Will Cyril take the bull by the horns

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Thanks to Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africans have come to think of ourselves as the centre of the democratic universe. After the miracle birth of democracy twenty years ago, he was one of the architects who drafted a Constitution that has become the envy of the world. Continuing the theme of storytelling as antidotes to the intoxicating effect of power, one can tell two stories stemming from North Africa, hoping that Cyril Ramaphosa reads them, in preparation for his future, and long-awaited, accession to executive power.

Desert days are as extremely hot as the nights are cold. The nomadic Bedouin and Tuareg indigenous people have learned to adapt to such extremes by travelling at night. They have also learned to bridle the impulsivities of young men who would otherwise lead the caravan of camels into calamity.

The darkest, and coldest, hour is that which comes before the dawn. Tired, cold and hungry the young men scan the horizon. They are highly susceptible to an illusion that often presents itself - flickering flames of a campfire nearby that promises warmth, a wholesome cooked meal, comfort and rest. Alas a youthful leader who sets his bearings on the camp fire would become hopelessly lost if he steered the ‘ships of the desert’ in that direction. The fire would keep receding over the next dune. The elders would then have to rescue him and bring him safely home to teach them the first lesson of desert survival: beware the false light - the ignus fatuus - an optical illusion that magnifies a far distant campfire by the prismatic effect of layers of warm and cold air in the atmosphere (a similar but opposite effect is now thought to have contributed to the failure of the Titanic crew to judge the distance between the vessel and the iceberg). The rite of passage to adulthood is complete if he shows the capability to learn from the experience, and develop the capacity for insight.

“The false light is a projection of your inner state of deprivation,” the elders would say knowingly, having themselves once done the same. “You saw what you wanted to see, a projection to satisfy your inner anxiety, fear and desire. Beware the ignus fatuus – the false light that promises but cannot deliver.”

The wise men would counsel the young men to instead fix their eyes on the heavens and be guided by the steady states of the galaxy, stellar constellations in the dark sky billions of light years away, but dependable in their promise of sure direction.

South Africans are about to cast their votes. Would-be caravan leaders compete for votes from the electorate to persuade us to follow them in the direction of the particular ideological ‘campfire’ that they believe will provide light, warmth, and rest. However, as Stephen Grootes observes in Daily Maverick, this time around we have seen the reappearance of elders cautioning the nation to be careful about whom they choose to elect and follow. Most controversial has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said quite emphatically that he will vote, but definitely not for the ANC. Cyril Ramaphosa tactfully acknowledges that ‘the Arch’ has always spoken his mind on political matters. Whether or not he has heard him will be seen in what he does once the elections are over.

While there is little doubt that Ramaphosa’s party will be returning to the National Parliament there is great probability that it will arrive pruned of the large majority it once commanded. Had it not been for his senior presence on the ANC card, the ANC may have even failed to secure a clear majority. Having saved the party from that ignominy, let’s hope the ANC MPs who do take their seats will be more sober to the reality of just how intoxicating all the power they have had for so long had become.

From what I saw and heard at an election forum hosted by Eastwave Radio in Lenasia last week, the ANC may not be in power in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature at all. Four parties were represented, each with a sizeable bunch of supporters to cheer their representative and jeer at the other three. Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi was there to receive cheers of the ANC and endure jeers from the DA, Agang and EFF supporters. Their jeers were ably matched by ANC cheers on all the hot button issues- until it came to e-tolls. Vadi’s brave effort to defend e-tolling was predictably jeered in unison from the DA/EFF/AGANG supporters. There was a notable lack of enthusiasm from his troops to cheer. The DA representative jibed that “even Mr Vadi doesn’t really believe what he is saying, so why should anyone else?”

I was reminded of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s assessment of PW Botha: “A man who lacked the convictions of his courage”.

It reinforced a train of thought that had left the platform provided by The Gathering. As a warrant for voting for the ANC Malusi Gigaba expounded the ANC’s clear “succession planning”. My code-breaker translated him to be saying “yes, within the ANC there is also considerable unhappiness with Jacob Zuma for having led us into the political desert. But remember we have Cyril lined up to take over soon and get us back on track.”

Is that reassurance enough that once President Zuma leaves the office he has so disgraced, Cyril will be up to the job? Will he be able to find the ignuus authenticus to lead us to again find the path to lasting freedom?

