Mmusi Maimane | Ramaphosa created the conditions that led to this crisis

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Opposition parties have   called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to vacate his office following damning findings of a a section 89 panel into allegations of wrongdoing surrounding transactions involving his Limpopo farm, Phala Phala.
Opposition parties have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to vacate his office following damning findings of a a section 89 panel into allegations of wrongdoing surrounding transactions involving his Limpopo farm, Phala Phala.

Ultimately this was a series of own goals that Cyril Ramaphosa's opponents were opportunistically able to expose and exploit, but they were his own actions, writes Mmusi Maimane.

An independent impeachment panel has found that President Cyril Ramaphosa has a case to answer. Now what? The answers are not that obscure, and our options are clear. Just like the plot of Anaconda, every South African knows the script of this movie. 

The first scenario. The president may choose to take this outcome on review and approach the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis. This is the Zuma "recommendations are recommendations" option. We have seen how this one goes. Former president Jacob Zuma was not keen to be held to the remedial actions recommended by the office of the Public Protector, and so he chose to ignore her recommendations and be dragged through the courts for a final outcome. 

READ | FIRST TAKE: Phala Phala findings: Ramaphosa's opponents get what they wanted

In Parliament, the opposition parties took direct aim at him and the ANC parliamentary benches for their protectionist conduct. The Economic Freedom Fighters chose maximum agitation with their "Pay back the money" disruptions and with their "ubaba kaDuduzane" moments.

Inevitable turbulence in Parliament

The state of the nation for 2023 is scheduled for 9 February 2023, and we all know that if this matter is unresolved, we are entering a season of maximum commotion, especially because we will be much closer to the 2024 elections. Even if this particular impeachment process does not prevail, we all remember that there were eight motions of no confidence in Zuma. This is the beginning of the avalanche for President Ramaphosa. He seems poised to win the elective conference in his party, but this will not dilute the inevitable turbulence he faces in Parliament. 

Ultimately this is a distraction from our national needs.

We need a head of state with a legitimate mandate and credibility to execute that mandate. Having Ozark allegations of varying degrees is in and of itself not befitting the highest office in the land. Being politically compromised within your own party incapacitates your ability to make the necessary decisions to optimise your executive. You become a captive of your own faction, they need you to keep their ministerial positions, and you need them to defend you from the opposition and accountability. 

READ | Pieter du Toit: Stunning blow to Ramaphosa leaves government, ANC floundering - and SA in a crisis

What this means is that even where a cabinet reshuffle is necessary, you are not in a position to execute. For instance, the ministry of basic education has been underperforming for years, and our children are further behind due to the pandemic, but a politically wounded president will not be able to make a substitution.

The whole nation is aware of the crisis in the rail sector; trains are grounded, stations have fallen into disarray, and the logistics sector has moved wholesale to roads. A change in minister will not happen. The same applies to the ministry of police. Women and children are still not safe, and crime is on the rise, but substitution will not happen. The losing team of ministers will stay on and ultimately, team South Africa will lose. 

Parliament itself will not be able to debate and pass necessary laws and amendments to existing laws that are necessary. The business of Parliament will be shifted into shouting matches and theatre. We have seen this movie more times than we have seen repeats of Anaconda. It is exhausting and we should seek it out.

SA's historic challenges 

The historic challenges this country has been facing have not changed, we are still deeply divided by race and by class, and our culture wars are pulling us further apart. We are a nation that is still grappling with poverty and high levels of unemployment and inequality.

Just this week, we saw how bleak the picture is. Citizens who are between the ages of 15-34 are the most affected. Of the 10.2 million South Africans aged between 15-24, seven out of 10 are not employed.

Of the 10.4 million South Africans who are aged between 25-34, one out of two is not employed.

Three point five million (34,5%) out of 10,2 million young people aged 15-24 years were not in employment, education or training (NEET). When expanded to the 15-34 age range, the percentage of young persons aged 15–34 years, not in employment, education or training was eye-wateringly high at 44,0% in the third quarter of 2022. 

In addition to the long-term chronic conditions plaguing our democracy, global events have had a massive impact on our economy.

READ | EXPLAINER:  How Ramaphosa was wounded by Phala Phala panel

Food inflation is very high, fuel inflation is very high and interest rates have been going up consistently. The cost of living has eroded disposable income and been a drain on our capacity to grow. Our load shedding crisis is getting progressively worse. All of this is to say we can't afford a distracted executive and a distracted Parliament at this point. The stakes are too high. 

In the second scenario, the president could follow the path taken by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss of the United Kingdom and fall on his sword. This would allow all the investigations to be concluded without the nation being on a knife's edge. There are an uncomfortable number of ongoing investigations, and the full extent of the allegations are of a very serious nature.

It is truly not in our interests for a sitting president to be investigated by the Public Protector, the Hawks and by SARS. Even at the international level, this will become the focus of attention. Our head of state is someone who is supposed to be a shining ambassador of our brand to the world. The bar was already set very high by Nelson Mandela. This level of investigation will not serve our international interests or help us gain credibility with international bodies and investors. 

Not the end 

This will not be the end for Mr Ramaphosa. He is well-liked by many South Africans and would most likely still be able to play an influential role in forums such as NEDLAC and BUSA. It would also show that he is not only willing to be accountable but willing to accept the consequences of decisions he made in running his Phala Phala affairs. Ultimately this was a series of own goals that his opponents were opportunistically able to expose and exploit, but they were his own actions. He alone is responsible for creating the conditions that led to this crisis. As much as we may not want to swallow that bitter pill, this is something that we all can see. 

What then would happen in the event of this scenario? A middle-of-the-road ANC leader would be chosen to manage the affairs of this country until the 2024 elections. As luck would have it,  we have just the man who has effectively served such a role before. President Kgalema Motlanthe.

If the president were to step aside, Mr Montlathe could be sworn in as a member of Parliament and then voted for by Parliament to be the president until the 2024 elections. He has proven that he can fulfil such a role without dividing the ANC and without exposing the nation to instability. That would allow everyone to clear the decks, regroup, and make their offerings to the nation. 

Regardless of which scenario the president chooses to embrace we have a lot of work to do as South Africans. We have to identify the priority issues that we must focus on in the next five years. I submit that this includes fixing our education system, our industrial policy to increase jobs and fixing our health and police ministries.

We have to agree on common values and come together to build one South Africa, a South Africa that can become number one on this continent. 

- Mmusi Maimane is the leader of One South Africa movement.

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