From Ramaphoria to Ramaphobia

Andrew Donaldson says the proponents of 'better leadership' are liable to be perpetually disappointed


HERE’S a thing: in yet another chapter in the saga of our leadership travails, Cyril Ramaphosa has dialled back on plans to transfer emergency electricity procurement from Gwede Mantashe’s energy department to the new “electricity minister”, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. 

This volte faceaccording to News24, followed a stand-off in which Squirrel was apparently cowed into submission by Mantashe, the latter apparently greatly vexed at the suggestion that he should share his toys with a colleague. As he explained, he was there first: “I am the minister of energy, which is a very old portfolio…”

The Goblin may have a point. What exactly is this electricity ministry thing? When Squirrel first introduced this bewildering entity in early February, in his state of the nation address, he indicated that “certain powers and functions” would be transferred to Ramokgopa. 

Ever defensive, Mantashe immediately insisted newbie Ramokgopa was nothing more than “a project manager minister”. Which may not have seemed such a slight had there, in fact, been an actual “project” worth managing rather than an imploding national power utility. 

At the time it seemed that Ramokgopa’s unnecessary appointment to the now expanded cabinet was little more than a dilution of government’s general failure, a process of democratisation that allowed more functionaries to share in the spoils of dereliction and neglect. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

However, with the electricity ministry now stripped of electricity (such as it is), Ramakgopa remains in homunculus mode, standing by for the gift of life so that he, too, may join the cocking-up melee. But, and in keeping with the load shedding climate, that spark of vitalising juice may take a while in getting there.

There have been other embarrassing Eskom flip-flops and policy reversals.

On March 31, treasury granted the utility exemption from the Public Finance Management Act. This would have allowed the cover-up over the next three years of crucial financial losses incurred due to criminal behaviour and irregular and wasteful expenditure within its operations. It was such an idiotic and no doubt illegal decision that finance minister Enoch Godongwana withdrew it within 36 hours.

Then, early this month, the state of national disaster that Squirrel introduced in his SONA to deal with the rolling power failures was canned with “immediate effect” . This was just five weeks after the cooperative governance and traditional affairs department had gazetted regulations to govern the “disaster”. 

Among the reasons for repealing the regulations, according to Cogta minister Thembisile Nkadimeng, was Ramokgopa’s appointment as electricity minister. Which does seem like a headlong stampede back to square one. If, that is, anybody ever left that square. 

Meanwhile, load shedding continues in much the same way as it did before the “emergency”. And will get worse over the winter and for some years after that.

The result of all this, understandably, is widespread criticism of Squirrel’s leadership. 

Old Mutual chair and former finance minister Trevor Manuel has, for one, issued a scathing assessment of the ANC leadership, saying government needed to get its house in order to resolve the challenges facing the country. 

In his message to shareholders last week, Manuel said the country was entitled to a “speedy resolution to the epidemic of crime and corruption”. Similarly, he said, swift action was needed to address infrastructure problems:

“There can be no doubt that SA’s rampant corruption, unchecked crime and alarming descent into lawlessness [have] been exacerbated by a lack of strong leadership and political will. I believe it is an appropriate time to make the call for administrative clarity on how the many governance crises that currently beset SA will best be addressed.”

Former Eskom spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha, now a News24 Business reporter, was a bit more direct in his criticism of Squirrel: “Cyril Ramaphosa will go down in history as the most useless state president democratic South Africa has produced to date. His obsession with public relations and being seen to be doing his job has turned a man with great promise into a spectacular failure as president.”

In the five years he has been in office, Mantshantsha writes, Squirrel has squandered every opportunity to right the wrongs of his predecessor and put the country on a “firm path to peace and prosperity”. 

Instead, he has failed to deal with the single most pressing crisis South Africa faces in the democratic era: the failure to keep the lights on. As a result, an already unusually high unemployment rate will now worsen, much to the detriment of all.

Over at Daily Maverick, meanwhile, Stephen Grootes suggests that Squirrel is duty-bound to make tough decisions regarding the above. He is — apparently — the president and, as such, has “a moral obligation to lead, one way or another”. If he considers the country’s problems insurmountable or “the ANC too fractured, or our society simply too argumentative to be led by him, he can resign”.

Yeah. Voetsek already. Only to be replaced by whom?

Grootes claims that South Africa does need leading. Over the years, he says, commentators have argued that one of the country’s major problems has been a lack of leadership. He writes:

“In a country defined by racialised inequality, which requires a united and comprehensive effort to overcome our problems, leadership matters. Voters know this, which is why they demand it so strongly.

“There can also be an emotionally important comfort in the feeling of ‘being led’. This is why sports teams often need an inspirational leader, and why some political groups have almost fanatical followers. Part of the reason for that apparent fanaticism is that their leaders have given them a direction and space to follow.

“One of the reasons people support a Donald Trump or a Lula da Silva is that they make them feel good about themselves. It’s an important part of leadership.”

I’m not sure about that last bit and would instead argue that populists like Trump (and, for that matter, Julius Malema) don’t make their followers “feel good about themselves” but rather remind them how aggrieved they are, how the “establishment” has robbed them of their identities and self worth. In other words, they are able to speak only to the werewolf in us all.

I am convinced, though, that if the country has a “leadership crisis”, then it is this weird insistence that South Africa needs a “leader”. It is nonsense. It’s not leadership that’s needed, but administration. Governance, if you will. By people who can and do get the job done.

The idea of “being led” may be comforting — if you’re a sheep or some other herd animal. But it is indicative of a lack of development and personal growth. South Africa’s great tragedy is that it all too often turns to charismatic “leaders” who claim to give voice to the people — but in reality offer little else. 

Spawn of Butternut

Speaking of which, Duduzane Zuma has detailed his plans to run for president in next year’s general election. Unlike his father, the great Blesser, he is doing so an independent, the first ANC member to do so. This is permissible now that the contentious Electoral Amendment Bill was signed into law this week.

So-called “nepo babies” are common enough; the spoilt children of the rich and famous scoring major career breaks while driving another nail in the coffin of meritocracy. But a nepo bozo? Now this is a rare thing. In an interview with the Daily News, the young Zuma demonstrated a self-importance that borders on psychopathy: 

“We need change, and I believe I am the change this country needs now. The time has come for us as youth to take the running of the country into our hands. It is now the time for old people to gracefully leave and let us take the country forward. If they really mean it when they say youth is the future, they must let us decide our destiny by letting us run the country. It is natural that the older you become, the more you lose energy, but strangely politicians believe they can stay in office until they die.”

Such a keen understanding of the ageing process from one so young. Almost as insightful as his understanding of what it takes to be president. One needn’t have been in exile, imprisoned or have been a “liberation soldier” to run the country. Business skills were all that was needed, rather than political credentials. “Tell me,” he said, “have poor people benefitted from being led by people with rich political credentials?”

Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) we remember all too well Zuma’s appeal to looters during the July 2021 riots that followed his father’s incarceration for contempt of court following a refusal to appear before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture: “To the people that protesting and looting, please do so carefully and please do so responsibly.”

Now that is presidential material.