When will we start holding Ramaphosa accountable?

For how long will we continue blaming Zuma for SA's woes, asks Ernst van Zyl

The classic scapegoats that politicians and some political commentators instinctively grasp at when they, or those they support, are under pressure have been properly delegitimised over the years. Jan van Riebeeck and apartheid can by no means be held responsible for, amongst other things, the ANC’s record of chronic corruption or for the spectacular decay of municipalities and state-owned enterprises. Although many can see through these blame-shifting fallacies it unfortunately does not mean that everybody immediately realises when a new scapegoat has entered the field.

One such a new scapegoat, apparently in the same class as Jan van Riebeeck in terms of all-encompassing, long-lasting influence, is former president Jacob Zuma and his gang of “conspirators”. Don’t get me wrong, I fully realise the giant role Zuma played in state capture and the destructive decay that took place under his administration.

However, it has now been four years since Ramaphosa has been at the helm of the country after having been Zuma’s vice president. It is thus absurd to absolve him of accountability simply due to the pathetic record of his predecessor.

It is also very short-sighted to blame everything from the Parliament building that went up in flames to the petrol price that skyrocketed on Zuma’s “dastardly RET faction”. When will President Ramaphosa and his administration be held accountable for the continuing deterioration in almost every area under their watch, since the break of the “new dawn”?

The president’s defenders argue that Ramaphosa is a moderate leader within the ANC and that he is slowly changing the course of the ship with his “long-term strategy”. Let’s evaluate these statements against the background of Ramaphosa’s comment during a 2018 interview where he stated that “I’d rather be seen as a weak president than to split the ANC.”

Since Ramaphosa’s administration took over in 2018 we have witnessed the following:

Corruption described by the Special Investigating Unit as on a scale they had never seen before, the worst and most destructive episode of public looting and riots since 1994, and a loadshedding record that would make even the Zuma administration blush. Furthermore we have seen how the President’s Minister of Health resigned as a result of serious corruption accusations during a pandemic, and how the country has twice hit a brand-new overall unemployment rate record.

We can further add to this the radical, destructive policy directions that have been put on the table under Ramaphosa’s supervision, policies like expropriation without compensation and the National Health Insurance. Remember that it was also Ramaphosa who in 2018 spread the shocking lie on an international platform that: “There are no killings of farmers or white farmers in South Africa”. On top of this it was also reported that it was Ramaphosa himself who gave the green light for Zuma’s release on parole.

It was Ramaphosa who appointed Bheki Cele as Minister of Police, and Fikile Mbalula as Minister of Transport. Both are currently still filling their crucial positions under Ramaphosa’s supervision despite their extremely poor performances.

Ramaphosa has also made the following utterances:

In 2013 Ramaphosa alleged that “If you don’t vote, the Boers will come back to control us.” In 2016 he said that “South Africans should aim to have ‘principled and fearless’ leaders like Fidel Castro governing their country” and in 2019 he praised Robert Mugabe as a hero.

In 2018 Ramaphosa emphasised that the ANC would welcome Julius Malema back with open arms and in 2021 he challenged the South African Communist Party to advance the agenda of socialism in South Africa. In 2022 he announced that the ANC will continue its programme for expropriation without compensation at full steam this year.

This sad record and radical statements by President Ramaphosa do not exactly demonstrate moderation or a change of course. As for the promised new dawn under President Ramaphosa there is still nothing to show. The only individuals who have seen a new dawn under Ramaphosa’s supervision so far are his corrupt cadres who are allowed to plunder further without consequences, as Helen Zille recently pointed out.

The idea of a rotten faction within the ANC implies that it is possible to fix the ANC and reform it by cutting out the corrupt tumor within it. This is a dangerous and naive outlook on a party that has over the decades proven without a doubt that it simply is not capable or willing tostop corruption by weeding out the corrupt officials.

Those who are found guilty of corruption within the ANC are mostly placed on luxurious, fully paid leave. Thereafter they are redeployed into shiny new positions when the dust surrounding their scandals have settled and the media’s attention is elsewhere on the misdeeds of another cadre. It is probably just a matter of time before Zweli Mkhize is offered a new position on the ANC government’s ministerial merry-go-round.

The following question must be answered earnestly: Where does the legacy of former president Zuma end and where does the accountability of President Ramaphosa start? The shrinking circle of Ramaphoria praise singers can no longer protect him from criticism.

Although immeasurable damage has been done under Zuma, we cannot afford to elevate him to an almighty scapegoat of Jan van Riebeeck’s mythical calibre to cleanse President Ramaphosa of his sins. The ship has had a new captain for a while now but despite that, we are still heading straight for the iceberg and someone is still keeping the same course and stepping up the pace.

Ernst van Zyl is Campaigns Officer: Strategy and Content at AfriForum. He is co-presenter of the Podlitiek podcast, presents the Afrikaans podcast In alle Ernst, and has a channel for political commentary and interviews on YouTube. Ernst usually publishes contributions on Twitter and YouTube under his pseudonym Conscious Caracal.