In less than three months, it will be two years since the removal of the former president – who I no longer like to mention by name – from office. It will also be two years since we all first heard the exciting phrases, 'Thuma Mina' and 'New Dawn'.
The former's freshness was buttressed by the passing of the much-loved, legendary South African musician, Hugh Masekela, just weeks before, in January 2018. Incoming acting president Ramaphosa was smart enough to go with the mood and attach his political wagon to the fresh national sense of loss. It was the loss of a much-loved son of the soil which happened at a time when the nation seemed to finally wake up to the reality of another loss, that of its post-apartheid innocence and a once shining country reputation.
'New Dawn' should have rung bells all around us, because it is an expression that has been repeatedly used by politicians in post-traumatic periods throughout history. They obviously keep using it for the sense of immediate promise of change it always seems to carry. And it is never a hard sell in times when hunger for change is palpable.
I know of people who, upon hearing the Thuma Mina call and how it was explained at the State of The Nation Address in 2018, became convinced that it would spell an almost immediate end to a sad, divisive, Bell Pottinger-defined era. To them and many of us, a new president had finally been released from the forced – apparently strategic – acquiescence he had to accord the man he had deputised.
Today, following what was expected to be a watershed 2019 general election, many will agree that – on the whole – the promises made have been one large damp squib.
There are certain allegedly state capture-implicated individuals who have returned to important strategic positions. Even at the headquarters of the governing party stands a key figure who has been at the centre of the deteriorating global image of South Africa.
But we should not lose hope.
The power of spin is limited
All of these things are important because South Africa's image remains trapped under the shadow of a dark cloud of doubt, despite all the lofty promises, the high-level gatherings, and political declarations of recent months.
The South African Revenue Service, South African Airways, Eskom, Transnet, Denel, and several key state-owned enterprises remain weighed down by the devastating impact of state capture. Recent news that the South African economy has shrunk 0.6% in the third quarter of 2019 is more bad news South Africa can do without.
It is hard to imagine how good news can begin to find its way to South Africans here at home and in the vast diaspora, as well as to the world out there, when none of the key people implicated in state capture have been arrested and prosecuted for their role in the grand heist against the best interests of the country.
In this regard, South Africa has failed to send out a clear message that it acknowledges state capture to have been a near treasonous crime and that its authors, enablers and beneficiaries should not go unpunished.
In this 'Big Brother' era – with its omnipresent social media, Google search, and citizen journalism – our leaders (for lack of a better description) appear to be kicking the can down the road.
But people will not forget.
The arrogance of issuing colourfully worded media statements to condemn state capture with one hand, while shielding possibly crime-implicated individuals with the other, is unhelpful.
The world is watching – as it should
There is nowhere to hide. Foreign diplomats based in South Africa – together with representatives of various multinational corporations operating in the country – might seem blind, quiet, and happy to appear to be looking the other way from inconsistencies.
But we can be sure that they're all expected to issue regular situation reports to their respective principals abroad in order to inform general goodwill and investor sentiment.
They might not speak truth to power in South Africa because it is not their place to do so, but they're expected to provide accurate reports about what is happening in the country. They can therefore not be fooled, so must we not.
To recover fully from what happened over the past decade, those in power, aided by the country's criminal justice fraternity, have to draw a public list of individuals alleged to have played a role in state capture. The general public, whistle blowers, and others in South Africa's able community of investigative journalists can help them if they keep pretending not to know where to start.
Any individual who makes it onto the proposed list must be forced to stand aside and wait for their names to be cleared by an independent justice system. And should the SAPS, the Hawks or the NPA find themselves incapacitated, any officials who obstruct prosecutions should also be unmasked and have their names added to the list.
There can never be short cuts if South Africa is to fully begin what will be a slow recovery journey. Sadly, the right things will not be done where leadership has to keep looking over its shoulders, confused by whether to serve one master or the other – or, for that matter, the party, or the country and all its people.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.