How 'Ramashocks' and other disconnected leaders fail South Africans

2019-05-06 20:00
Cyril Ramaphosa,Cyril,ANC
(Gallo Images)

President Cyril Ramaphosa's "shock" at the dire South African situation tells us that he has been at the helm of a machine which does not understand the conditions it is trying to improve, writes Pearl Mncube.

As May 8 fast approaches, politicians have descended from their ivory towers to convince voters to keep them on their high pedestals. Most of them express their shock and horror at the conditions of the majority of South Africans; from lack of sanitation, shack dwellings, lack of electricity and water; the list goes on.

President Cyril Ramaphosa takes the cup in this respect. He was shocked by load shedding; the state of Eskom; Metrorail and, most recently, the state of Gauteng's townships. Makes you wonder where he has been all these years. No wonder he variously called "Cyril Ramashocks", "Cyril Shocked Ramaphosa", and "Cyril Ramashocka". The general sentiment is that of a president who seems disconnected from the daily realities of the people he governs. This is a terrible indictment of his leadership.

Campaigning in Pretoria, Ramaphosa went aboard a Metrorail train travelling from Mabopane to Bosman train station. The train took two hours longer than scheduled to arrive at its destination. In true Ramashocka style, the president expressed his shock at the dire state of Metrorail and promised that the government would fix the operator. In his words, "I am glad that I came and I have seen for myself. We are going to take steps to change the situation", said the president. You wonder why it took him so long to know what the rest of South Africa has known for decades already.  

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Ramaphosa's shocking "shock" raises the important question of the growing gulf between politicians and their constituencies. Considering that he became deputy president of South Africa in 2014 and president in 2017, the realities faced by South Africans should not be new to him. His shock tells us that he has been at the helm of a machine which does not understand the conditions it is trying to improve. Makes you wonder how public policy is made in this country. At the heart of effective policy is the exercise of identifying, challenging and fixing pressing issues.

The reality is that the lifestyle of the political elite makes it difficult for them to be knowledgeable and truly sympathetic to the realities faced by their constituencies. While priding itself as a party that prioritises the needs of the poor and the marginalised, the EFF seems to be doing a great job at failing to practice what they preach. The party has found itself at the very centre of the VBS scandal, which only further disempowered the people they claim to represent. The Ferragamo and Gucci-clad revolutionaries have also been accused of mismanaging their own party funds. The contradictions and inconsistencies are painfully amusing.

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba found himself in hot water delaying to meet with the people of Alexandra over their service delivery concerns. Instead of prioritising their demands, the DA mayor went on to blame the Alexandra protests on the ANC and, most recently, on disgruntled contractors. The DA has been in charge of the area since 2016, giving them sufficient time to initiate change in the area.

Mashaba's blame game and inability to prioritise the genuine concerns of the citizens of Alexandra further proves the inability of the political elite to sympathise with the needs and concerns of ordinary people.

The Metrorail and many other incidents of "shock" by our leaders do nothing to instil confidence about their connectedness to their constituencies. It certainly puts paid to any notions that policy-making is based on any scientific foundation.

After all, on what basis can leaders make policy choices about matters they do not understand. Should we trust them to resolve issues that "shock" them 25 years into this our democracy? Are we so understanding that we would take their expressions of shock as genuine empathy for the deleterious existential crisis that many South Africans call their daily life? We do so at our own peril.

There is no excuse for politicians to remain out of touch with the experiences of ordinary people. How else do our leaders expect to generate effective solutions to society's most pressing concerns if they are not fully immersed in them? While the elite turn a blind eye to society's needs, ordinary citizens are left to bear the brunt of widespread institutional and governance failures.

Efforts aimed at being "aware" of the realities South Africans face should be deliberate and more frequent, and not confined to the election period alone.

- Pearl Mncube is a public policy research intern at Frontline Africa Advisory. She writes in her personal capacity.

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