In my previous Daily Maverick contribution, the stories were about events of twenty years ago written from my perspective of a peace activist employed to work for the IEC to deliver a free and fair election for all. Picking up that narrative, my final task in the IEC was to write a report I titled “Inside the IEC: A Human Triumph over an Organisational Nightmare”. Exactly two years ago after OUTA had won the court interdict obliging the Executive to suspend e-tolling, I retrieved the yellowing document from my files, eager to write something with similar intonations, ideals and articulations and draw some comparisons, hoping that it might give some bearings of authenticity.

I imagined another good news story about the effectiveness of the Bill of Rights as a bridle on overweening pride and power. The Judiciary had handed OUTA a victory, but I was more excited by the simultaneous agreement between the ANC and Cosatu to suspend the commencement of e-tolling for two months to work out a way forward. My evangelical zeal of twenty years ago, which had become somewhat world-weary with the disappointments of the past fifteen years, revived. When Nazir Alli resigned at the end of April 2012 I felt as exhilarated as I had felt at the end of April 1994. His departure after 16 years as CEO of Sanral was every bit as significant to me as the IFP’s late arrival on the 1994 ballot. I was in direct communication with both the Minister of Transport Sbu Ndebele and the Chair of OUTA Wayne Duvenage to facilitate meetings in the hope that an out-of-court settlement could be reached. Both were eager. So was Zwelinzima Vavi.

Alas, the Executive was too chronically addicted to the intoxicating hold of power. Nazir Alli was brought back, Sbu Ndebele and Jeremy Cronin were redeployed, a litigation by attrition strategy of ‘lawfare’ commenced against OUTA, and traps were laid to snare Zwelinzima Vavi.

The book is on its way. (All will be revealed. Alli will be outed. Hannibal Elector has already sketched the outline).

At the risk of pre-empting thefinal chapter, this is how I hope it will unfold once Cyril Ramaphosa has sworn his oath of office to uphold the supremacy of a founding document that he knows inside out. Assuming it is written in his heart, he need not do much besides lead us out of the deep desert into which we have been led over the past fifteen years by two presidents who have had it only on their lips. Firstly President Mbeki who in 2000 emasculated the legislature by failing to permit the Parliamentary standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) to conduct an unfettered enquiry into the Arms Deal and covert funding of the ANC election campaign by the Arms Dealers. Secondly by President Zuma whose record of appointments of people to key positions has been so obviously predicated on the need to avoid his own prosecution, that he has badly eroded the legitimacy of the judiciary and undermined the rule of law (never mind the damage done to the ANC itself).

Ramaphosa cannot do much about Nkandla and Marikana. He can however revisit the Cabinet decision to indulge Sanral CEO Nazir Alli’s hubristic ambition to impose e-tolling. Experience has now mounted to prove that e-tolling is neither operationally efficient, strategically effective nor ethically justifiable. When the Judiciary re-enters the fray to prosecute the first e-toll refusenik OUTA is convinced the evidence will also prove that it is also unlawful. Next month Ramaphosa can pick up what Sbu Ndebele was about to do two years ago - engage with Wayne Duvenage and OUTA just as he had engaged Zwelinzima Vavi and Cosatu. He may yet be able to address the unintended consequences and mitigate the damage from self-preserving strategy that was apparently conspired between President Zuma, Jeff Radebe, Mac Maharaj, Collins Chabane, Kgalema Motlanthe and Pravin Gordhan to force e-tolling through regardless. It ranks in foolishness alongside the conspiracy by Cecil John Rhodes, Leander Starr Jameson and British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain to seize power from Kruger’s ZAR government in 1895. E-tolling is destined to fail just as the Jameson Raid failed, and for precisely the same reason – the intoxication of power.

Fortunately, unlike the situation that prevailed in 1895, the Constitution that Cyril Ramaphosa helped create anticipates such maladies. That is why it entrenches the separation of powers between Executive, Judicial and Legislative Arms of the State. It will be a tragedy indeed if he too becomes “too high on his own juice” and forsakes the real challenge. He surely understands that the Legislature must be left to legislate and that Judiciary left to judge without interference. His work is already cut out for him to regaining authority and legitimacy for the third arm of government, the Executive, that has been so badly bent out of shape by the e-toll decision.

Another story from the North African desert explains the real challenge he faces.

