic performance.

Under President Zuma we got reckless with our fiscal policy and went into a paralysis.

Money that was meant for state projects and community development was redirected to personal vanities of the powerful.

We cannot continue like this moving forward. It’s time to get our house in order.

Under President Zuma we have had a leadership that lacks accountability and struggles to subject itself to democratic institutions, destroying whatever economic prospects we potentially had.

Over the period, the ANC has lost what Xavier Marquez called a self-enforcing equilibrium.

Self-enforcing equilibrium means ANC leaders and members, including the president, are supposed to find supporting democratic culture in the organisations and democratic institutions in the country to be their “best response” to the actions of everyone else in light of their own interests.

Instead, under President Zuma, the ANC has experienced a breakdown of democratic culture.

Once an organisation is hamstrung by those in power, who only open democracy in so far as it helps them achieve certain results but close it when it does not, the organisation soon reaches a paralysis.

There is a feeling that the results of this conference have broken that culture, however only because powerful forces played one another.

But power is shifting and does not stay in one place for long and the last ditch in a fight to hold on to power is usually a flirtation with unorthodox, even radical, political experiments.

Radical economic transformation was therefore the last ditch to hold on to power, by agitating the poor and black people at large.

This failed.

There is a lot of work that Cyril Ramaphosa and the new leadership collective needs to do.

It’s no secret that Zuma has weakened our democratic institutions, both in the ANC and in the country, and has gone to recruit a cabal of henchmen that work unceasingly to discredit the very institutions that can act to expose the wrongdoing of him and his cronies.

Their attack on the media, judiciary and our business, all in the name of defending one man, has led to a leadership cult. This needs to be reversed sooner rather than later.

Still, although Zuma has been a ring leader in all the devastation of our organisation and country, leaders need allies to destroy a democracy.

The last NEC has fulfilled that role well. Their continued ANC support for Zuma’s decisions and his personal lapses means the NEC is as guilty as Zuma in the destruction of our democracy.

The NEC stood by as President Zuma frustrated the political careers of those that did not support his destructions, using anti-democratic means to secure his hold on power.

When the president starts firing those who would challenge his reckless decisions, and goes further to use intimidating tactics to those who are too far for him to frustrate through the security apparatus, then the country is finished.

President Zuma’s enduring success in the ANC however, despite his devastating presidency, reveals a frightening weakness in our democratic processes.

What then can Ramaphosa do to turn all this around?

There are certain things that are expected from any head of state which do not need to be crafted in a constitution or policy document.

A president is expected to be exemplary in behaviour and in deed. He is expected to speak and carry himself with dignity, he is expected to respect the independence of law enforcement, and, at all material times, he is expected to speak the truth – these are all normal expectations, not laws.

It is within such reverence that presidents are expected to exercise their prerogatives.

The accumulation of prerogatives empowered Zuma over the last 10 years to do terrifying things.

We hope Ramaphosa will elevate the presidency and the organisation, just as our forefathers did.

Diko is ANC Western Cape Media Liaison Officer
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March 17 2019