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Is the ANC dying yet? No? Keep going, Cyril

Ideas

Is the ANC dying yet? No? Keep going, Cyril

I held the belief that Ramaphosa was trying to fix the ANC and SA but doing both very badly. I was wrong

Columnist
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa addresses supporters during a local government election campaign in Limpopo. File photo.
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa addresses supporters during a local government election campaign in Limpopo. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was wrong about Cyril Ramaphosa. On the contrary, it’s a relief to be able to state here, for the record, that I believe Ramaphosa might go down in history as the president who saved us all.

I understand if you think I’m being sarcastic. I am, after all, a writer of opinions that are often less than earnest; so much so, in fact, that people sometimes think I’m joking when I’m not.

A few years ago, for example, I had an epiphany. After spending a decade being stressed, enraged and demoralised by the belief that the ANC was a government doing a very bad job at uplifting the people of SA, I finally came to understand that it is, in fact, a kind of boiler-room Ponzi scheme doing a very good job at enriching the entrenched insiders for whom it now operates.

When I wrote about this epiphany, some readers were amused, assuming that it was satirical hyperbole. It wasn’t and it still isn’t. I truly believe, without exaggeration, that the ANC of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela has been transformed into a very literal, non-metaphorical private bank for SA’s new elite.

I believe this because I have eyes, and I can see only one thing that the ANC government has manufactured in abundance over the last decade: politically connected multimillionaires.

I know that all of this sounds fairly cynical, perhaps even defeatist; but discarding the patently false belief that the ANC is a government was a liberating moment for me, freeing me from the stress, confusion and endless disappointment that comes when, like watching all three Godfather films in a state of bewilderment because you’ve been told they’re romantic comedies, you keep trying to impose a certain moral belief system on entirely amoral subject matter.

This new perspective – that SA is not being run poorly by politicians but is rather being robbed very efficiently by a new generation of Randlords – made all sorts of things fall into place.

This new perspective — that SA is not being run poorly by politicians but is rather being robbed very efficiently by a new generation of Randlords — made all sorts of things fall into place. The ANC’s failure to deliver services or maintain infrastructure, I now understood, wasn’t an aberration. On the contrary, it was logical and inevitable: robbers go to banks to rob them, not to fix the toilet on the fourth floor.

And yet until very recently I didn’t extend any of this logic to Ramaphosa.

Just a week or two ago, I was still writing about how deeply disappointing he has been as a president and how his early exhortations for us to “watch this space” have become bitterly ironic as we endlessly watch a space where a president should be.

In short, I was still trapped in the belief that Ramaphosa is trying to fix the ANC and SA but doing both very badly.

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to see the inherent contradiction in that belief. Perhaps it was one, last lingering speck of Ramaphoria, or the odd Facebook update by ANC activists who haven’t got the memo yet and are still genuinely passionate and progressive.

But I’ve seen it now, and it’s very clear. You can’t fix the ANC and SA. The two are mutually exclusive. If the ANC survives, SA dies loudly and bloodily. If SA is to survive and grope its way to something, the ANC must die as quietly and peacefully as possible.

Many would disagree, and not just ANC voters. I keep reading op-eds by critics of the party insisting that we still need its centrism and collectivism to keep the nastier elements of nationalism and nativism at bay. Certainly, the decision by cabinet to eject 200,000 Zimbabweans from SA next year seems to have been a response to a good showing in last month’s election by Herman Mashaba’s anti-immigrant ActionSA party.

With all due respect to those pundits, however, insisting that the ANC be preserved because of its progressive roots is like demanding that Iraq should maintain SA’s parks because of the hanging gardens of Babylon.

There is no future in which SA coexists with the ANC in any of its current forms. The Radical Economic Transformation wreckers have made their intentions extremely clear, but even the “good” ANC is an onrushing cul-de-sac: ask yourself who, exactly, will lead after Ramaphosa, and if you can name two serious candidates before you start wondering about the possibility of a President Mbalula, you’re doing well.

Luckily for all of us, however, Ramaphosa is still there. And what he’s doing, very quietly and often so slowly that it looks as if he’s not moving at all, is killing the ANC.

Every day that he remains transfixed by events, maintaining the leadership limbo in which we drift, he is pressing a pillow down onto the face of his gasping party and perhaps, just perhaps, saving SA in the process.

Of course, it will take skill, courage and strong wrists. The RET goons will be desperate, even violently so, to delay the inevitable.

But I know Ramaphosa can do it, because he’s already started so well. And when that day comes that the ANC rattles its last, and Ramaphosa expresses his shock and then wanders off to spend his billions, I truly hope he gets the credit he deserves.

Strength to your elbow and your pillow, Mr President. Press on.

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