Ramaphosa at helm of battered ship in troubled waters

ramaphosa at helm of battered ship in troubled waters

Ramaphosa at helm of battered ship in troubled waters

Nkosikhulule Nyembezi

It was dark before dawn on the path leading to the second inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa, a leader who promised us a New Dawn six years ago. Politics needs light and shade, as decisions on forming this unity government are complicated, and judgements are subtle.

We will all wake up every day in the coming months to a president of a multiparty government who paints the boldest of brush strokes on the courageous path to forge co-operation between fractured political persuasions in a historic moment that takes us away from a political landscape characterised by single-party dominance.

The leader who divides and inspires many yearning for an effective government that must tackle poverty and inequality entertains and enrages others longing for the glorious days of the ANC, cherished as the oldest liberation movement on the continent. Ramaphosa’s journey to the inauguration ceremony would rarely be without mishaps, even in the eyes of those who adored him six years ago.

On his way, he still faced another barrage of protest letters and phone calls from ANC alliance leaders opposed to an ANC-DA co-operation agreement. No wonder he summoned the courage to highlight in his speech that the people of South Africa have stressed that they are impatient with political bickering and the endless blame game among politicians and political parties.

“They want us to put their needs and aspirations first and they want us to work together for the sake of our country,” he stressed in his states manly speech.

“Today I stand before you as your humble servant to say we have heard you.”

Now, the politician who in his first presidential term as a leader of a majority party said he was unleashing a ‘Thuma Mina’ national call for united action to rebuild the nation, has taken an oath of office as a leader of a less popular party, bowing to the preconditions and cajoling of the DA and other small parties seeking to influence the power distribution in the unity government. There are rules the situation will force him to follow carefully to avoid tensions that could spark his premature removal from office.

Everyone knows the many characters he has played in the past six years, as a campaigner for a social compact, a clown protecting the party over national interests in matters relating to the Zondo Commission, or a statesman who managed to enlarge the BRICS membership. Now, he has found his weighty role as leader of a unity government, which could either bury or rescue the ANC as a significant political force. Which one did he present prominently for the crowd to see on the inauguration day this week?

“In their multitude, in voices that are many and diverse, the people of South Africa have voted and made known their wishes, their concerns and their expectations. We accept and respect the results of the elections and we once again say, the people have spoken. Their will shall be done without any doubt or question,” he said to the audience’s applause.

With his wife watching on a promise that he is on everyone’s side, he said, “Today, I make a solemn commitment to be a president for all South Africans; to defend our Constitution and protect our democracy; to work with all those who share the dream of a better life for all; to care for the poor and the vulnerable, and to support all those who are in need.”

He made big promises of decent homes that keep out the wind, the rain and the cold; of enough food to eat, clean water, affordable electricity that is available at all times, the protection in our courts, a caring state, the necessities of a life that is comfortable, happy, healthy and secure.

But the profound judgement he must make subtly to urgently take us out of the darkness and shadows of maladministration, corruption, and political instability will quickly reveal his character in circumstances where impatient citizens and multi-party voices in government will be unforgiving.

“Today I stand before you as your humble servant to say we have heard you. As the president of the Republic, I will work with everyone to reach out and work with every political party and sector that is willing to contribute to finding solutions to the challenges our country faces as we transition to a new decade of freedom,” he said.

In every administration, there is glory on day one, marked by a relaxed atmosphere of celebration. But not in this one, as Ramaphosa’s choice of Cabinet appointments will further put him under intense spotlight. There were several cues in his speech, hinting at howls of protest from dissidents humming in the background and between the lines throughout the speech.

This is a time of low-intensity strife.

President Ramaphosa is in charge because of the failures of his party and his predecessor, who has increasingly become a thorn in the side for him.

His reference to the achievements of the last 30 years of the ANC government struck a chord, which included building a transformed public service, an independent judiciary, a competitive electoral system, a sophisticated economy, a vibrant and free media, and a robust civil society.

He was honest in acknowledging that despite this progress, our society remains deeply unequal and polarised.

“There are toxic cleavages and an incipient social fragmentation that can easily turn into instability. The lines drawn by our history, between black and white, between man and woman, between suburbs and townships, between urban and rural, between the wealthy and the poor, remain etched in our landscape. In places, these lines may have faded, but they have not disappeared.”

This is not only the start of a new era but also the start of a very different era. But perhaps Ramaphosa and the Cabinet in charge of the direction of our country are not so much taking back control of a steady ship but taking over a precarious and fragile situation.

Controversy will never be far. That makes Ramaphosa’s people-centred call for collective action resonate across the political landscape when he said the people “have directed their representatives to put aside animosity and dissent, to abandon narrow interests, and to pursue together only that which benefits the nation”.

Nothing stops the nation from answering the call.

* Nyembezi is a policy analyst, researcher and human rights activist

Cape Times

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