It would be illogical for President Cyril Ramaphosa to keep these three ministers in his Cabinet after last week’s embarrassing failure of governance, writes Mmusi Maimane.
Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa
I write this letter to you on the 1254th day of your presidency and in a time of palpable political and social instability in our nation.
I vividly remember being in Parliament on 15 February 2018, the day you were elected as president of South Africa by the majority of the National Assembly. As the leader of the opposition at the time, I saw to it that an opposition candidate was not fielded in that vote, as an expression of the intention to support you in your efforts as South Africa’s number one citizen.
In my address to Parliament following your election, I made it clear in saying: "I would like to assure him that he can count on our support and cooperation as long as he acts in the best interest of the people of South Africa." I, like millions of South Africans, was rooting for you and we believed you were rooting for us.
Given the benefit of the doubt
South Africans have – by and large – given you and your government the benefit of the doubt over the past 1 254 days. We believed in your "long game". We’ve said things like "at least it’s not the wasted decade of state capture under Jacob Zuma". We’ve listened to your "family meetings", we’ve given up our civil liberties when asked to, and we’ve overlooked the growing unemployment line and deepening poverty. We’ve allowed error after error – or "missteps" as you call them - in dealing with Covid-19 and the vaccine rollout.
We’ve turned a blind eye to mistakes, with a candid belief that we are just about to turn the proverbial corner. But we’re not. And last week’s events illustrated this in spectacular fashion.
South Africans watched in disbelief as violence, looting and lawlessness engulfed communities, while your state security services were found wanting and your police service left helpless and powerless. It was an almost Damascus moment for many, as in our weakest hour there was no Thuma Mina to the rescue. It was every citizen for themselves – many scared, frustrated and hopeless.
What we cannot turn a blind eye to is your government’s weak and ineffectual reaction in the face of sheer lawlessness. The delayed and piecemeal response to the crisis emboldened those breaking the law to run riot without any consequences. Because of this, 215 people are dead at the time of writing, with over 200 000 jobs lost and tens of billions of rands of damages incurred. Most terrifying of all, current estimates of GDP reduction due to this looting and destruction range between 0.4% and 1% - a knock-out blow to an already Covid-19-pummelled economy.
Negligence on the part of government
I am no legal expert and don’t purport to be. But even a layman like me recognises that there was negligence on the part of you and your government – a dereliction of duty to citizen and state. You and your Cabinet ministers chose internal ANC battles over the safety and security of South Africans. That, Mr President, is inexcusable.
What remains now is who is to be held responsible for this crisis that sought to tear apart the very fabric of our country and our constitutional democracy? We have entered "a new era in transparency and accountability", you told Parliament in August last year. It’s time to put this to the test by removing those in your Cabinet who are responsible for this crisis.
Police Minister Bheki Cele was responsible for an ill-prepared and under-resourced police service who were bystanders to the chaos. He remained absent for many days when leadership and direction was desperately needed. He must go.
State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo was outsmarted and outwitted by a small group of domestic terrorists. She must go.
And Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was delayed in deploying the army and has publicly undermined and contradicted you on the genesis of the violence and looting. She too must go.
Time to change cabinet
President Ramaphosa, you have the power to select ministers to your Cabinet in terms of Section 91(3) of the Constitution. You also have the power to dismiss ministers, which is inherent in the power of selection as the Constitutional Court ruled in Masethla v President of the Republic of South Africa & Another. You have a massive, bloated Cabinet – one of the biggest in world – yet arguably one of the least effectual.
It would be illogical for you to keep these ministers in your Cabinet after last week’s embarrassing failure of governance. Inaction is not an option in this case, Mr President.
For too long, you have relied on the resilience of our citizens. Now our citizens are relying on you to come to the table and for once, bold and clearly show that you are in charge and you are accountable. You cannot continue to act surprised or stand an arm’s length away from the challenge.
You need to act. The democracy is at stake.
- Mmusi Maimane is Chief Activist of the One South Africa Movement
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