Qaanitah Hunter: A new normal as politics as we know it comes to an end

2020-05-10 06:00
President Cyril Ramaphosa on a walkabout at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg accompanied by Gauteng Premier David Makhura. (GCIS)

President Cyril Ramaphosa on a walkabout at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg accompanied by Gauteng Premier David Makhura. (GCIS)

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There will have to be a new normal in politics where incompetence is not allowed to thrive and where the public interest is at the centre. Politics as we know it is over, writes Qaanitah Hunter.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been lauded for his candour in appreciating the gravity of the crises facing South Africa and the world. 

He has been able to provide leadership at a daunting time and to capture the confidence of citizens. 

But this pandemic has since exposed that our problems lay elsewhere; in an inefficient and incapable state. 

To put it mildly, if all spheres of South African government were limping going into the Covid-19 pandemic, it will surely emerge from this crisis hamstrung.

At the end of this, the state will have to be rebuilt from the ground up- just like the economy. 

Incompetence compounded with corruption is what has torn apart local government, decimated state-owned entities and rendered government departments ineffective. 

Now the coronavirus crisis has accentuated this and has made it impossible to ignore the cracks within the state. 

This has been demonstrated every time Ramaphosa announced broad plans to the public in response to the coronavirus but those plans proved inefficacious.

Covid-19 further exposes systemic rot

A praise-worthy effort to alleviate social distress by increasing social grants is met by the failure of Sassa to simply do its job - to pay grants timeously.  

Noble intentions to help South Africans stranded abroad is scuppered when what is meant to be a simple repatriation is turned into agony for families because of state incompetence. 

All attempts to secure personal protective equipment for frontline workers mean nothing as a result of mismanagement of the state, leaving nurses and doctors fending for themselves. 

The hunger of communities is ignored in a scramble by politicians in local government to squeeze the last drops of state resources. 


Members of the national command council update the media. (GCIS)

Covid-19 has exposed a broken and incapable state and all goodwill and optimism in Ramaphosa and his cabinet appears to have been squandered. 

This crisis has called for a new type of engaged leadership that is leading from the front. 

Politicians have now realised, for the first time, that they can no longer sit in their offices and issue instructions but have to take full responsibility for what they are in charge of. 

The deep-rooted failures in the state have now demanded a change in what leadership looks like because no amount of sloganeering or perfectly crafted speeches will change the reality on the ground. 

The story of how Health Minister Zweli Mkhize lost his cool when confronted with bare-faced incompetence and indifference in the Eastern Cape provincial government proves this point. 

A visit to the Nelson Mandela Bay district showed him first hand how an inept political head, MEC Sindiswe Gomba, in charge of a department riddled with incompetence can lead to what he called a ‘man-made disaster’ where there was a disproportionate coronavirus fatality rate. 

This crisis has, as a result, exposed the deadwood in the state and has made it apparent to ordinary people who are there to serve and who is just there for the ride. 

Rotten apples

It has become visible for South Africans to see through this and make out self-serving leaders.

It has also become manifest that the state can no longer withstand bad leaders and that it, therefore, can’t be business as usual. 

The ANC has to rethink how its leaders are installed through popularity contests in the party despite apparent shortcomings and incompetence. 

It has to be the end of cadre deployment as it once knew because there is now an evident correlation between the type of leaders it deploys to the state and the level of governance. 

The days where there is inaction in governance because of proxy policy fights should be as good as gone. 

The ANC cannot be held up at an ideological debate around accessing finance from the International Monetary Fund when the urgency of the crises is persisting. 

A tanking economy in the middle of a global pandemic does not wait for the ANC’s "balance of forces" in policy debates that are often proxy factional battles. 

While those belonging to the Radical Economic Transformation faction of the party squabble with finance minister Tito Mboweni over whether or not South Africa should access an IMF loan to fund the public health care response to Covid-19, hundreds of millions is being wiped off the fiscus. 

South Africa has no choice but to access this funding now or else it will be left with no choice but to go cap in hand to the IMF for budgetary support next year with strings attached. 

The imagery this evokes is that of a house burning down, and instead of extinguishing the raging flames, the ANC is fighting about who set the house alight. It won’t matter by the time the roof falls. 

The Covid-19 crisis has eliminated the theatrics of political spectre and has left the ruling party with one job: to govern. 

At the same time, Ramaphosa’s constant balancing-act between doing what he thinks is right versus appeasing his political nemesiss has to come to an end. 

This balancing act that the president is notorious for is an exercise in vain at a time when the interest of the country should be the only priority. 

The politics of Luthuli House versus the Union Buildings can no longer hold the country hostage.


ANC General Secretary Ace Magashule addresses the media at Luthuli House. (File image, Gallo Images,  Sowetan, Alaister Russell)

The rebuilding of the state will require hard and difficult decisions if there is any hope of a rebound of the economy.

Making tough calls

Ramaphosa will have to risk unpopularity in making the right decisions in navigating the aftermath of this pandemic. 

Ramaphosa’s efforts to engage widely and has proven to work in Ramaphosa’s favour up until now.

But he will not have the luxury at a time of a looming disaster. 

The opposition too will have their fair share of a wake-up call.

Cult-personality driven opposition politics has proven worthless in a time of crises. So has the DA politics of criticism without providing a viable alternative. 

This pandemic has changed the world we live in and politics is not spared. 

We often talk about the "new normal" that is the result of coronavirus that will include us wearing face masks and change the way we interact with each other for years to come. 

But there will have to be a new normal in politics where incompetence is not allowed to thrive and where the public interest is at the centre. 

Politics as we know it is over. The people shall determine how best their leaders serve them. 

- Qaanitah Hunter is News24's political editor and the author of Balance of Power: Ramaphosa and the future of South Africa (NB Publishers).


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