By Professor Sipho Seepe
Concluding his tour of four African countries in Dakar, President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters that challenges faced by his administration in 2021 “combined to create just a catastrophic year”.
No truer words could have been said.
Ramaphosa’s own assessment builds on the three years wasted years of his reign.
The shift from Ramaphoria to Ramaruin has been dramatic. The biblically inclined prefer Ramageddon in reference to Armageddon – the term “used in a generic sense to refer to any end of world scenario”.
Ramaphosa was quick to point out: “Nonetheless, I’m still standing, and ready for the next round.”
William Sanderson-Meyer sums up Ramaphosa’s presidency as: “Ramaphosa may indeed be physically vertical but in every other way he’s been slip-sliding, like a jelly in an earthquake, in every direction. It’s difficult to think of a single promise that he’s delivered upon in all these four years.” (Cyril’s catastrophic year, The Citizen, December 11, 2021).
Ramaphosa’s ineptitude expresses itself most profoundly in the very areas he promised the nation would define his presidency – the economy, job creation, sorting out the mess in both Eskom and the South African Airways, corruption-busting and the handling of Covid-19 pandemic.
The economy has gone on a downward spiral. The outlook remains bleak. Unemployment has rocketed. Youth unemployment worsened to 74.7%. Eskom seems to be crumbling fast. Reports indicate that, in just one year, Eskom used 130% more fuel oil than anticipated for coal-fired power stations and “power stations tripped 711 times over the past year – 72% more than the previous year”.
For his part, Tony Leon, the former leader of the DA aptly describes Ramaphosa’s leadership on the economy as just “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, 2021).
If the outcome of the local government elections is anything to go by, it would seem that the electorate is no longer buying into Ramaphosa's big talk. Indeed, no amount of spin-doctoring by embedded journalists can save Ramaphosa.
An honest politician would hang up the gloves. Twenty-two months ago, Isolezwe, the biggest daily newspaper in KwaZulu-Natal, with a readership of 339 000 was blunt in its description of Ramaphosa’s performance when it proclaimed Iqiniso malingafihlwa, uhlulekile uRamaphosa (let the truth not be hidden, Ramaphosa has failed). This observation was made in February 2020 before the onset of Covid-19. The mishandling of the pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges.
The year started ominously with Brian Molefe’s damning testimony before the Zondo Commission. Molefe argued, under oath, that during his tenure as chairperson of the War Room established to resolve challenges facing Eskom, Ramaphosa may have used his position to do the bidding for multinational companies at the expense of both Eskom and the country.
Molefe charged that it was under Ramaphosa that "Eskom management and Glencore were in the process of subverting section 38(1)(c)(i) of the PFMA. The amount that Glencore wanted Eskom to pay for their original mistake of not doing due diligence was R8 billion". A simple denial by Ramaphosa is woefully inadequate.
Thanks to the misdirection by the Constitutional Court in a matter involving the former president Jacob Zuma, 2021 was a year in which the country suffered the worst social unrest since 1994. A squabble between the former president Zuma and the chairperson of the Chief Justice Raymond Zondo Commission on the State of Capture, acting was dishonestly turned into a constitutional matter. Throwing the rule book out, Justice Zondo ignored the Commission Act which established the very commission he chaired.
The Commissions Act of 1947 is clear regarding how a refusal without just cause should be handled. Section 6. (1) “Any person summoned to attend … who, without sufficient cause (the onus of proof whereof shall rest upon him) fails to attend ... shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
In this case Zuma had just and sufficient cause. Zuma went as far as lodging an appeal to review Zondo’s refusal to recuse himself. Zondo and the Constitutional Court chose to ignore Zuma’s review application. As a result, hundreds of South African lives would not have been lost.
The July social unrest hogged media headlines across the world featuring in the front pages of the Time Magazines, New York Times and The Washington Post. The unrest poignantly exposed the failure of the South African democratic experiment. The Washington Post (July 19, 2021) led the charge by saying that South Africa’s riots are a warning to the world.
