Mondli Makhanya | So what’s Cyril Ramaphosa’s tone?

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: File
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: File

So it’s goodbye to Isloch, Vitebsk, Energetik-BGU, BATE Borisov and all the giants of the Belarusian Premier League.

They have been good to us, keeping us company in the football drought, and we are eternally grateful.

A big dziekuje to Vitali Lisakovich, Jasurbek Yakshiboev, Vladimir Hvaschinski and Pavel Alyaksandravich Nyakhaych for the wonderful months we have had together.

We promise not to forget you as we now turn our eyes and hearts to the fields of Milan, Dortmund, North London and that holiest of cathedrals in Orlando.

If there is anything to remember about the middle of June, it will be that President Cyril Ramaphosa interrupted the first game of the English Premier League, a clash between Aston Villa and Watford, which would have otherwise been unremarkable save for the fact that we were so starved we could not wait for the 7pm kickoff.

READ: It’s all systems go tonight as EPL ends 100-day virus-induced hiatus

Ramaphosa’s speech was not that remarkable, either, with the president telling us to wash our hands, keep our masks on and do everything in our power to avoid the deadly Covid-19 coronavirus.

He made a number of interesting announcements, and then turned his wrath on the monsters who abuse and kill women and children.

The unremarkable speech was overshadowed by the long overdue arrests of the avaricious and heartless men who looted VBS Mutual Bank in one of the most brazen executions of corporate theft in recent South African history.

Those men didn’t just raid poor people’s coffers and spend the money wildly, they flaunted their ill-gotten wealth in the sickest fashion.

During their time in paradise, they flooded social media with photos and videos of themselves frolicking like there was no tomorrow.

In court this week, they pleaded poverty, asking the magistrate to lower their bail to a pittance.

READ: VBS suspects ask for bail to be reduced

It would be easy to regard the VBS looters as an extreme example of corruption and their spending ways as an excessive example of nouveau riche buffoonery.

However, it was not.

Such plundering and lavish living were quite normal during Jacob Zuma’s wasted decade.

Those were the anything goes years, both in terms of emptying the public purse and in terms of personal conduct.

It was all about the tone set by the man at the top. With Zuma officially sanctioning corrupt behaviour by letting his pals – and that’s not just the Guptas – run amok, anyone who wanted to do the same had no reason to have scruples.

And so we saw widespread looting in government departments at national and provincial level, and municipalities and paratastals being turned into feeding troughs.

Ramaphosa has been passive, preferring to let the country drift along and just appreciate the fact that he is not Zuma
Mondli Makhanya

Because Zuma relished his image as some kind of Lothario, those who looked up to him now also wanted to be like daddy.

The misogynistic practice of polygamy, which had been disappearing into history, suddenly became fashionable again.

Auspicious occasions such as the ANC’s January 8 anniversary celebration were stripped of dignity and became little more than an excuse for excessive consumption and justification for the practice of free love.

The idea of having a conscience was regarded as outdated, and shunning bad behaviour made you un-radical.

South Africa suffered immensely and will take ages to recover.

Zuma did not tell anyone to steal, abuse public resources and be led by carnal instincts. He did not have to.

He merely set the tone and, in the absence of push-back from his party, the abnormality he had created became the norm.

READ: Mondli Makhanya | The wasted Zuma years

That is the importance of tone-setting from above.

In the 1980s, then US president Ronald Reagan and then UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher set a tone of greed and accumulation that saw the rich care not a jot about other citizens or the environment they were operating in.

In those years, selfishness was a virtue and disdain for the poor was really cool. Inequality truly took root during that time.

At the same time, the Scandinavian countries were run by leaders and parties who encouraged the humane approach to industry and life.

They did not shun wealth, but recognised that capitalism did not need to be heartless. Instead, they believed it should be a pivot to a better society.

In today’s US, there is a president who has set a tone that says it is okay to be immoral; corrupt; racist; repugnant; and generally prejudiced.

He has made ignorance and crudity sexy, and his party has been an active enabler of this.

As a result, millions of Americans have adopted this lowest common denominator behaviour.

READ: Mondli Makhanya | A very rough ride ahead with Donald and Boris

So, back to the man who addressed the South African nation on Wednesday. What tone has he set for the country?

Looking back at the two and half years that he has been in power, it doesn’t seem like any.

Having come back from the Zuma years, an active tone reset was urgently required.

The country needed a huge rebound from the moral cesspit that it had been reduced to, and that was going to take active driving from the top.

Ramaphosa has been passive, preferring to let the country drift along and just appreciate the fact that he is not Zuma.

That vacuum has been filled by some of Zuma’s own lieutenants and the brash loudmouths in red overalls.

They have appropriated the right to set the tone for the national conversation and national behaviour.

And it is not pretty.

Do not count on any of that changing before the end of the presidential term of a man who wants to be remembered as the president who preferred to drive in cruise control.


Mondli Makhanya 

Editor in chief

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69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
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