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SOUTH Africa’s people have experienced such a collective upswing of confidence over the past fortnight that former public protector Thuli Madonsela says Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as state president has “put the country as a whole on the pedestal of hope.”
Madonsela earned the hostility of former president Jacob Zuma, echoed by the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies, for her 2014 report into security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla compound that accused him of benefiting unduly from public expenditure.
She was vindicated by subsequent acceptance that her report had been factual, following which Zuma had to pay some of the building costs.
Madonsela noted that the country had been on the verge of a winter of despair last year, pointing out that a “pedestal of hope” isn’t a summit but it gives higher ground from which “to jump onto the next phase.”
The former public protector urged citizens to join hands with President Ramaphosa “and the governing parties in all provinces and municipalities to build the South Africa of our dreams.
“We cannot just look at government and say it must do everything. From government we need diligence, integrity, fairness so that we will play our part to make sure that we close the gap.”
Her buoyant response to the former president’s reluctant resignation, which she described as “dignified,” was mirrored in parliament when President Ramaphosa delivered his inaugural State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Tuesday.
As he took the podium, he received a standing ovation in which even Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) group of MPs participated, as they did later when he sat down.
This is the same EFF that warned a week earlier that it would pursue Ramaphosa even more fiercely than it did Zuma.
All good things come to an end, as they did yesterday when Malema led his MPs out of parliament temporarily in protest at Ramaphosa’s refusal to sack Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba on the eve of the Budget speech that Gigaba was due to deliver.
The EFF called Gigaba a “Gupta stooge,” referring to the wealthy Indian family implicated in “corporate state capture” and corruption of public officials in collusion with Zuma.
“It is Malusi Gigaba as minister of home affairs who ensured that the Guptas attain[ed] citizenship in South Africa, aiding them to qualify for BEE (black economic empowerment) deals with state-owned enterprises,” it added.
Ramaphosa, who completes his first week in office today, has not sacked any Zuma-appointed ministers yet despite widespread demands from the parliamentary opposition and ANC allies.
Trade union federation Cosatu spokesman Sizwe Pamla named Energy Minister David Mahlobo, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane as among those needing to be relieved of their duties.
“What we’re trying to do is to rehabilitate the image of the ANC,” he explained.
Communist Party (SACP) first deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila urged prompt action, saying: “President Ramaphosa can’t come in and have this overwhelming acceptance by the people and still drive the old horse. It won’t take him far.”
The SACP backs Cabinet “rejuvenation” and realignment of various ministries in line with the president’s specific pledges to cut the number of Cabinet ministers and reduce the size of government departments.
Both the unions and the SACP are keen that the new president should consult the ANC and alliance partners before new ministerial appointments.
When Zuma took up the presidency, he met the SACP leadership to discuss which Communists should be deployed to government and in which positions.
This was an advance on the position of predecessor Thabo Mbeki, but he dropped this practice, issuing personal announcements of promotions and sackings over the past three years and stoking allegations that the Guptas had more influence over Cabinet membership than the ANC and its partners.
As Cosatu and the SACP became more critical, backing calls for his resignation or recall by the ANC, Zuma retaliated by sacking SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande from his post as higher education minister last October, prompting the removal of Nzimande and other leading Communists from the ANC national executive committee at the national elective conference in December.
Ramaphosa has indicated that he will “consult widely" on the future constitution of his Cabinet, which augurs well for future functioning of the ANC-led revolutionary alliance.
His experience, in the latter years of the apartheid dictatorship, of building the National Union of Mineworkers and Cosatu before being elected as ANC deputy secretary general has prepared him for the bargaining role necessary to rebuild ANC unity and unite the alliance.
His fluency in six of South Africa’s official languages — English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho, Venda and Ndebele — also assists his engagement with opposition MPs in friendly banter, as he did with Malema during Sona.
EFF supporters have repeatedly interrupted his speeches in recent years over the police massacre of miners belonging to the Amcu union in 2012.
Ramaphosa was directed into the corporate sector as part of the BEE initiative after Nelson Mandela was persuaded to back Mbeki as his successor rather than his preferred candidate and is now the second richest African in the country.
He was a non-executive director of Lonmin, which owned the Marikana mine, and referred, in an email discussion between Lonmin board members and government officials, to murders of NUM miners, police officers and Lonmin security guards by Amcu members before the massacre as “plainly dastardly criminal acts and must be characterised as such.”
His words have been misrepresented as a demand for a deadly response, whereas he has insisted that he was trying to stop further killing.
“My intervention was to say there is a disaster looming, more workers had been killed and are going to be killed,” he told a student meeting last summer.
In his reply to the Sona debate, Ramaphosa said: “The Marikana tragedy stands out as the darkest moment in the life of our young democracy,” pledging to honour the three main recommendations, including compensation, of the Farlam commission of inquiry into the killings, which made no finding against him.
“I am determined to play whatever role I can in the process of healing and atonement,” he said in response to EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu’s call that he go to Marikana to build houses and improve the lives of the people there.
“The incident also brought into sharp focus the distress felt by people living in mining communities,” said the president.
"As we engage with mining companies, unions and communities on the finalisation of the Mining Charter, we need to ensure that these measures receive priority attention.”
President Ramaphosa also prioritised the need for “accelerated land redistribution,” while insisting that there would be no Zimbabwe-style “smash and grab interventions” and that food security would not be affected.
He insisted on continuing BEE policies, rejecting the notion that white people are disadvantaged by positive action and pointing out that unemployment among Africans stands at 30 per cent as against 7 per cent for whites.
The president made clear that his administration’s overriding priority in its National Development Plan would be the people “whose shacks are flooded with every rainfall and whose taps run dry whether there is rainfall or not.”
His second standing ovation at the close of his reply, which only the Freedom Front Plus outfit of die-hard apartheid nostalgics refused to join, explains Madonsela’s “pedestal of hope” reference.
A fortnight ago, Zuma was clinging to office amid fears that any attempt to sack him would split the ANC in two and possibly spark violence in the country.
Ramaphosa’s insistence on negotiating has seen Zuma go quietly, his supporters have understood the need for change and rowed in behind the president and the opposition appears willing to wait and see what the new administration has to offer.
A pedestal of hope indeed.
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