The only way out of this mess

Jeremy Gordin's sets out what President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to do

Besides the deep fissures in the so-called governing party and the attendant shackles that prevent President Cyril Ramaphosa from doing what he ought to do to “save” the beloved country, many (including me) would agree that Ramaphosa also doesn’t seem to have the cojones – the wherewithal, the spine, the will – to do the necessary.

Even worse is that, as RW Johnson has written recently, Ramaphosa was probably never a business whiz kid nor a genius at negotiation and is a bit of a mediocrity to boot.

But what if Ramaphosa simply doesn’t know what to do?

Let me ask: does the president read and consult everywhere? For example, we don’t know (well, I don’t) whether he reads Politicsweb – which he should do because, if he did, he’d have seen William Saunderson-Meyer’s “Only an ANC split can save SA”. This was not in the form of a kind suggestion but nonetheless offered Ramaphosa a “way forward”.

Do Ramaphosa’s friends, advisers, and staff discuss strategy and “how to progress” with him? Probably not. Word is that he’s a teensy bit idle. And anyone who’s ever held a CEO-type position knows that when you get into the office – where you have a plethora of calls to make and receive, and pieces of paper to sign, and where all you want to do is flirt with your favourite secretary or spokesperson – you invariably find yourself besieged by scores of staffers who think they know better than you do (and they might too – which is doubly annoying). Much more calming to stay hidden away behind a secretary or team of secretaries.

Or, notwithstanding the Tablet he flourishes, might Ramaphosa have on his desk one of those thin manila files with VI Lenin’s famous words “What Is to Be Done?” written on it? Or something less formal – a file with “THE PREZ’S IDEAS” stencilled on it – and with some small doodles, buffaloes, Fermat’s theorem, and a drawing of Ace Magashule with devil’s horns, as well? And do his aides slip into this file pieces by WSM, Johnson or even, gadzooks, David Bullard?

I think not. Which is a pity – because what if, as I began by wondering, what if Ramaphosa, beneath his stolid exterior and mask, is in a blind panic – because, everything else aside, he simply doesn’t have a clue about what he should do?

What about Ramaphosa chatting to his cabinet colleagues, “the members of his team”? There’s a story I came across recently. When (talk of the devil) Lenin was in London, he was visited by some or other Marxist hack, who wanted to have a talk.

“Sure,” said Vlad, “but I must go to the bank; we can chat as we walk if that’s okay.” “I don’t believe it!” said the man. “You, the great Marxist, who rails against the international banking system – you’re going to the bank?!” “Well,” said Lenin, and repeated an old Russian proverb, “if you live among wolves, you have to howl like a wolf.”

Here's the thing: a close perusal of Ramaphosa’s cabinet in the hope of finding more than two or three people with whom the president could have a simple rational chat would leave you howling like an emaciated wolf. For months. So, cabinet colleagues are not much use.

What then is left to a person other than to say Oy? For the situation is desperate and requires desperate remedies. Our troubles are dire indeed and we are about to slide into the ditch (we probably have done so already). If Ramaphosa wants to pull the country out of its Big Hole, if he wants to be truly Churchillian and brave, if he wants not to disappear from history, he needs to do something. Didn’t Otto von Bismarck say that “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”?

I have, therefore, put together the following important recommendation for the president. Its implementation would not be without manifold difficulties – “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare,” as Spinoza wrote – but let’s consider these later.

I suggest Ramaphosa creates a cabinet of national unity (CNU). One unfortunate proviso however (but nothing’s perfect): To avoid trouble, legal and otherwise, this cabinet should for the moment comprise only those who have been elected to the National Assembly, with some exceptions [1].

Here then is my proposed CNU.

President. Cyril Ramaphosa. ANC.

Deputy President. John Steenhuisen. DA.

Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation (Presidency). Jackson Mthembu. ANC.

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (Presidency). Lisa Vetten. Independent.

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. Pieter Groenewald. FF-Plus.

Basic Education. Debbie Schäfer. DA.

Communications. Natasha Mazzone. DA.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Thoko Didiza. ANC.

Defence and Military Veterans. Lechesa Tsenoli. ANC.

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries. Barbara Creecy. ANC.

