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MIA: Soon Ramaphosa will have to demonstrate willingness and strength to lead South Africa – or else

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    Nat Quinn

    It has become common for many people to publicly question if our leaders are prepared to actually lead. The obvious focal point of this is President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected into office to lead the people of South Africa in times when almost everyone’s lived experience is deteriorating. These calls are now becoming louder, even while there may be important reasons preventing him from acting, thus rendering him politically impotent.

    Coming out of the ANC’s December conference, and judging solely by the maths, President Cyril Ramaphosa has emerged with a stronger mandate than ever before. As the ANC is going into a very tough election next year, this apparent mandate suggested that there was now space for Ramaphosa to move, especially when faced with a democratic incentive to act decisively to solve some of our problems – or at least give hope they will be solved.
    And yet, not much of that is happening. Why?
    Last week, former finance minister and now chair of Old Mutual Trevor Manuel said that many of our society’s problems had been exacerbated by weak leadership. He is just the latest in a long line of people to have made the same point.
    In fact, for many years it has been argued by some in the commentariat and elsewhere that one of our major problems has been a lack of leadership.
    In a country defined by racialised inequality, which requires a united and comprehensive effort to overcome our problems, leadership matters. Voters know this, which is why they demand it so strongly.
    There can also be an emotionally important comfort in the feeling of “being led”. This is why sports teams often need an inspirational leader, and why some political groups have almost fanatical followers. Part of the reason for that apparent fanaticism is that their leaders have given them a direction and space to follow.
    One of the reasons people support a Donald Trump or a Lula da Silva is that they make them feel good about themselves. It’s an important part of leadership.
    When asking whether Ramaphosa is failing to lead, it may be important to first look at who is asking the question, and what it is that they really want.
    An example here may be how a lot of people believe Ramaphosa should remove those in government against whom findings were made by the Zondo Commission.
    For them, it would be showing leadership to act publicly and decisively against corruption. After all, this is what he has promised to do, many times.
    But for others, it would be demonstrating leadership to protect people in the ANC. After all, to remove those with findings could simply be to give in to demands from opposition parties. They would argue that the unity of the ANC is paramount, and anything that might affect that would be the opposite of displaying leadership.
    This may get us to the heart of the problem – that our country is so divided, the right option is not always very clear. Which can lead to a paralysis of sorts.
    This may have happened in other places, too, where weak leadership is often blamed.
    Added to this is the complexity of some of our problems.
    For example, Ramaphosa was probably pushed both by people in Cabinet and in the ANC to declare a National State of Disaster over our electricity crisis. That was despite being aware of a legal opinion that it was legally irrational to do so.
    In the end, he was in a position where he had to do it. And then, as legal action commenced, his government was forced to declare an end to the National State of Disaster, less than two months later.
    The Electoral Amendment Act signed into law by Ramaphosa on Monday is another example.
    Here the ANC and other political parties have produced a bill that will make our elections worse. But if he did not sign it into law, he could be found to be in contempt of a Constitutional Court order. Now that he has signed it, at least one group has said it will go back to court to declare this law unconstitutional.
    Here, he was damned no matter what he did – such are the problems our society currently throws up.
    Then the current political situation around him may be far more complicated than it appears on the surface.
    While it is true that he was re-elected with a bigger mandate in December, that was just after a tumultuous week in which he reportedly came close to resigning. It appears that it was only because of the intervention of the ANC’s chair, Gwede Mantashe, that he stayed in office.
    This suggests that, even now, Ramaphosa owes him an immense debt. And this may explain why it can appear that Mantashe is able to still play such a big role in our electricity crisis.
    As the ANC leader, it is obvious that Ramaphosa cannot move without his base constituency.
    While voters have become accustomed to divisions and fights within the ANC, the slow-motion nature of the political car crash in the party may have hidden how bad things are.
    In Mangaung last week, Papi Mokoena was elected to the position of mayor representing a different party (he was an ANC mayor there many years ago). This is because ANC councillors refused to attend the meeting, partly because several ANC councillors voted for a DA councillor to be speaker.
    Two ANC councillors who had been expelled from the party attended the council meeting, thus giving it a quorum and allowing Mokoena’s election.
    Technically, the ANC has the majority in this metro. They have lost control because of internal divisions and because their own councillors were prepared to work against their own party.
    It appears that the ANC in the National Assembly may not be very different.
    Already five MPs have defied the party whip in the Phala Phala vote, with no action being taken against them.
    And it may not be long before such divisions on one issue or another appear within the ANC caucus in the National Assembly or the National Council of Provinces.
    Perhaps Ramaphosa’s biggest problem is that the ANC is so fractured and paralysed that it is almost impossible to act.
    However, it could also be argued that despite all of these problems, Ramaphosa is still the president: he took the oath, accepted the nomination and very deliberately sought office.
    This gives him a moral obligation to lead, one way or another. It means that he cannot use any of these obvious problems as perennial excuses. If he believes our problems are too difficult, or the ANC too fractured, or our society simply too argumentative to be led by him, he can resign.
    He has not yet chosen to resign – so as long as he occupies the position, he has a moral obligation to lead, no matter what obstacles come in his way.
    While it is true that a strong leader can make people feel better about themselves, it is also true that a weak leader, or an absent leader, can make people feel worse about themselves.
    Weak leadership can lead to people turning on that leader – or even on each other.
    There may be signs that this is already happening; that some of our problems, in particular rolling blackouts, are leading to more tension in our society.
    Some of this will soon be directed at Ramaphosa himself. He will have to display that there’s still a burning desire to help his own people – or walk away. It still depends on him.
    His Joe DiMaggio moment is now.


    source:MIA: Soon Ramaphosa will have to demonstrate willingnes… (dailymaverick.co.za)

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