The brave young men who volunteered to serve as bomber pilots to defend the world against the tyranny of Nazism and Fascism between 1939 and 1942 signed up for a more than even chance of being shot down during their bombing raids. The 24th Squadron of the SAAF was stationed in Libya and flew regular missions to bomb targets in Mussolini’s Sicily. To pass the time and keep their minds occupied with other than fearful imaginings of death, poker tournaments became an embedded ritual in the officer’s mess. One bomber pilot who survived the war (despite having been forced to crash land on two occasions) went on to become progenitor of a tribe that has over three generations numbered some thirty offspring (and counting).

Good fortune conspired to present the ninety-something-year-old with the opportunity to converse with a twenty-something year young grandson. The impulse prone youth had common ground with Grandpa because they shared a name, Bernard, and because they both enjoyed playing poker, so the younger Bernard discovered.

“During the war I, too, was quite good at poker,” Grandpa mused. “But we didn’t have much money so we opened a book so players could keep in the game. I was doing very well, and was looking forward to receiving my handsome winnings. Unfortunately on the next bombing mission, two of my debtors were shot down and never returned to base.”

“Wow, Grandpa, that must have been hard for you, to lose all your mates like that,” said the youth pensively. “I suppose that is a warning to me against the sinful addictions of gambling?”

“No,” replied the wise old man. “Just to warn you never to play poker on the book.”

In April 2012, while Nazir Alli was strategising on two fronts to save his e-toll ambitions, (against OUTA’s interdict application and Zwelinzima Vavi’s refusal to toe the party line) Cyril Ramaphosa was at a game auction near Rustenberg bidding for a magnificent, disease free buffalo cow with an impressive horn span of two meters. Cyril would not go above R19,5 million and conceded the beast to another billionaire for the record price of R20 million.

“I spent my budget on other animals. And, like any businessman, you must know when to stop,” he said. “One has to remain within one's budget. It was more than I had budgeted.”

The next big media event near Rustenberg happened in August. Marikana.

Having forsaken the quest for buffalos with two metre horn spreads, will Cyril be able to take the bulls by the horns after the elections? Note the plural “bulls”. Three major items of unfinished business have been carried over as “matters arising” on the agenda of the first Cabinet meeting after the elections: Marikana, Nkandla and e-tolls.

Marikana? Cyril sat on the Lonmin board and played a role. He says “concomitant action” meant deal with criminal conduct appropriately. His critics believe he must share culpability for the massacre. We await the Farlam Commission’s report for an impartial assessment of how he used his influence with government. Until then the atoning words for his insensitivity of having a few months earlier splashed his cash at a game auction without apparent regard for the poverty and deprivation over the hill and underground, seem to indicate that he too listens to prophetic words of warning like Buthelezi did twenty years ago.

Nkandla? The Public Protector has already defined the problem. The solution lies with the National legislature. Ramaphosa has already shown he hasn’t lost his mediating touch by succeeding to bring the Zuma loyalists and pro Vavi/Numsa factions within the tri-partite alliance together to at least postpone their showdown between till after the elections. Does he mean before Parliament elects the next president? Will the showdown happen before then? Perhaps it should, in case the showdown is provoked by one of the opposition parties proposing Cyril Ramaphosa as an alternative candidate when the Legislature exercises its prerogative to elect the next State President next month. Just a thought.

E-tolling? The waste of public money firstly on the inflated construction costs of the GFIP because of price fixing and collusion and secondly on an exorbitantly costly revenue collection has already eclipse the quantum wasted on Nkandla by a very large margin. Having become wealthy by apparent prudent budgeting and careful spending will Ramaphosa apply the same judgment in his exercise of Executive power?

Will he fire Sanral CEO Nazir Alli for gambling ‘on the book’ with our money?

About John GI Clarke

John Clarke hopes to write the wrongs of the world, informed by his experience as a social worker and theologian, to actualise fundamental human rights and satisfy fundamental human needs.  He has lived in the urbanised concentration of Johannesburg, but has worked mainly in the rural reaches of the Wild Coast for the past decade.  From having paid a fortune in toll fees he believes he has earned the right to be critical of Sanral and other extractive institutions, and has not held back while supporting Sustaining the Wild Coast (www.swc.org.za), the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (www.safcei.org.za) and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (www.outa.co.za), in various ways.