Employment and Labour. Willie Madisha. COPE. Deputy Minister (DM): Michael Bagraim. DA.

Finance. Tito Mboweni. ANC. DM: David Maynier. DA.

Health. Zwelini Mkhize. ANC. DM: Siviwe Gwarube. DA.

Higher Education, Science and Technology. Naledi Pandor. ANC.

Home Affairs. Pravin Gordhan. ANC. DM: Cilliers Brink. DA.

Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. Lindiwe Sisulu. ANC. DM: Ghaleb Cachalia. DA.

International Relations and Cooperation. Mosiuoa Lekota. COPE.

Justice and Correctional Services. Glynnis Breytenbach. DA. DM: Werner Horn. DA.

Mineral Resources and Energy. James Lorimer. DA.

Police. Dianne Kohler Barnard. DA. [Vu den?]

Public Enterprises. Alf Lees. DA.

Public Service and Administration. Senzo Mchunu. ANC.

Public Works and Infrasctucture. Mkhuleko Hlengwa. IFP. DM: Leon Schreiber. DA.

Small Business Development. Dean Macpherson. DA.

Social Development. Liezl Van der Merwe. IFP. DM: Bridget Masango. DA.

Sports, Arts and Culture. Ebrahim Patel. ANC. DM: Annelie Lotriet. DA.

State Security. Robert McBride (ANC?).

Tourism. Manny de Freitas. DA.

Trade and Industry. Geordin Hill-Lewis. DA.

Transport. Mike Waters. DA.

There you are, Mr President, the (Gordin) dream team – dream team, that is,  when your dreams are circumscribed (minus three) by the walls of the National Assembly. At least this bunch might get something done for the country.

Problems, difficulties? ... Ah, their name is Legion for they are many. For one thing, the ANC qua ANC is going to squeal because there are far too few ANC-ers in the cabinet. But WTF, Cyril? Ace Magashule and a bunch of others are apparently just waiting for the right time to do something about you; so beef up your personal body guard and tell them what’s what – explain that there’s the ANC but there’s also the government of the republic. No more Mr Nice Guy. Put your foot down for once; try it; you’ll like it. You might be surprised to find that many people support you.

Recall you, Cyril? Maybe, but explain to the ANC that, in terms of the disaster regulations and the actual disaster, that meeting of the NEC is just going to have to be put on hold.

Two more serious difficulties. First, the rot, in various forms, seems to run from the directors-general downwards, pervading departments. Will changing ministers help? Well, if I remember correctly, the appointment of DGs and DDGs is the president’s privilege. So ...

Second, the SACP and Cosatu, which make up the tripartite alliance, are going to howl like Russian wolves. The SACP is these days pretty toothless – they won’t leave the alliance because they won’t get into parliament without the ANC umbrella.

The trade unions, though also more toothless than before, are a bigger “problem”. But when their members realize – as they might just have begun to do – that “jobs” are in any case disappearing frighteningly fast, along with the money, and that toyi-toying doesn’t achieve that much (if anything), I’m hoping they might just sit down with the “new” ministers of finance, public enterprises, public service, labour, trade and industry, mining and energy, and education – and try to figure something out. (I don’t envy those ministers – but, hey, that’s why they’ll get the big bucks and I won’t.)

The Bible tells us that “Where there is no vision” – or plan or goal – “the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). To put it another way: the CNU suggested above certainly can’t do worse than the present incumbents.


[1] Five points. 1) I’ve said everyone in the CNU should hail from the National Assembly. There are however three exceptions – but exceptions, as we know, prove the rule. 2) I have had to retain some vaguely competent ANC members; otherwise the whole thing wouldn’t get off the ground. 3) I have not been too concerned about deputy ministers (DMs); the present cabinet is far too big and mostly the job is merely a patronage position or way of “buying” support; sometimes however the post can be a vital and helpful one – in such cases I have appointed a deputy. 4) Readers should bear in mind that certain traditionally important portfolios are now no longer worth writing home about – e.g. Defence (no money), International Relations (had its legs pretty much cut off), etc. 5) Much as I personally enjoy Fikile Mbalula, he’s really got to go – stand-up comedy perhaps?