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Ramaphosa’s ANC birthday speech fails to inspire disillusioned South Africans

South African and African National Congress party’s President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the ANC’s 110th anniversary celebrations. Photo by Phill Magakoe /AFP via Getty Images

The spectators to the 110th anniversary celebrations of the African National Congress (ANC’s), South Africa’s governing party, looked bored. The dancers roped in to entertain its dwindling faithful were lackluster. Indeed, even during the singing of the national anthem, some in the audience could not even be bothered to stand up.

Then a tired-looking President Cyril Ramaphosa provided an unconvincing statement focusing on unity, renewal and defending democratic gains to an already skeptical South African public.

If ever one needed a reason to ditch the ANC, this January 8 statement, which sets out the party’s agenda for the year, was it. It deliberately misdiagnosed the problems confronting the country, it provided no new vision and therefore little hope to the long-suffering citizens.

Ramaphosa admitted that the National Executive Committee (NEC) had gone through 15 drafts of the statement before he delivered it. It was still dismal, highlighting the intellectual deficit in the ANC’s highest decision-making body in between its five-yearly national conferences.

To exacerbate matters, the speech seemed to be tailored more to the 1960s than to 2021. It was replete with references to counter revolutionary forces, revolutionary discipline, democratic centralism and the developmental state. None of these leftist slogans, however, offer any tangible solutions for the deep political, economical and social malaise afflicting the country.

Consider here the case of the developmental state, the centre piece of which are the country’s parastatals. But not a single one can turn a profit and all seem to be in terminal decline.

This is a state which is battling to fill potholes, get drinkable water into residents’ taps, keep the lights on, and cannot run an airline or keep trains on track. When is the ANC going to acknowledge that South Africa will be better off privatising the lot of them?

Ramaphosa even acknowledged that a capable state needs an effective public service. But, this begs the question: why does he not start with his own cabinet? There is so much of deadwood around the table. Why not get rid of the incompetents as opposed to recycling them into new portfolios?

Cold comfort

Ramaphosa offered citizens leftist political rhetoric as opposed to any concrete plan of action. He provided cold comfort to South Africans who bothered to tune into the proceedings.

The misdiagnosis of the challenges confronting the country was deliberate in that it attempted to exonerate the party of misgovernance. Consider the case of the sluggish economy.

Much of the blame here was laid at the door of the Covid-19 pandemic. The truth is that the economy was already in trouble before the March 2020 lockdown. Much of the reason for the economic evisceration of large numbers of South Africans is precisely because of the ineptitude displayed by ANC deployees in government and its anti-growth policies.

Instead, Ramaphosa refered to the R350 (US$22.45) Covid-19 relief grant the ANC has initiated. According to him it lifted 5 million people above the food poverty line. One would expect that as a businessman Ramaphosa would realise that it is hardly sustainable for the majority of South Africans to receive social grants in the midst of a dwindling tax base.

The emigration of skilled professionals is merely one result of the average South African taxpayer who, despite increasingly carrying a disproportionate tax burden, does not receive much in the way of services.

What is desperately needed for the higher growth path the President articulated is the adoption and urgent implementation of pro-investor and pro-business policies.

This the ANC has been loath to do. And so, the economic malaise continues.

Safety and security

On security, Ramaphosa acknowledged that stability was undermined by the July 2021 riots that followed the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma. But, there was no acknowledgement that the riots were the result of the factionalism he referred to which is tearing up the ANC and the country.

If anything, the July riots showed the big lie in the January statement that South Africa needs the ANC to realise a stable and prosperous country providing a better life for all. To be frank, for South Africa to survive, the ANC needs to die.

As commander-in-chief, ultimately the July riots are on Ramaphosa himself. He was the one sitting on the High Level Review Report on the security services pointing to their politicisation and criminalisation.

The panel, chaired by academic Sydney Mufamadi, completed its work in December 2018. But its recommendations were not really implemented and for that the dithering President needs to take the blame. Neither has he acted on the stand-off between the Police Minister and his National Police Commissioner which has paralysed the police.

Social front

On the social front, Ramaphosa was correct to lay emphasis on gender based violence. But here again, the facts on the ground paint a dismal picture of incompetence. Over 76% of police stations do not have a rape kit.

The president touted the district development model as the panacea for the ills of local government. This was first touted ten years ago but experts have already acknowledged its failure to make good on its promise of service delivery on account of ANC factionalism and cadre deployment.

The ANC has largely deployed people on the basis of party loyalty as opposed to the requisite skill sets to staff parastatals and various government departments. Minutes of the ANC’s own cadre deployment committee show that in some cases, candidates applied directly to the ANC as opposed to the government department advertising the vacancy. The committee oversees the ANC’s policy of appointing members and sympathisers to key government positions.

As chair of the ANC’s deployment committee (when he was the deputy president of the ANC) Ramaphosa is equally responsible for the current state of affairs in the country. This includes the mounting evidence of corruption and state capture, most recently set out explicitly in the first report from the Zondo commission of inquiry.

Foreign policy

On the foreign policy front, the ANC statement demonstrated why South Africa finds itself in such a weakened position in Africa and globally.

There was the expression of solidarity with Cuba – the usual sop to the ANC’s tripartite allies the South African Communist Party and labour federation Cosatu.

There was also the traditional denunciation of Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as well as standing firmly with the Polisario Front in the quest for an independent Saharawi Republic.

These populist positions hardly reflect the reality. In Cuba, the Castro era has already drawn to a close with protesting Cubans looking forward to their own New Dawn.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian question, there are tectonic shifts taking place across the Middle East represented by the Abraham Accords and Israel forging ever closer ties with an increasing number of Arab – as well as African – states.

Finally, there is the issue of an independent Saharawi Republic. Given recent developments, the realistic option would be for the Polisario Front to accept Morocco’s offer of greater autonomy.

In the final instance, South Africans are led by a dithering president at the helm of an inept political party which has already passed its sell by date.

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