Cyril's snow job

Andrew Donaldson on our President's efforts to win over the sceptics in Davos



ACCORDING to reports, nobody who is anybody was in Davos for the World Economic Forum — which must have been great for Cyril Ramaphosa who, in fact, was there to squirrel up investment and convince those who still cared that South Africa remains open for business.

Notwithstanding, of course, the damning accounts of state corruption and criminal enterprise now tumbling out of the Zondo commission of inquiry like an avalanche, the ongoing turmoil over expropriation without compensation, the meltdown at Eskom and other state-owned entities, and the highest youth unemployment figures in the world.

In spite of all this, the president would be winning over the sceptics at the Swiss ski resort. As he boldly put it last week, prior to heading north: “This time round there is a much better story to tell. We have a futuristic good story to tell the world. South Africa is renewing itself.”

To this end, the noticeable absence of Donald Trump, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi among others, along with their bloated motorcaded delegations and security details, meant Ramaphosa and his team of schleppers could make their way about the Swiss ski resort with relative ease as they sought out “global shapers” and “world elites”, as they’re known in the leading financial publications, and then buttonhole them for dosh.

Of course, getting about the frozen town was one thing, but was there any point in Ramaphosa even trying to do so? 

By all accounts, Davos was a bit of a downer. As Maurice Lévy, chairman of Publicis Groupe, the world’s third-largest advertising group, told one news agency: “This is the year of confusion. No one is exactly sure what is the direction. They have no idea what will be the outcome of 2019.”

Many agreed. The global outlook, according to a “gravely concerned” Angela Merkel, outgoing German chancellor and the European Union’s longest-serving leader, was all “rather gloomy”.

“There are a number of disturbances,” she reportedly told the forum, “a certain amount of disquiet in the international system as a whole.”

And indeed there was disquiet. Brexit chaos, France’s “gilets jaunes” demonstrations, and the longest government shutdown in US history may have been significant contributing factors to the no-shows by heavy hitters. 

But, in all fairness to them, domestic upheavals also ensured that some of the lightweights stayed away, too. 

Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, for example, was forced to cut short his European scrounger, skipping Davos altogether, and returning home empty-handed following the brutal crackdown on demonstrations in Harare and elsewhere that left at least a dozen protestors dead and scores more injured.

Cyril, however, is made of stouter stuff and was determined to tackle the bull by the horns. A host of challenges, he said, would need to be addressed to convince wary investors that “a tide has turned in South Africa”, as Fin24 declared.

Decisive action in tackling corruption and state capture, it was said, was key to winning over these doubtful potential investors. “It is totally unacceptable,” Ramaphosa told reporters, “that business(es) owned by the nation, set up to advance the interests of South Africans, have been hijacked and captured by certain interests.”

And, of course, we’d all heard this before. Many times. Like Lazarus, the cliches rise and rise. And, once the president got there, they’d be exhumed several times over in Davos.

Addressing business leaders on Wednesday, Ramaphosa admitted that the revelations heard by Judge Raymond Zondo were painful for the ruling party and would prove to be so cathartic that the state would never be recaptured by venal criminal elements. 

What’s more, he added, the law enforcement agencies would be expected to fulfil their duties here “without favour or discrimination”.

This, apparently, is not a commonly shared opinion among senior members of the ruling party. Many of them flatly refuse to believe that they are criminals.

Addressing the media on Tuesday, ANC acting national spokesman Zizi Kodwa was at pains to point out that those party members implicated in the commission hearings were only “implicated”. They had yet to share their version of events, he smirked.

“We are avoiding doing a running commentary on every witness that appears,” Kodwa said. “In many instances, you can find one testimony contradicts another. The ANC can’t, on the basis of one testimony, rush to make a judgment.”

And so, yet another obtuse attempt to fob the public off with some dishonest excuse for the shameless ducking and diving over the years. The lies will, of course, continue, what with the coming elections. But the brown stuff is coming on so thick and fast that it’s best not to find oneself downwind of these people from now on.

Which brings us neatly to former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi. 

Pronounced, aptly, “ur-greasy”. 

According to this cheerful slab of bonhomie, it would seem that Nomvula Mokonyane, minister of environmental affairs, is quite the party animal. This, at least, is one interpretation of the elaborate list of Christmas goodies she demanded from Bosasa each year.

In fact, in this regard, it is perhaps a great pity that Donald Trump wasn’t at Davos this year. 

You will no doubt have seen the recent photographs of the marmalade madman proudly posing with the take-away pizzas, hamburgers and other junk food he laid out for a college football team visiting the White House — all because the US government shutdown (nothing to do with him, obviously) has affected federal catering services.

Imagine if Ramaphosa had been given the opportunity to gently take Trump aside and, as one billionaire world leader to another, generously share with the man-child the secrets of Mokanyane’s winning party ways: nothing less than 120 cases of cold drink, 40 cases of beer, four cases of quality whisky, 12 cases of frozen chicken, 200kg of beef braai packs and eight lambs, chopped in pieces, as well as a few cases of premium brandy and other speciality alcohol.

All of which, Cyril would perhaps needlessly point out, certainly put the merry into the Christmases down Mokonyane way. And, clever lady that she is, she didn’t a pay a cent for any of it. 

How bigly, then, the kudos for the buffalo guy! The greatest ever! And South Africa not a shithole after all!