Cyril, are you the difference our nation needs?

2018-01-21 05:43

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Dear Cyril,

I hope you don’t mind my addressing you thus, but I have watched you since you were a youngster in the Student Christian Movement, visiting bereaved families in Soweto after the June 16 1976 police shootings. I observed you working with people at the Independent Mediation Service of SA as you became a superb negotiator, and I saw you shape a struggling band of mine workers into a militant labour union feared by the apartheid regime.

To you and a small handful of others, we owe our Constitution. You created a magnificent document that stands tall among the great declarations of human dignity and liberty. For that, we are forever in your debt. Your election as president-in-waiting means that, soon, you will be sworn in as the chief defender of that same Constitution.

When you were frozen out for all those years, you took your “deployment” to business seriously and made a lot of money. For me, your wealth is the least important thing about you, but the experience will be useful as you try to repair the damage your comrades have done. Your bad misstep prior to the Marikana tragedy will surely remind you to always take special care not to misuse wealth, privilege or position.

The point I’m making, Cyril, is that you are a uniquely gifted person, remarkably qualified and prepared to lead our country. But all of these gifts and skills will be useless unless you demonstrate that you have something else that we South Africans have missed for too many years now – I speak of moral courage.

Thanks to your predecessor, the very words ‘morality’ and ‘integrity’ have lost meaning in South Africa. Everyone knows that Jacob Zuma’s years of venality, his readiness to compromise the highest office in the land for self-enrichment, his ruthless using and discarding of comrades to cover his misdeeds and his sheer contempt for the Constitution have brought us to the edge of economic disaster. Economics is not my field, Cyril, but it is yours and I have no doubt that you will immediately begin to undo the reckless, criminal harm wrought by this thoroughly bad man and put us back on the right fiscal path.

But there is something that is more troubling than our economic woes – Zuma’s most damning legacy is that we are morally bankrupt. Quite simply, his presidency gave people permission to be bad. So my concern, Cyril, is not whether you have the skill to lead us back to prosperity, but if you will have the moral strength to lead us back to decency.

I understand you are an ANC loyalist and there’s nothing wrong with that – unless you allow loyalty to your party to trump your duty to all South Africans. I read recently that you called the ANC “the Parliament of the people”. That’s not a good start. There is only one Parliament and the ANC is accountable to all the people represented there. I’m sure you know that your party’s failure to hold President Zuma accountable is deplorable.

Time and again, when moral guts was called for, ANC MPs behaved like servile pawns of his patronage, conveniently mislaying their consciences to please him. Someone will have to teach them all over again what integrity means.

I hope you can do it, Cyril. At times, your performance has worried me. I watched you stumble through “deputy president’s questions” just before the conference that elected you and I inwardly groaned. Granted, you were trying not to alienate the supporters you would need at the conference, but I wonder if, looking back on that day, you feel you gave us moral leadership.

Moral courage

Now that you have been elected, may I suggest that there is no reason to mince words any more – you either lead or you shouldn’t have stood in the first place. I, and I believe millions of others, will be looking not only for your skills, but for signs of that virtue of moral courage.

Here are some of the signs I believe will help convince us that change has come:

- We will watch carefully what you do with Zuma. He has hurt us all – especially the poor – and he needs to stand trial for his alleged crimes. If, for the sake of peace in your party, you strike a deal with him, you will have placed your party above justice and you will send everyone a message that it’s okay to be a crook. That will be a moral failure and millions will remember it at the next general election.

- We will also be concerned about how you handle the two rogues elected on either side of you. From everything we know, both are morally compromised, untrustworthy people. One ran his province for years in Zuma’s style, with strong links to the Gupta family. The other used extreme storm trooper tactics to browbeat his province into collaborating with his naked presidential ambitions. I believe that neither deserves our respect. I’m not sure how you handle this burden, Cyril, but their presence up there with you unfortunately goes against claims that the ANC is being morally and ethically renewed. So, if either behaves according to his past form, I hope that you will have the courage to act against them.

- We will want to hear you ban any further undermining of our judiciary, and thank them instead for literally saving our democracy from a crooked president and some sinister and stupid ministers. Please tell your future Cabinet that the best way to avoid tangling with judges and wasting millions of taxpayers’ rands is to read the Constitution and stay within its boundaries.

- We will watch Cabinet and other crucial appointments like hawks. We want to know whether we are in for more of the same – pliant, mediocre cronies who are more expert at lying to us than running their departments – or whether you will appoint ministers and directors of moral and intellectual stature who know the difference between right and wrong to every department, but especially to places such as Treasury and the National Prosecuting Authority.

- We want to see you put an end to the growing worship of ethnicity and “culture”. This country was cursed for centuries by the arrogance of its white tribe with its cultural hegemony, but the ANC’s great strength was its modernity and its eschewing of any kind of tribalism, white or black. To those who are stirring up division for the sake of votes, please make it clear that South Africa is determined to be a modern state, where every citizen – woman or man, child or adult, rural or urban – is protected by the same law under one Constitution.

- We will hope to see an end to the “blue-light” convoys that have turned politicians elected to serve us into silly, arrogant show-offs. This may seem like a trivial concern, but ridding us of such ostentation will be a powerful symbol of a new “servant spirit” among your colleagues. I am not convinced that you and they need anything like the security battalions we see these days. Nelson Mandela used only a handful of guards and, amazingly, even when we had a really hated regime – that of PW Botha – you could almost knock on his door at the Union Buildings. Surely a democratic government living close to its people doesn’t need to be so paranoid.

- We hope that you, not Zuma, will offer the next state of the nation address. If you do, in God’s name, inspire us! Watching our country become reduced to a bankrupt shadow of Madiba’s proud new nation has wearied and discouraged us; it has wiped the smile off the face of South Africa. We need hope, so please toss out the boring self-congratulatory statistic-speak Zuma’s party apparatchiks came up with year after year and give us some moral leadership instead.

Tell us what it means to be good people and proud South Africans again; denounce divisive identity politics and put the multicoloured rainbow back into the sky so that all of us can once again know we belong.

Mention the ANC less and fellow South Africans more, and invite us all back to work for a truly fair and decent nation, where honesty and hard work, compassion, neighbourly care, self-respect and integrity are rewarded, and where, above all, in the words of the New Testament, “the poor are hearing good news”. An ubuntu South Africa.

If you do these things, Cyril, we will begin to believe that you could be the difference our nation needs to find healing. You have an enormous task and you will need the help of God. I don’t mean that you should trot off like so many politicians these days for a photo with some tame priests laying hands on your head, but that you dig deep into the resources of your faith and principles, where God’s good spirit will keep your heart humble and your moral compass fixed to true north.

I wish you well, Cyril. The wellbeing of millions now depends on you.

- Storey is a former president of the SA Council of Churches and bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril ramaphosa

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