Melanie Verwoerd

Will the ANC ensure we never suffer another Zuma again?

2018-02-21 07:01
President Cyril Ramaphosa after delivering his maiden State of the Nation Address (Photo: Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images)

President Cyril Ramaphosa after delivering his maiden State of the Nation Address (Photo: Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images)

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What a difference a week can make! As on of the parliamentary reporters wrote, "If someone had told me last week that Cyril Ramaphosa would be president, the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma would be running from the law and dignified behaviour would return to the National Assembly, I would not have believed it." 

I totally agree.

After facing the most dangerous two weeks post-1994, we finally got to celebrate on Friday night, when President Ramaphosa delivered the State of the Nation Address (SONA). For all practical purposes it was his inauguration speech. And what a speech it was!

There was none of the halted throat clearing and turning of pages every three seconds that we have become used to over the past 10 years. We didn't even panic when big numbers came up. Being a businessman and all, we were confident that he knows his millions and billions apart.

And there was laughter – lots of it – even before the speech started. After getting out of the presidential pope mobile the president, together with Speaker Baleka Mbete and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, were waiting for the procession to start. They looked solemn as you would expect and knowing that the whole world was watching, there was some nervous fiddling with clothes.

Then President Ramaphosa made a joke under his breath. The two presiding officers cracked up and after faking innocence he beamed his trademark smile. The enormous relief of being in the post-Zuma era was written all over Mbete and Modise’s faces.

Even inside there was time for a joke or two and with Julius Malema, nogal. He and his party had the novel experience of sitting through a whole parliamentary session – and did not even need their hard hats.

The whole feel of the day was different from 12 months before. There was far less of a militarised atmosphere to the event and why not? Who would wish to harm Ramaphosa so soon after he became our new commander-in-chief? Well, apart from he-who-used-to-be No 1?

After the speech ended MPs sang like they used to during Madiba’s time, clearly relieved of the burden of having to support a leader that many despised. (Of course you will now find it more difficult to find anyone in the ANC who ever supported Jacob Zuma than a whitey who supported apartheid).

It was clear from social media that the nation was equally touched, with many moved to tears.

"Why was there such a massive emotional outpouring and joy on the night?" asked a foreign friend.

Reflecting on this I believe that it was only once Ramaphosa took to the podium and reminded us of who we are and could be as nation that we finally realised just how we had come to disaster. Only when there was again a president who talked about putting the country first, did we really comprehend how the decade of Zuma corruption, maladministration and racial polarisation nearly destroyed our nation.

In that moment we all took a breath and let go of the collective stress we had felt over the last few months as we watched the ANC's struggles to get rid of Zuma. It was clearly difficult for all of the ANC leadership, but it also took its toll on us as a nation.

For that reason the ANC should make sure that we never have to go through that again.

Firstly, they must ensure that we never see someone of Zuma's calibre in leadership – and that means getting rid of many who are still there.

It is also time for the ANC to acknowledge that they have to make some changes to their constitution. It has been clear since Polokwane that two centres of power cannot work. Even with Madiba and Thabo Mbeki there were stressful moments. The only reason the 16 month-handover did not end with a similar distasteful battle, was because of Madiba's magnanimity.

However, the ANC is still reeling from the "recalling" of Mbeki in 2008 and will also feel bruised from the last few weeks for a long time. So they should ensure that history does not repeat itself for a third time. For the party and also for the country’s sake.

No matter how much the DA with their dwindling twenty-something percentage of votes want to convince us that they will be the majority party soon, we can safely assume that the ANC will for the foreseeable future still be the governing party.

So why not synchronise the election of ANC leaders with that of the national elections of the country?

If the ANC can move their national electoral conference to the year before the general election there will at most be a four to five month handover period. Anyone should be able to manage that.

Of course the ANC would argue that it would be difficult to run an election campaign and deal with the internal elections as well. Perhaps focussing on winning the country is exactly what is needed to minimise some of the distasteful practises that have developed over the years around the ANC’s internal electoral battles.

Money might also be an issue. These conferences cost a fortune as do election campaigns. Again, the voters might just take kindly if less money is used to "motivate" ANC comrades to vote for a certain candidate, so financial constraints might not be such a bad thing.

With our new president we can finally sigh a collective sigh of relief. But, having stared into the abyss, we as a nation and the ANC as the governing party must commit never to let this happen again.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  anc

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