Ralph Mathekga

Ramaphosa's communications fiasco

2018-10-01 08:24
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Jacoline Schoonees

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Jacoline Schoonees

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President Cyril Ramaphosa is caught in the middle of a communications nightmare that makes his job in the ANC and the country very difficult. 

The president is not a bad communicator; he just finds himself in a storm where he is unable to get his message across in a way that he would prefer, reading from his latest remarks. 

Ramaphosa is reported to have read the Riot Act to the ANC communication gurus that they should shut up or else the party will be punished in the forthcoming elections. To put it simply, Ramaphosa is asking ANC communicators to stop contradicting the message he is trying to send from government.

Indeed, there are noticeable discrepancies regarding what is said from Luthuli House and what comes out of the Union Buildings. The ANC communicators come out as cantankerous and at times sloppy on issues, leaving the Union Buildings with the mammoth task of having to mop up consequences of communication gone wrong. 

The obvious case reported to have worried Ramaphosa is how the party's communication machinery reacted to a reported plot to oust former president Jacob Zuma following a not-so-secret meeting held by Zuma and his allies. The ANC communication chief Pule Mabe's first reaction was to deny the meeting between Zuma and the alleged conspirators took place. That was later followed by an admission that the meeting did take place but had nothing to do with a plot. 

Another ANC communication chief Zizi Kodwa joined the fray and insisted that Ramaphosa is here to stay. Kodwa's statement gave credence to the view that indeed there might be credibility to the allegations that Zuma have met with allies to plot Ramaphosa's removal. Ramaphosa also gave credibility to the allegations of a plot to oust him when he publicly quipped that he would welcome any plot to resolve the economic challenges the country is facing. 

The contradictions in terms of messaging from Luthuli House and the Union Buildings are so deep that it won't be resolved by dictating that everyone has to read from the same script. 

The inconsistencies reflect the two worlds that consistently exist within the ANC. One world exists within the ANC, while a completely different world exists in government. This is also shown in the manner in which the land reform debate is reflected upon with the ANC maintaining a different position from what comes out of government. 

Government's communication on land reform and related matters has hit a snag at international level with Ramaphosa making embarrassing mistakes that are uncharacteristic of a leader of his calibre. The president recently said that there were no farm murders and land grabs in South Africa. 

The issue here is that the ANC seems not to be willing to allow Ramaphosa to lead and tread the way forward on this key issue. The party seems to be set on insisting on its own messages, as expressed by some within the top six of the party. 

As far as some within the ANC are concerned, the message is clear: expropriation of land without compensation will go ahead no matter what. Ramaphosa, however as the president of the country, has the responsibility to communicate government's position to the world and he cannot put it in the same language as the ANC often puts it. 

While South Africans might be used to the ANC's sledge hammer approach or arrogance when it comes to how the party communicates its policy positions, the international community would want a more nuanced message from government. 

When talking to the international community, Ramaphosa cannot take the same tone and attitude that the ANC often takes when communicating to South Africans. He has to be humble and courteous to the international community and show that his government's actions remain within the confines of the law so that South Africa is not seen as a pariah state. 

As Thabo Mbeki stated in a recently leaked pamphlet on land expropriation, the ANC no longer cares much about nuances when it comes to policy positions. This results in a situation where Ramaphosa has had to mistakenly state to the international community that there are no farm murders and land grabs in the country. 

If the president deliberately lied – something the Presidency denied – he did it to show courtesy to the international community since he has to communicate the seemingly incommunicable. Unfortunately, this just might be the order of things for Ramaphosa going forward: telling it to save face. 

Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

 Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  union buildings  |  luthuli house
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