Cyril isn't a Goodie, but he's better than the Baddies. Deal with it
State capture, Bosasa, oh dear. It's all so murky. Perhaps we need a one-off free pass for the president and his lieutenants
Cyril Ramaphosa’s fumbling response to the Bosasa donation scandal has harmed his reputation. Yes indeedy, that R500,000 has really tarnished the aura of the human ball-gag who stood smiling and nodding while his party facilitated the theft of hundreds of billions of rand.
I know. We’re not supposed to mention Ramaphosa’s impotence – or negligence – regarding state capture. Not any more. Not when the villains are being fired or damned by commissions. Because if you’re not a villain, you must be a hero. If you’re not bad, you must be good, right?
Yes, we do love our binary hyperboles. We’re the best country in the world! We’re the worst! Mandela was the messiah! Mandela was a sellout! Property rights are inviolable! The state must own all land!
I don’t know why we are so easily seduced by these extremes but it certainly keeps politicians in clover. Julius Malema, for example, has mastered the art of hedging his political currency and benefiting from being regarded as both an avenging angel and the antichrist. He is, of course, neither. He’s not good. He’s not evil. He’s just a politician, standing in front of a huge pile of money, asking it to love him.
Over the weekend you could almost hear the grinding, clanking noises of binary-loving South Africans trying to incorporate Bosasa’s tainted money into their view of Ramaphosa as a Goodie fighting Baddies.
This is, of course, naive. It was Ramaphosa who secured Jacob Zuma’s position at Mangaung in 2012, agreeing to serve as the deputy president of a mafia organisation that was already in the pocket of the Guptas. In 2015 he was resolute in his defence of the indefensible, standing shoulder to shoulder with his comrades in giving the finger to SA by voting against Zuma having to pay back any money for Nkandla. No, Cyril the Human Ball-Gag is not a Goodie.
But that doesn’t matter. Because right now we don’t need a Goodie. We just need someone who has executive power and who is less bad than the worst of the Baddies.
This feels like an unpalatable compromise. It still feels right to demand complete honesty from our leaders. But that’s not where we are, or who we are. We’re a hot mess. And you don’t get out of bad situations by hoping for good outcomes. You get out by making the least bad choices.
It seems almost laughably bizarre but we have been pushed into a position whereby a vote for ethical, accountable government in 2019’s election is potentially disastrous for the country. If Ramaphosa gets an underwhelming mandate, his enemies will have grounds to recall him and replace him with someone who can restart the looting. If the ANC drops below 50%, it will form a coalition government with the EFF.
This poses the awful question to supporters of the DA, IFP and other smaller parties: what if voting with your conscience will guarantee that Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan are fired, or that Julius Malema becomes deputy president and the likes of Floyd Shivambu become cabinet ministers? Like I said: a hot mess.
Of course, this presupposes that the still-rotten ANC won’t recall Ramaphosa even if he delivers them a big win. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it – with our passports and as many of our possessions as we can strap to the car roof.
No, for the next five years Ramaphosa is the only game in town.
And since it’s all become a little bit absurd, I’d like to end by making a suggestion that might keep Ramaphosa and his less-bad-than-the-Baddies faction in that game.
A corruption jubilee. A one-off, never-to-be-repeated free pass for the president and his lieutenants, dependent on a full confession.
Again, I know that this sounds mad. We should be punishing corruption, not writing it off. But what if that was the only way to save ourselves from another 20 years of looting and then total collapse or war?
It seems logical to suspect that Ramaphosa’s enemies in the ANC and EFF have something on him: in those fighting pits, everyone seems to have something on everyone, and careers thrive or end based not on one’s ability but on how many files one has about other people’s skeletons.
The only way a compromised Ramaphosa and Gordhan will be free to drag this place back from the brink is to explode all that ammunition. Tell us everything. Who they met. What they knew. Open the files. Exhume the skeletons. Evaporate the power of the blackmailers and be free to concentrate on dragging us out of this dumpster fire.
Wildly unlikely, I know. But these are strange days, and stranger things have happened.