Cyril in Sandton: ‘The Guns of Navarone’, national groups and the fightback

2019-04-05 06:28
Pieter du Toit

Pieter du Toit (Argief)

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President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke to about a hundred potential voters in Sandton on Thursday night. The event was initially billed as an engagement with Afrikaners, then it morphed into one with "white counterparts" before the ANC settled on a meeting with "national groups". He told them what they wanted to hear, but he did make some significant comments. Pieter du Toit reports.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday night did what a good politician does best: tell his audience what they want to hear.

Speaking to a mix of South Africans at an election dialogue at a venue just off Grayston Drive in Sandton, Ramaphosa spoke tough about corruption, emphasised the need to build a united nation, said he is "sad" that some whites feel pushed out and reiterated that crime was a problem. He acknowledged state capture, corruption and load shedding.

And he said: "In this election you are spoilt for choice, there are 48 parties from which to choose…choose the party that has a steady hand on the steering wheel of the country."

But Ramaphosa did make some significant remarks about the difficulties with the ANC's controversial list process, the increasingly obvious fightback against his reformist agenda and the damage caused to government and the ANC by corruption, distancing himself from former president Jacob Zuma.

Ramaphosa, the ANC's biggest drawcard and strongest workhorse, spent the day campaigning in Diepsloot, Ivory Park, Rabie Ridge and Midrand before concluding in the heart of the country’s financial district speaking to a mostly white audience.

The head of state was flanked by Gauteng premier David Makhura and his parliamentary counsellor Gerhard Koornhof as he sat on stage listening to questions from the floor ranging from issues on state capture, white fears and farming to leadership challenges, bad apples in the ANC’s leadership and absent fathers.

In response to a question about democratic processes pushing forward public representatives of dubious moral and ethical fibre, Ramaphosa said that it is the reality of democracies and that it needed to be "dealt with". He referred to US president Donald Trump as an example of an elected representative who seems to be a denier of climate change science and said that there are ways and means to manage people like that.

Guilty must be dealt with

"Democratic processes sometimes throw out names like that and then it is something that must be dealt with. Remember in our own organisation we now have lists and some people are being questioned, but we are dealing with people here, many who argue they haven’t been charged or found guilty in a court of law and feel they can go to parliament to represent the ANC. We are now referring these names to the (ANC's) integrity commission who will look at them," Ramaphosa said.

There are serious divisions among members of the party's executive committee on how to deal with problematic candidates like Malusi Gigaba and Bathabile Dlamini, both who have been found to have lied to courts, and Nomvula Mokonyane, who has bankrupted the department of water affairs and sanitation. And Ramaphosa seemed to pin his hope on a second round of vetting by the integrity commission.

He also on more than one occasion seemed to distance himself from former president Jacob Zuma and was not afraid to build on his "nine lost years" remark earlier this year in Davos. He called state capture "a debacle" that has become the country's "overarching problem" and repeatedly said the ANC is on a path to renewal – which meant that the party by implication previously found itself on the path to ruin.

And he had some strong remarks for the increasingly visible fightback campaign by those in party and government that is resisting Ramaphosa's reforms. "Things in the past are over, the die is cast. And those that are waging a fightback…they will not succeed!" he said to rousing applause.

He added that "South Africans are sick and tired of what happened in the past and what went wrong…we will defeat those that remain committed to the wrong things!"

Commenting on many South Africans' frustration that "things aren’t happening" and that crooks and capture criminals have not been locked up he explained the country is a constitutional democracy and not a dictatorship – he can't intervene as head of state and order prosecutions and convictions.

Don't worry - things are happening

His remarks confirmed his approach, established at the beginning of his tenure as president, to revive institutions and let them recover in order for them to function independently. "A friend of mine complained that things aren't happening, and I told him: 'Don’t worry.'"

Ramaphosa said he has trust and belief in Shamila Batohi, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, and that the new investigative directorate in the National Prosecuting Authority will soon commence its work. "I have appointed all these commissions, like the Zondo commission [into state capture] and their reports will all be made public. But while these commissions are busy with their work some things [that emerge] can be acted upon…and if jail time is required there must be jail time!"

He added that a favourite movie of his is The Guns of Navarone, a 1961 flick about a British commando sent to blow up a bridge to prevent a German crossing during the Second World War. Ramaphosa said in one scene, David Nivens' character lights a fuse underneath a bridge, to which Gregory Peck's character replies incredulously: "Is that all?"

But, Ramaphosa said, Niven's character explained that the fuse cannot be stopped.

The fuse has been lit

"It has been lit, the brige will explode…I know we're are all impatient, but the fuse has been lit," he said and explained the wheels of justice are in motion and that accountability will be extracted from those implicated in capture.

Ramaphosa told his "national group" audience what they wanted to hear.

But the realities remain: a dodgy ANC candidate list, Eskom in dire straits and not a single prosecution related to capture.

Read more on:    ramaphosa  |  cyril  |  election 2019
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