Ramaphosa's toast

Andrew Donaldson says good election result or bad the ANC President is on his way out



GOOD news, perhaps. Pepsi has canned an ambitious marketing exercise to plug an energy drink in outer space. Astronomers the world over condemned the venture as cultural and scientific vandalism.

This after the multinational’s Russian branch hinted that it was collaborating with a tech company, StartRocket, to build a gigantic “billboard” from a cluster of 200 satellites.

The plan, according to the Times of London, was to promote Adrenaline Rush, a sugary mess that gives young people vim. This was part of a campaign tackling “stereotypes and unjustified prejudices” against the gaming community. Responsible advertising, in other words, with a strong social message.

But all is not lost. StartRocket is pressing ahead with its “orbital ads” roll-out. They hope to launch the system in 2021, charging a modest $20 000 for eight hours of celestial exposure. Where Pepsi has faltered, others will surely step up to the plate.

The ruling party may want to book time here, come the 2024 election campaign. Imagine, if you will, a captive audience gazing at the night skies as our ancestors did thousands of years ago. (This will now pass as entertainment, what with the loadshedding.) There, in the heavens, they will behold a powerful appeal to the masses: “Let’s grow South Africa togher.”

You could say standards here have dropped. Some argue they don’t have that far to go before they bottom out altogether. I am not so pessimistic and can see a time when slogan writers look up from their poster designs and inquire of one another, “Comrades, how do we spell ‘ANC’?”

The party’s defence of its celebrated “togher” billboard in Nelson Mandela Bay is encouraging. Responding to widespread derision at its “covfefe” moment, they hastily released a statement to reassure voters that this “human error” on the part of a service provider will not derail their campaign. They “will continue to work hard and make strides in gunnering support for the ANC towards the general election as we have been doing”.

It’s considered unkind to poke fun at those who ignore the computer’s spell-check function. This, it is said, is the preserve of privilege. The wide awoke consider it a colonial vestige to laugh at the mistakes of others and there is little wonder the party wants such condescension expunged from society. Especially when the joke’s on them. Besides, gunnering is surely the way to go with gangsters and warlords.

But what exactly does togher mean? Some reports suggest they were aiming for “together”, a tilt at national unity that’s as meaningless as any other election promise. Other commentators believe “tougher” is more apposite, given what the country has endured over the past 25 years and considering the rigours yet to come.

Then again, togher could mean anything. As that orange berserker in the White House tweeted just hours after introducing the term in May 2017: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!” 

And the elites certainly enjoy the covfefe. Everywhere there was laughter and mockery. But the jeering only strengthened the resolve of the faithful. As far as they are concerned, Donald Trump remains the champion of angry white men everywhere. 

The ANC, as befitting the world’s oldest liberation movement, has a rich history of covfefe and was, in fact, covfefe long before covfefe. Over the years there have been T-shirts boasting of a “united and redical” youth league, banners at demonstrations calling for “better services in poor arears”, and even an “annivesary” cake at the party’s 2016 birthday celebrations in Rustenburg. 

Perhaps this is overly harsh, and we should bear in mind that English is not the first language of the vast majority of service providers. Who are probably still waiting to be paid for the work they did for the party three elections ago. Nevertheless, a personal favourite remains the canteen notice at the ANC’s 2017 elective conference at Nasrec, which read, appropriately: “Dinning Area.” 

None of this matters, though, and the pundits suggest the ANC will be comfortably returned to office next month. Peter Bruce, former editor of Business Day, will be partly responsible for this, for he has declared he will be voting for them in a “strategic” manner. 

The thinking here, you may have heard, is that this will save Cyril Ramaphosa: the more votes the ANC gets, the less the likelihood that they’ll toss Ramaphosa under the bus to clear the way for a vampire like David Mabuza, the deputy president.

The theory is not new. It’s been a topic of conversation at the duller dinner parties for a while. But, with a firm tug at his Woosterish bowtie, Bruce has taken to print and nailed his colours to the mast. Doing so, he has generated much public debate, if not outright scorn. 

I may be missing something but I do feel Bruce’s arguments would be so much stronger were there two ANC boxes on the ballot paper and voters could choose between Ramaphosa, Cyril and Looters, Gang of. 

But, alas, there will only be the one, and it will be the latter’s box. The unicorn and fairy option is not on the table.

Many commentators believe the president to be a good man and the country’s only hope for salvation. I have my doubts. Look, for example, at the company he keeps. But whatever the case, would a “strong mandate” at the polls spare him his party’s treachery?

Even sober analysis suggests perhaps not, and that Ramaphosa is facing a situation that could be termed, if I may, Hobson’s Dilemma. 

On one hand, the ANC needs the Squirrel to attract the urban vote, particularly in those areas where Peter Bruce hangs out. Once he’s served his purpose here, and the party improves its showing in the metropoles, Ramaphosa will be gone. On the other hand, he’ll be out as well. The ANC will inevitably use a poor election result as a justification for his dismissal. 

Either way, Ramaphosa is toast. His was the narrowest of victories at Nasrec, remember? Winning the party presidency by the slimmest of margins meant his leadership was always going to be tenuous. We can safely assume, then, that plotting his ouster began almost immediately in the dinning area, once Jacob Zuma had recovered from the shock of ex-wife Nkosazana Proxy-Zuma’s close defeat, that is.

The sharks are circling. We know this because the most bloated among them, Collen Maine, middle-aged president of the ANC Youth League, has nominated himself for the top job. This is so like a glutton, you may think, barging to the front of the queue at the buffet table. 

Maine was addressing students at the Durban University of Technology this week, telling them of former ANCYL leaders who should be considered to lead the party. “We must continue today,” he said, “that after President Ramaphosa one of this generation I've spoken about; Malusi Gigaba, Lulu Johnson, Fikile Mbalula and myself, one of us must be president and preferably myself.”

There was some laughter at this. But it wasn’t funny.

* I’d always suspected a bit of covfefe or poor service provision regarding Maine’s first name. But I’ve since discovered this is not the case, and that it’s an archaic version of Colin, a diminutive of Nicholas.  

An internet search reveals that Saint Collen was a 7th-century monk who gave his name to the Welsh town of Llangollen, which means “church of the hazel-wood”. Our Collen, though, worships at the church of the hazelnut praline. Covered in lots of chocolate. And not just at Easter.


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