Ask those implicated in stealing from SA to present themselves, suggests Phakamisa Mayaba
In about 2017, shack dwellers beamed at the prospect of dignifying their corrugated iron dwellings with bricks and mortar.
Eagerly, CVs were dusted off by the unemployed and the 26s and 28s gangs broke into song in anticipation of possibly sharing prison space with faces they’d mostly only seen on television.
At the forefront of the jubilees, Cyril Ramaphosa stood styled as a Mosaic figure anointed to deliver the people from the bondage of “nine wasted years” into the manna and quail of the new dawn.
So charming were his glad tidings – charismatically enshrined in his #ThumaMina campaign – that they elicited a celebratory clinking of glasses in the unlikeliest quarters.
We have not forgotten those strange scenes of the last people one would expect at a toyi-toyi, chanting “Zuma must go!” on the streets of Pretoria that year.
Nor of the wine moguls who gave his leadership their blessing from the privileged estates of Stellenbosch last year.
The prevailing sentiment? Please, anybody but that heathen of ominous midnight Cabinet reshuffles or his functionaries!
With honourable hands on deck, there’d be 1 million new jobs, state-owned enterprises would be jacked up and, patriotically, we’d tell the Russians to go shove that nuclear deal.
Yet, no sooner had the last of the campaign cars roared off, the free chicken been eaten and T-shirts faded, than the smoke and mirror images evaporated into thin air.
We had overlooked the obvious; South Africa is composed of nearly 60 million people and thousands of national, provincial and local government officials.
As a billionaire supposedly rendered beyond reproach by his great wealth, Ramaphosa is but a congregant in the sprawling pews of a broad church.
These people are charged with vast public budgets and some of them know little more than the lyrics to struggle dirges and to call each other “Chief”.
As it turned out, with all its Biblical undertones, Ramaphosa’s campaign wasn’t without more than its share of sins.
Despite not having broken any regulations morally, the president had not been truthful when it came to his claims of being nonplussed about who his campaign donors were.
Then there was the leering open secret of the colloquial “imigodlo” – vast sums of money allegedly to buy votes at the ANC’s elective conference – effectively putting paid to the question of whether a man would ever stand for khongolose presidency based on what he could do rather than how deep his pockets were.
“No biggy, let’s give him a chance, this is normal in 21st century politics,” was the popular refrain, but therein lies the reason the ANC, no matter the head, can never mitigate the rotting of the whole.
For the sake of political expediency, his scriptural readings were selective as to forgo the teachings of Luke 16:11: “Whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much ...” How can we trust him to create 1 million jobs when he, a billionaire, could not retain 22 of his own farm employees last year?
If he retrenched them, whom he knew by name, how are those on the periphery safe from imminent large-scale retrenchments and layoffs due to an atrophying economy and Covid-19?
In his third year as president, Ramaphosa has not been exceptional when compared with his predecessors.
He is no Messiah – just another bureaucrat with ordinary bureaucratic problems.
Except for sweet-talking Jacob Zuma out of power on Valentine’s Day 2018, there’s nothing about him to consolidate the rhetoric behind his new dawn.
When he speaks of unity, we know that underlings in his own party have made it clear that five years in the hot seat is about all they are prepared to give him.
Those who “serve at the pleasure of the president” continue to undermine his authority at every turn. Rather than act on these mutinous elements, he treats them with kid gloves.
Despite sitting pretty largely thanks to those virgin tracts of post-apartheid black empowerment deals, one wonders why he would bother himself with the headaches of political power.
To get things right, you say? Yet the evidence does not sustain that claim.
His ticket to the top job was based on promises yet undelivered and, by most indications, they never will be.
Perhaps all he did was prove once and for all that the country is headed for something; an overhaul, a reckoning.
The one edge of that reckoning may be hard for constitutionalists to swallow, but is there an alternative way out of the muck and the mire other than a truth and corruption commission (TCC)?
Sounds crazy, I know, but give it some thought.
The question has always been why the agents of apartheid simply had to apologise and all was forgiven.
Zuma, portrayed as the face of the state capture project, has often played this card.
Hundreds of those bused in to support him in court have cheered in agreement.
So why not ask all those implicated in stealing from the state coffers to present themselves?
To cooperate with law enforcement; to lean in to the microphones and say to the nation: “Yes, I did it, and this is how...” Will this not shut those who use apartheid as a scapegoat for their own maleficence up?
Will it not serve as a symbolic victory and, more importantly, will it not in turn help us see deeper into the rot?
Weighed against taxing commissions of inquiry, which at face value seem no more than an act to make it look like something is actually being done about the rampant looting, a TCC would stop up so many gaping holes.
Despite the obscene sums, the 26s and 28s are yet to welcome the thieves into their prison gangs.
To the millions with genuine claims against the apartheid regime, this would be another spit in the face, but it is these vulnerable people who are still being victimised by a government staffed with unscrupulous figures.
The other, more feasible reckoning comes from the Constitutional Court ruling that rendered the Electoral Act unconstitutional.
As soon as Parliament has amended the act, private candidates will be able to run for provincial and national office.
After years of trying, the ANC government has proven time and again that it does not have the solutions we need, not even with Ramaphosa at the helm.
This act would allow intelligentsia types who know what’s what to offer the kind of expertise the ANC lacks, the wherewithal to think on its own.
Our state institutions would finally have the sort of people who deserve the big public service pay cheques currently earned by those who do little in return.
The public discourse might be enriched by minds who can unpack things coherently instead of resorting to thumb sucks gleaned from obsolete Soviet ideology.
The time is ripe for the Moeletsi Mbekis, Trevor Manuels, Professor Jonathan Jansens and Dikgang Mosenekes, among a host of other great minds, to consider serving the nation again.
We hope they will heed the call, no matter how nice retirement might be.
Mayaba is a graduate and freelance writer