The oath taken by the president on election is as follows:
“I, A.B. swear…that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law of the Republic and I solemnly and sincerely promise that I will always –
- promote all that will advance the Republic and oppose all that may harm it;
- protect and promote the rights of all South Africans;
- discharge my duties with all my strength and talents to the best of my knowledge and ability and true to the dictates of my conscience;
- do justice to all; and
- devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and all its people
…So help me God.”
Nowhere is there room for loyalty to one’s party to supersede loyalty to the country and its citizens. And yet, two presidents have managed to make it clear that their first loyalty is to the ANC. President Zuma proudly proclaimed it and President Ramaphosa stated recently that he “would rather be seen as a weak president than to split the ANC. Because that is not my mission. My mission is to keep the ANC united.”
He said this in the context of the excuses continually made for him by some who tell you that he is unable to take appropriate action because the ANC is riven by factions and he is barely in control of his party.
President Ramaphosa is a decent man and he is about one hundred times better than his immediate predecessor. Remember though that he was prepared to back Jacob Zuma against Kgalema Motlanthe at Mangaung when almost everyone already knew the truth about Zuma and his flawed presidency. Ramaphosa was also prepared to spend years sitting quietly as Zuma’s deputy-president while state capture and the gross excesses of Zuma and his friends and supporters carried on under the noses of cabinet members.
The excuse then was that he was keeping his powder dry so that he could become president in due course. Was that not an indication that his own interests and ambition counted more with him than the interests of this country? Principle and integrity and constitutional duty were made subservient to personal interests and the interests of the ANC.
Now that he serves as president, he would rather be thought of as weak (i.e. one who does not stand up for all the great things he promised on oath to do) than split his party. Perhaps it is too simplistic but one generally sees the ANC government at every level as consisting of good guys and bad guys. Since the president is clearly one who would like to be seen as part of the good, it means that no matter what the bad guys do, he will protect them because to get rid of them in the interests of the citizens could lead to a break-up of the ANC. What a travesty of leadership and what an expression of failure as a leader.
It is no wonder that within a few months President Ramaphosa descended from the heights of being St Cyril to becoming the Mampara of the week. South Africa is not an easy country to govern and it has a myriad of problems but our people of all colours and cultures and languages and religions need not weakness but courageous and principled leadership. Surely that is not too much to ask?
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com.
This article first appeared in The Star.