Quite early into the billionaire Donald Trump presidency, within months actually, the unemployment rate in the United States dropped to record levels (as low as 3,8%). Predictably, Trump and his supporters hailed this as a result of Trump’s genius and "proof" that his "America First" policy was the best thing since sliced bread.
However, on closer inspection of the graph of US unemployment over 10 years, you would see that high unemployment which characterised the Bush administration started dropping sharply in the second year of Obama’s presidency and continued this trend throughout his administration. Trump was basically riding the wave of Obama’s success and attributing it to his yet to be tested economic policies.
Further afield, in a tiny country at the tip of Africa, another billionaire also became president. Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa rose to power after the Valentine’s Day break up between the country of South Africa and its’ no-so-beloved president Zuma who had presided over 9 years of chaos, state capture and scandal-fatigue that was visited on an agitated public. Years of parliamentary heckling, failed no-confidence motions, public marches, reams of #ZumaMustFall articles and electoral disasters had finally culminated in the political decapitation of the head of a defiant Zuma.
The early days of the Ramaphosa presidency were characterised by a short honeymoon period of relief and excitement at the prospect of a new beginning and a break from the disastrous Zuma years. This became known as "Ramaphoria". So pervasive was this feeling, that opposition politicians who normally heckled the president or walked out of presidential addresses in Parliament, leapt up from their seats at the end of Ramaphosa’s maiden Sate of the Nation Address and joined their ANC counterparts in adopting the presidents’ call to service: "Thuma mina (send me)!"
A new dawn at last! Or not! Or something like that.
Soon, the pilot Ramaphosa would have to fly the country back from the honeymoon in Wakanda, on an SAA flight. Yes, the bankrupt SAA with it’s now grounded sister SA Express. No less than 10 useless Zuma era ministers were axed from the Cabinet, but disasters like Bathabile Dlamini were merely shifted to other portfolios while Ramaphosa was attempting to appease the "other side" in his own party. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) swooped on the Guptas and their acolytes, only to arrest one Gupta nephew and none of the brothers, the same NPA was to later see three attempts to attach Gupta loot thwarted by the courts owing to the sloppy, amateurish way they had gone about their business. Even Zumanomic mathematics continued as RET propagandists tried to paint the R57bn Renewable energy independent power producer contracts as being R1trillion spending on White Monopoly Capital (WMC).
The dramatic increase in cash-in-transit heists that began in 2017 continued unabated in 2018, becoming part of the daily news bulletins. The ZAR also lost its Ramaphoria and tumbled along with other emerging country currencies to R13,03 to the currency of Trump-land. The horrendous petrol price increases which were dribbling motorists in the Zuma era continued and reached new record levels. The country didn’t feel so new anymore! Even state capture fugitive Duduzane Zuma could afford to taunt South Africans about the faltering "new dawn" on Twitter.
It will not end here. We have begun to see the results of years of political interference at the NPA and the Hawks in the disastrous Gupta raids and the Khomotso Phahlane case. We don’t know what the result of the Eskom capture will be? Retrenchments? More debt? Electricity price hikes?
What will happen to the collapsed water ministry? Failing healthcare system? Will state owned companies be able to survive in their current form after the hollowing out through state capture? Will the State Capture Inquiry yield fruit? Speaking of fruit, will the land return?
There are many questions that the president will have to answer through his actions over the next few months leading up to the scheduled national elections. He has had his share of PR coups like his morning runs in the Cape and Soweto where thousands turned up to walk alongside him, photo ops with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Bishop Tutu and many smiling babies. He has also had PR nightmares like the Supra Mahumapelo firing/not firing/resigning/not resigning/retiring tragicomedy and blunders like delivering a speech at the 100year celebrations of the erstwhile Broederbond who have rebranded and resurfaced. This was as insensitive and nauseating as Zuma’s 2010 visit to Orania, where he was photographed walking hand in hand with Orania founder Carel Boshoff.
So what does the future of the country under the "Buffalo" really hold? Should we be hopeful or pessimistic? We don’t really know how many, if any of these massive challenges we will be able to overcome. It is perhaps easier to pretend that we don’t understand the laws of sowing and reaping, or we don’t understand how processes of change work than to admit that it is too early to tell, too early to judge, whether the light at the tunnel is a new dawn or an oncoming train.