As Ramaphosa navigates the racial, social, and economic traps that South Africa finds itself in after the disaster of the Zuma years, he would have done well to heed the vision and advice of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, writes JAKI SEROKE.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s term of office as head of state and leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC) starts at a crucial time in South Africa when mixed emotions of hope for the future (again) and fear of failure (again) are both very high.
Ordinarily, this would make a week a very long time in South African politics. Depending on where you are seated.
Ramaphosa is however a consummate strategist who should be credited firstly for biding his time before taking the mantle of leadership. He now steps into the boots of utter failure in the management of the state, as his predecessor Jacob Zuma has displayed during his tenure. But Ramaphosa boldly says he is readily available for the task: ‘Send for me.’
This period coincides with the time, 40 years ago, when struggle icon Robert Sobukwe died. He was a veritable thought leader. Had he been alive, the imagined Sobukwe would have undoubtedly looked at the political turn of events very critically. He wouldn’t be vindictive because his style was to look out for solutions.
Currently, the internal dynamics in the ANC leadership are fragile. It is the uneasy coming together of former antagonists who fought each other in a tight pitched battle for power and control of the organisation at the 54th national conference of the ANC in December 2017.
Meaning that Ramaphosa must walk the tightrope for a while and consider the buy-in of his critics and his supporters in the decision making process of the ANC. Thus far Ramaphosa has won himself the kudos.
He has even mesmerised the anxious public with a charm offensive last seen with Nelson Mandela’s leadership. Ramaphosa will however not live under this shadow for long.
In the streets he is called a dollar billionaire with unimpressive features of a Russian oligarch. This image makes Ramaphosa a blue eyed boy of big business. This also pits him against the rhetoric of his liberation movement comrades.
State management – particularly in state-owned enterprises – is in tatters. The executive bears the blame for mishandling state resources and employing out-of-sorts cabinet members. Ramaphosa cannot avoid the brush of incompetence because he was deputy president in charge of government business since 2014.
Therein lies the critical question of his own credentials to tackle transformation issues in a divided leadership. His gravitas to manage discontent on one side and vengeful triumphalism on the other. He will need the wisdom of OR Tambo who managed exile tensions and erected ‘a broad church’.
The political opposition parties have already met their match in Ramaphosa. It was myopic for them to put all eggs in the one basket of running Jacob Zuma down. Their noise level on this score will soon irritate. Zuma is old hat. While they go back to the drawing board for new campaign issues, the electorate would have made their choice.
Sobukwe would have instead pointed out the hazards most pronounced in the national question. Sobukwe preferred straight politics.
South Africa of racial silos named white, black, coloured, and Indian is a recipe for disaster. It is apartheid multiplied. Consciousness-raising by the state that there is an intrinsic value in all citizens of Azania would have been Sobukwe’s approach.
Settler colonialism or white domination is still in sway so long as redistribution of resources – mainly the land – and personal incomes have not been aggressively tackled. Ramaphosa’s sop is a living wage.
The burden of the underclass – unemployable, poor social health, broken homes, victim images, entitlement, scanty education, fear of the unknown, and so on – is a ticking time bomb. This demographic is expanding instead of contracting to come to an end.
These are many other divisive issues. They are at the heart of dark despair. They will spook South Africa for some considerable time. Unless sincere national dialogue is held to discuss and resolve these matters.
Sobukwe’s input would have been to build a regional economic power bloc. He would have utilised regional African unity to leverage favourable trade term first with the entire continent – and with the World Trade Organisation.
Ramaphosa and the state needs very badly to hear from the likes of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.
Jaki Seroke is a PAC stalwart, was on Robben Island prison and was a delegate at the Codesa negotiations forum. He lives in the City of Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.
The special series on Robert Sobukwe is published in partnership with the ASRI.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.