Time to up your game, Cyril
Ranjeni Munusamy on why Ramaphosa must prove he’s the man
O livia Pope, the central character in the US political drama series Scandal (The
Fixer in South Africa), demands two things of her clients before she will clean up their messes or shield them from disaster.
First, she insists they spell out what they want. A fixer with an unspecific brief is like an Uber driver without a phone — you have problems even without covert operatives or metered-taxi operators trying to kill you.
Second, she compels them to tell her the whole truth, no matter how ugly it is.
Whether fictional or in real life, smart communicators and crisis managers are essential for politicians with ambitions for high office.
Minister Bathabile Dlamini might have understated things when she said ANC national executive committee members all had “smallanyana skeletons” in their closets. The 2017 ANC presidential race has seen some come tumbling out.
This is the first time there are distinct and organised campaigns around the contenders in the succession battle. Because the ANC previously frowned on canvassing for support, the candidates relied on proxy and underground campaigns. T-shirts and songs were the only visible signs of support.
Now there are formal campaign teams, websites, logos, slogans, banners, social media accounts and events all directly associated with the candidates.
Cyril Ramaphosa, still the person most likely to succeed President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader, desperately needs crisis managers on his campaign team.
There is a concerted campaign to discredit him and for him to navigate this, his fixers ought to present him with Olivia Pope’s pair of demands.
Ramaphosa needs to spell out what he wants, and he needs to show them all his dirty laundry.
If he just wants to be elected as the ANC’s next president, he could do so by having a messy private life and sticking to the organisational parlance. The ANC does not have very high standards for its leaders, or expect much of them.
But if Ramaphosa wants to be a leader the world takes notice of, he needs to make sure he takes the oath of office in 2019. That means he needs to up his game. Ramaphosa’s campaign team was clearly caught off-guard last week when he was sent questions by a Sunday newspaper about his private e-mail correspondence. There had been warnings that the dirty campaign was coming. Allegations that he beat up his wife had been doing the rounds and his team were well prepared to counter them. They did so effectively. There have also been attempts to plant stories about him being disloyal to the republic, and it is expected that these, too, will be refuted as soon as they are published.
But he and his team are still floundering to contain the damage from an apparent hack of his e-mails.
The Sunday Independent published extracts and claimed Ramaphosa had affairs with eight women. He confirmed one affair and claimed that some doctoring of the e-mails had occurred. But there is still much that remains unexplained about the correspondence.
His supporters rallied to his defence, saying his dalliances were not as bad as Zuma’s and the allegations needed to be seen in the context of the campaign to sabotage him.
Some said Ramaphosa’s adultery was between him and his wife and had nothing to do with his leadership qualities.
Some even argued that fidelity was an unrealistic expectation of men in general and politicians in particular.
But Ramaphosa has presented himself as a leader who will help us emerge out of the pit Zuma has dragged us into. We cannot climb out of that stinking hole on a greasy pole. Ramaphosa might be the best candidate in the field and what he does in his private life might not impact on his ANC support base.
But the presidency is already so sullied by the incumbent that morality and trust must be essential criteria for high office now.
Ramaphosa must be able to convince South Africans that dealing with the crises besetting our country will be his primary focus.
Remembering the passwords of so many e-mail addresses while managing the ANC’s factional battles, getting state institutions to function and trying to get the National Development Plan back on track would be a challenge for anyone.
Having multiple partners demanding his attention on top of that would require dexterous juggling.
If history had unfolded differently, he would now be well into his retirement as a former South African president. Ramaphosa wanted to be Nelson Mandela’s deputy in 1994, which means he would have been elected ANC president in 1997 and South Africa’s second democratically elected president in 1999. He would have completed his second term in office in 2009.
Who knows what kind of country we might have been had that happened. We could have been spared the Zuma years entirely and might never have heard the name “Gupta”. Destiny had other plans. Now Ramaphosa has a second chance to grab the brass ring. He can either redefine history or once again disappear from the political scene — this time for good.