An open letter to the Ramapologists

Jeremy Gordin writes to Peter Bruce, Max du Preez & Co.

Dear Peter and Max:


I’d be telling porkies were I to write that I think of either or both of you with deep and undying affection. Still, we three are roughly the same age –old white men, not an easy thing to be, what with that sweetheart Julius Malema continually suggesting we are superfluous. And you plural have certainly been, in one way or another, part of the warp and weft of my journalistic life during the last 42 years.

This being the case, I am quite concerned about you; concerned that you plural – though Peter to a larger extent than Max – are being badly played; i.e., “lied to; set up to be taken advantage of; cheated by a set-up of actions or circumstances that have been deliberately planned”.

Given that you are both battle-hardened and apparently intelligent journalists – ones who have done big things as journalists and for the most part been brave and spoken truth to power – this is pretty serious. Younger journalists and other people, even not-so-young ones, look to you for direction. Notwithstanding what Little Julie says, or bellows in his grating voice, you two are notable and important voices.

What am I talking about?

The ANC as an organisation hasn’t changed simply because Jacob Zuma is doing whatever he’s doing in KZN and Cyril Ramaphosa is sitting in the Union Buildings. In December last year, the ANC simply played it smart – whether by design, coincidence or happenstance is a separate issue – and dumped the Zuma clan, replacing them with an apparent Mr Clean & Sincere.

Now, how clean and/or sincere anyone thinks Ramaphosa is, is unimportant, though do please remember E.E. Cummings’ famous little couplet: “a politician is an arse upon/which everyone has sat except a man” (by which Cummings meant not a male person but a mensch). What we do know about Ramaphosa is (1) that in politics, as in business, he’s deeply risk-averse; and (2) he’s an ANC person.

In short, he talks the talk (including those Business Science 101 lectures he often delivers) but he hasn’t really walked the talk much. Nota bene: Apparently a major source of our serious woes has been corruption/wholesale theft, caused by “state capture”. Anyone been successfully prosecuted so far? Not a sausage.

Mainly the same bunch of mainly nincompoops are still in the over-staffed cabinet, including Bathabile Dlamini. Yes, I know, Tom Moyane’s been dumped by doughty Judge Robert Nugent and his merry people. But Moyane’s still trying to cling on and it looks as though the damage he did was pretty extensive. Pravin Gordhan is doing his best to purge the SOEs of the worst Zupta-ites. Yes, the Zondo Commission rumbles on; but will there ever be criminal charges laid as a result? Don’t hold your breath; older people need to keep the lungs filled at all times.

There is a new National Director of Public Prosecutions; which is good, I suppose, though she’s untried, and I assume the NPA is a bit like a rugby team – you need 15 of the best not just a competent captain. And, as Carol Paton has noted, “the re-negotiation of mining regulation, the acceleration of the policy steps to release broadband spectrum for auction, and changes to governance at state-owned companies are meaningful and important progress”. And so on.

But there’re two issues from which one can’t escape. The first is that Ramaphosa was deputy-president from 2014-18 and the president was one JG Zuma. I remember reading somewhere once that “Henry VIII’s wives following Catherine of Aragon clearly never read the court circulars”; maybe Ramaphosa simply had no idea of what was going on; seems odd though.

Most importantly, however, he doesn’t seem to have emerged from hibernation with a real plan. Ramaphosa has allowed the expropriation without compensation nonsense to roll on unchecked. En kyk hoe lyk ons nou. Pretty strange behaviour for a leader who claims to know his land is in deep economic and financial trouble.

You know what it feels like? ... As though we’re in a space capsule with Ramaphosa, a capsule plunging toward obliteration in some black hole, and he (the captain) disables the one escape hatch we had.

Incidentally, I noted recently that young Adriaan Basson, editor-in-chief of News24 and one of your fellow-travellers – or so I assume from the tenor of many of his pieces – said on Cape Talk radio that: “It’s an open secret that Ramaphosa didn’t want this. He didn’t want the Constitutional change”. Could have fooled me.

This is where you begin coming into the picture. You’re among those who suggest Ramaphosa is playing a “long game” – that he’s being cautious until he wins the election in May next year with a fat majority.

Remember the 2004 general elections? The ANC, led by Thabo Mbeki, received 69,7% of the votes cast, the party’s biggest ever majority. By the end of 2007, Mbeki was toast. Moreover, according to the Paton article I have referred to above, the party had already started turning against Mbeki by 2005, a year after this electoral triumph: “It was at the NGC (national general council) in July 2005 that the fight back against Thabo Mbeki — then president of the ANC and the country — was launched by the Jacob Zuma faction. Mbeki had just sacked Zuma as deputy president of the country (on Mbeki’s version, Zuma voluntarily stepped down) and the NGC marked the point at which the wheel began to turn against Mbeki.”

Paton goes on to argue that what she calls “the Zuma faction” will come after Ramaphosa at the next NGC, which will take place before the end of 2019. And “Ramaphosa will come under pressure. Demonstrable progress will be demanded [by ANC members] on the land question and expropriation, the nationalisation of the SA Reserve Bank and the National Health Insurance scheme”.

Paton continues: “With the pressure of the NGC coming so soon after the election, Ramaphosa will be less rather than more able to implement the hoped-for reforms.” And never mind the “reforms,” Paton adds: turning around the SOEs is going to be a massive problem; balancing the public books looks like a bridge too far; Eskom is seriously deep in the dwang; at a press conference today, Pravin Gordhan mentioned a R400-billion [sic] debt; and so on.

What has this got to do with you, you might ask? Well, besides suggesting that Ramaphosa is playing a clever long game, which is increasingly looking like nonsense, you have taken the line that the only way to save the nation is to make sure that as many people as possible vote for the ANC – and, goodness me, not only do you whack the DA at every opportunity, you argue that votes for Ramaphosa and the ANC will save “our democracy” by, among other things, nullifying those noisy and crass fellows in the red T-shirts. (They call themselves the EFF; I call them ANC lite – only because so far they appear to have stolen less.)

Reds under the beds? Sound familiar? I don’t want to exaggerate, but think about it. The ANC’s most reputable critics – that’s you fellows, the old, smart, seasoned journalists – have been taken in by the line that the only way to save us from the bogeymen is to vote for the ANC.

But the ANC’s not offering anything new and nor (yet) is its newest leader. Journalists such as you, who bellyached righteously about the ANC’s shenanigans, are now suggesting one man will change everything. You and the journalists from the so-called Independent Group are singing from the same hymn sheet these days; who’d have thought it possible?

It’s been a great strategy, better than Bell Pottinger: convince our formerly most acute critics to do battle for us on the basis of some window dressing.

You understand why I’m concerned, don’t you?

I am not saying of you, as Max said the DA twitterati said, that you’re “paid ANC agents, fellow travellers, useful idiots, cowards and Ramaphosa groupies”. But I am saying you’ve been played.

Finally, you’ll ask who has played you – who’s put together the strategy? ... I don’t know. I don’t know who’s in Ramaphosa’s kitchen cabinet or “media” kitchen cabinet. One friend of mine suggested that you and others have bought the Ramaphosa nonsense because you “can’t handle living without hope”.

I don’t know. All I know is that there’s not much light emanating from any part of the tunnel, never mind the end. At least let’s be clear about this.

Jeremy Gordin