Cyril, and me, and magical thinking
Ideas for this column come from a variety of sources. Some things you read, some you hear. The ones you hear are best because you can listen around to see if you hear the same again. Noone writes the same thing twice.
This happened to me a few weeks ago in a pub in the Western Cape, and I made up my mind to write about it. I might as well have been putting a hungry ferret in my trousers, so alarming and angry and irritable has been the response.
Mmusi Maimane has written three weekly newsletters about it. Julius Malema has insulted me about it. Long droning letters have appeared about it in the Sunday Times. Just a few days ago I was forced to block a Twitter mob from the DA who were attacking me about it.
What I wrote, based on my sample of three, was simply that it seemed to me that quite a few white males more or less my age (over, say, 57) might actually vote for the ANC in the upcoming election as a way of supporting President Cyril Ramaphosa, the reasoning being that if he doesn’t get a majority his party would possibly force him into a coalition with the EFF.
It seems a reasonable assumption that many 57-yearold-plus white males would rather that didn’t happen and our solution may be to vote for Ramaphosa (and yes, sadly, his rotten party) so he gets close to 60% of the vote. Our reasoning is that this might make it slightly less certain that his party would block reform at every turn and possibly even throw him out of office early.
But no. It turns out this might be magical thinking, according to a host of people and commentators, most of them dear friends. We Cyrilists have completely forgotten all the forces arranged against him. They will get him, and people like me who continue to write and think this way are deluded fools, sycophants and dangerous to society.
But the more I read what a fool I am the more certain I am that I’m right. Of course, we all make mistakes. The DA got rid of Helen Zille as leader. Whatever you may think of her, turns out that was a big mistake; the party is now unled. And I’ve made some too, though I can’t remember any.
But you have to keep reminding yourself where we are and what might have happened had Ramaphosa not won the ANC leadership a little over a year ago. We have a brilliant new national director of public prosecutions in the form of Shamila Batohi, who directly warned upon her appointment on Tuesday that she would make state capture a priority. Tom Moyane has gone from the SA Revenue Service and will soon be replaced by someone impressive, I have no doubt.
And the country is being run by some solid politicians — Ramaphosa, Pravin Gordhan, Tito Mboweni, Ebrahim Patel and Lindiwe Sisulu are good for us. Do they make mistakes? Of course, yes. And they’ll always have an eye on an election or a party congress. That’s just life. Ask Theresa May.
The thing is, nothing’s perfect and nor will it be. Not here. Not in the lifetime of anyone reading this. But there is a better or a worse. It took a huge fight to win the ANC leadership vote.
Imagine any of the above happening had he lost last December. Jacob Zuma, by the way, would still be president today, not facing trial for corruption. There’d be no Zondo commission into state capture. No inquiry into the revenue service, into the Public Investment Corporation. We’d know nothing.
And yes, we get that Ramaphosa is trapped. By people, unions, looters, by events, by an unravelling economy and by a mountain of debt. We know he was Zuma ’ s deputy while the looting went wild. He stuck it out because had he not he would not have been in a position, now, to begin to set it right.
RW Johnson, the historian too crudely ignored in his own country, isn’t always comfortable when I quote him on Ramaphosa, but he recently wrote that “the sad irony is that Ramaphosa is probably the best president that the ANC has yet produced. But he has taken power at a juncture when the cumulative mistakes and squandered opportunities of ANC rule have not only become a crushing burden but have largely worn out the patience and public support on which the party has depended until now.”
Depressing but true. Ramaphosa is our least worst option, the best man for the top job. If we are to have any hope of climbing out of the hole Zuma and the Guptas and the ANC generally have dug for us, it is with him in the Union Buildings.
The markets will listen to him and he has developed a way of getting what he wants without sparking factional battles in the party. Those can only hurt him.
So things take a little longer? So what? They are happening. I reckon I’ll keep the ferret where it is for the moment. It lets me know when someone takes my name in vain.
IF WE ARE TO HAVE ANY HOPE OF CLIMBING OUT OF THE HOLE ZUMA AND THE GUPTAS AND THE ANC GENERALLY HAVE DUG FOR US, IT IS WITH HIM IN THE UNION BUILDINGS