End of Cyril’s honeymoon?

2018-07-15 06:01
Mondli Makhanya

Mondli Makhanya

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Every presidency enjoys a limited honeymoon. For some, it lasts longer than others. Sometimes it ends with a thud, sometimes it’s a little gentler.

Here at home, different incidents have led to the end of honeymoon periods. For Nelson Mandela, it came a few months after taking office and it was not even of his own making. It started with his new government accepting the recommendation of the Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers, which, as the title says, determines the salaries of those on the state’s payroll. The recommendations significantly hiked pay scales that the new order had inherited from the apartheid administration. This, it was argued, was necessary to make public service attractive to the most talented in society.

This acceptance sparked widespread outrage, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu saying the ANC had “only stopped the gravy train long enough to get on”.

The scathing rebuke by the anti-apartheid icon and moral elder stung Mandela badly and resulted in him calling Tutu “irresponsible”.

Mandela charged that Tutu should have first called him to get the facts, but had instead been “unable to resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon and criticise us”.

The public spat went on for a bit, with Tutu chiding Mandela for behaving “like an ordinary politician”. After that spat – during which the public mostly sided with Tutu – Mandela and his administration were fair game for commentators and the public alike.

For Thabo Mbeki, the honeymoon was ended by allegations of corruption surrounding the 1999 arms deal. Although he was not directly implicated in wrongdoing by whistle-blowers, the fact that he had chaired the Cabinet sub-committee that oversaw the controversial multibillion-rand purchase put him close to the scene of the crime in the eyes of critics. His man-of-action and hands-on policy glow was dimmed by the deal. By the time he came up with his Aids denialism, he’d already received his fair share of arrows.

Kgalema Motlanthe may have been in power for a short period and may have a good public image, but his honeymoon was also cut short. His sin was to confirm the axing of then national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli.

Motlanthe was on a hiding to nothing on this one. His presidency sat between Mbeki (who had suspended Pikoli in an apparent bid to protect dodgy police commissioner Jackie Selebi) and Jacob Zuma (who wanted an obedient poodle who would not prosecute him). The overwhelming view in the ANC leadership at the time was that a “political solution” had to be found to clear the crime-prone Zuma and enable him to ascend to high office. Pikoli was not going to be bendable.

No prizes for guessing how Zuma’s honeymoon ended. After he had been given a fairly easy ride by a forgiving public that was fully aware of his filthy ways, the end of Zuma’s honeymoon predictably had to do with after-dark activities.

Having already acquired more wives and alternative companions than King Solomon, and possessing the reproductive capacity of a fertile Chinese rice paddy, he decided to make another child. This time, it was with the daughter of his close friend Irvin Khoza – the chairperson of the glorious, all-conquering and indestructible Orlando Pirates Football Club. (But we digress, necessarily so.) The effect of this scandalous behaviour was to remind the public that leopards do change their spots, something that we were to see proven a million times during his tenure.

This brings us to the man who has to clean up Zuma’s mountainous mess. President Cyril Ramaphosa has enjoyed a lot of goodwill since coming into office. He has faced criticism here and there, but this has been overwhelmed by South Africans’ desire to feel good about themselves again and support the daunting clean-up operation under way in the state and society. The citizens have been enjoying being led by a human being instead of a hyena.

Even those who have criticised him for allegedly lacking rock-hard cojones have been understanding of the treacherous road he had to negotiate in his early days at the wheel.

But Ramaphosa may now have arrived at the end of his honeymoon. For a very stupid reason. Last weekend, the president of our country, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the person enjoined to “uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic”, deemed it fit to show weakness when fortitude and wisdom were required.

When Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini – surrounded by rogues and villains – publicly threatened the integrity of the state and Constitution that underpins the republic, a whimpering Ramaphosa rushed to bow before the monarch. The person we are supposed to trust to stand up to international bullies could not stare down Zwelithini in defence of this unitary, constitutional democracy called South Africa.

With this extraordinary moment of weakness and foolishness, Ramaphosa has empowered those who wish to challenge his leadership and those who want to derail the project of fixing South Africa. What’s more, he assured Zwelithini that neither “government nor the ANC has any intention whatsoever to take the land from the Ingonyama Trust” and that he will always have custody over the land on behalf of the people. This was a betrayal of those who suffer under the yoke of the king and his brigands, and who are deprived of the rights enjoyed by many other South Africans.

That meeting room in Empangeni, where Ramaphosa scraped and bowed before a citizen who had wagged a finger at him, may well have shut the door on his honeymoon.

Read more on:    mondli makhanya  |  cyril ramaphosa

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