The paper noted: "The celebrated ’rainbow nation' is the global poster child of economic inequality, where deep poverty sits in the shadow of astronomical wealth. What happened in South Africa is what happens when the gross inequality that shapes a whole society boils over … Major highways were blocked, trucks burned, shops and even schools and medical offices ransacked. The army was deployed, but the upheaval still wreaked more than $1 billion in damage and led to scores being killed amid stampedes and clashes with police and vigilantes. Even as the dust settles, there’s the prospect of further pain. Hunger and food shortages in some areas were a problem before the riots — thanks, in part, to coronavirus lockdowns as the Delta variant surges through the country — but now risk being exacerbated by the havoc."
Instead of addressing the country’s structural challenges, the Ramaphosa government chose the easy way out – looking for scapegoats. As the year draws to a close, the latest judgment by the Gauteng High Court suggests that no lesson has been learnt.
2021 will go down in history as the year in which the judiciary proved itself to be composed of individuals who are spiteful, egoistic and vindictive. The remarks by Ziyad Motala, Professor of Law at the Howard School Washington, about the Constitutional Court are worth repeating. In his article “What has gone wrong with our Constitutional Court?” (Sunday Times, August 19 2021) Motala correctly argues that recent judgments of the Constitutional Court “smack of personal predilections and politicking ... [and] we have been inattentive to the performance and at times sloppy jurisprudence emanating from our highest court … Of late, some important court decisions represent a prattle of nonsense leading to whispers that our apex court at times projects itself as a junior moot court bench”.
Pointing to the prevalence of gross incompetence afflicting the judiciary Motala concludes ominously that “making up of stuff from thin air based on the personal predilections of the judges, like the Constitutional Court is haemorrhaging into lower court decisions”.
On the political front, 2021 marked the inevitable end of the ANC as we know it. Under the pretext of implementing one of the party’s conference resolutions, the National Executive Committee of the ANC took a decision that “members who have been charged with corruption or other serious crimes must step aside within 30 days, failing which they should be suspended”.
For some, this opened an opportunity for those deployed in government to use state organs to settle political and personal scores. Far from contributing to the ANC’s renewal project, the decision has had a chilling effect. Professor Chris Malikane, of the University of Witwatersrand, correctly observed that “charging is a state action .. .some will not be charged and others will be charged. Those that are not charged may be charged after 30 days. [This opens] a way for classic abuse of the state to pursue a political agenda in the ANC … the prosecutors are now in the most powerful position to decide who becomes ANC leader and not the branches”.
For the first time in its history the ANC suspended its secretary-general. The constitutional provision that all are presumed innocent until proven otherwise had become politically inconvenient. The suspension weakened the office responsible for marshalling the necessary forces in an election year. As if that was not enough, the party failed to pay its office workers. This is a case of a party scoring its own goal. This sent a wrong message to the electorate. If a party fails to honour the contract that it has with its own office workers who also happen to be comrades, how can it expect the electorate to trust it?
Secondly, the failure by the Ramaphosa benefactors to come to the assistance of these workers only served to cement the view that these funders have only come to the party to ensure its speedy demise. They have shown willingness to fork out a R1bn for Ramaphosa but have no money to fork out a few millions for the ANC workers. That on its own should not come as a surprise since some of the funders include those who have publicly declared themselves as opponents of ANC.
The current leadership has been too preoccupied in protecting white monopoly capital to the extent that it has been disdainful of ordinary people. This has transmogrified the ANC into a party that is disdainful of workers to the extent that it has no qualms to flagrantly violate workers’ basic conditions of employment.
The silence and endorsement of the party by Cosatu to this ignominy adds insult to the injury. If truth be told, both ANC and Cosatu have reduced themselves to be nothing more than the modern-day security guards of white monopoly capital.
In the end, the ANC got its just deserts.
*Seepe is deputy vice-chancellor, Institutional Support at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
** The views expressed here may not be that of IOL.