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.

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