We want to believe Cyril is safe, but our fears are not unfounded
There are sound arguments as to why he'll remain in office, but I still believe in the ANC’s supernatural ability to perform miracles of pure destruction
“The ANC is pained immensely by stories of corruption,” Cyril Ramaphosa told the New York Times. “We are highly conscious of the damage that corruption does to a party and a country ... But with some cases maybe we have made the approach too legalistic, and maybe that approach needs to be reassessed ... And that’s all I have to say about that.”
The final sentence revealed a man staggering under intense pressure, but otherwise it was Ramaphosa in a nutshell, pouring yet more oil on oil-slicked waters, telling us that corruption is bad, even shocking, but that prosecutions have to be handled carefully.
One can rail against a president who seems slow to act against looters but one can’t doubt the pragmatism in such a statement: Ramaphosa can’t wield power if he no longer has it, and the fastest way for him to lose it is to start publicly hunting the apex predators who stalk the fetid, festering corridors of Luthuli House.
In other words, it was Peak Ramaphosa, bobbing and weaving to keep up with unfolding of current events.
Well, except for one small detail. Ramaphosa wasn’t talking about current events. That quote is from 1996.
I didn’t dig it up to disparage Ramaposa, even though it does seem a little odd that he remains shocked by ANC corruption despite worrying about it for almost a quarter of a century. Rather, I mention it to defend those who share what must be his greatest fear: recall.
In recent weeks, many of us who worry that Ramaphosa will be dragged back into the swamp after May 8 have been told that our fears are unfounded. Academic Steven Friedman has outlined in clear, dispassionate detail why a post-election recall is more or less impossible given how the ANC works. Julius Malema, too, has announced that Ramaphosa will be recalled, which, given Malema’s track record as a soothsayer, more or less guarantees Ramaphosa two uncontested terms.
There are sound, legal, convincing arguments being made as to why Ramaphosa will remain in office.
The trouble is, I don’t care.
I don’t doubt Professor Friedman’s expertise. I don’t even doubt Ramaphosa’s good intentions. But at this point, after the past decade, facts about party processes look wretchedly feeble when compared with our collective lived experience of what’s possible and what isn’t.
After all, it seemed impossible, in 1994, that the party of Nelson Mandela would set up a patronage network to steal on an industrial scale from the people it liberated. It seemed impossible that the corruption Ramaphosa bemoaned in 1996 would end up looking like child’s play next to the billions looted over the next two decades. It seemed impossible that the same party that helped establish the Constitutional Court would methodically set about undermining similar institutions.When Eskom was named the Financial Times Power Company of the Year at the 2001 Global Energy Awards, it seemed impossible that it would become a money-haemorrhaging, country-killing black hole. It seemed impossible, as the ANC guided SA around the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, that it would soon place in high office the sort of gurning lickspittles who chortled about picking up the rand once it fell. It seemed impossible that the country could be sold to the highest bidder by a venal hedonist.Facts will not allay the fears born of experience. You can cite laws, protocols and party constitutions all day long and I will still believe in the ANC’s supernatural ability to perform miracles of pure destruction; to warp reality and uncouple cause from effect.And can you blame me? I want to believe that Ramaphosa is in charge, but only a leaderless party would announce plans to spend R750m on ministerial homes and offices 26 days before an election. Only a headless zombie would have its “integrity committee” examine dodgy names on its election list, and then decide to address concerns about those names after the election.
I must believe that Professor Friedman is correct but I will not poo-poo anyone who, despite reading the facts, continues to fear a recall. I will acknowledge their fear, and acknowledge its cause: a decade-long chorus of lies, drowning out intelligent debate and progressive thought; the endless self-righteous, self-pitying whine covering up the grunting and panting of thieves hauling away their loot.
Fortunately, the talking (and lying) will reach a crescendo in the next two weeks and then become largely irrelevant: after May 8, we will tell truth from rumour or lie by way of actions, not words.
And then we’ll see who is pained by corruption, and who isn’t. And that’s all I have to say about that.