Is Ramaphosa’s uncritical faith in public relations his undoing?

Stuart Ewen reminds us “the history of PR is… a history of a battle for what is the reality and how people will see and understand reality.” I thought of this as I attempt making sense of the 6th Administration,  its leader and his belief in public relations, in his perpetual battle of what defines reality and how people will and understand reality. Unfortunately, South Africa’s 4th ballot-elected president in democracy lives in another reality, that often shows him ambivalent in organizational grasp, a nation in critical challenges of poverty, unemployment, and economic inequality.

A month ago, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, in leafy Pretoria, took the oath to lead SA. If anything defines Ramaphosa from his days of a cash-flush CR17 campaign, it is his belief in the power of public relations that markets him as special. Those who made up part of this campaign are known for their ease of drawing romantic parallels between Mandela and Ramaphosa. They pummelled us with how redemptive this moment was. Ramaphosa in upbeat mode clearly swayed by those who sing his praises told all of how he will appoint a clean cabinet, fight state capture and corruption as the reincarnation of an angel sent from heaven, despite the fact that he was there all the time. The narrative as led by the public relations machinery of the CR17 campaign is preoccupied to portray Ramaphosa as a unique economic gift to a struggling South Africa.

The outcomes of the 6th national elections extended a victory of 57% to the ANC. This outcome also did not escape the erroneous intention to pit Ramaphosa as more popular than his party in which improvement to a 2016 Municipal Elections outcome is used as the base.  Central to the deception is a stubborn refusal to compare all five previous national ballot outcomes to the most recent. It, unfortunately, will have to accept that the ANC’s victory under Ramaphosa is the weakest ever. Instead, the elections victory became the unnecessary subject of a spat when those hell-bent, either for personal and group interest, opted to attribute the ANC’s victory as directly because of its president. The spin-doctors found the engaging of a 5 percentage dropping as less important since singing Ramaphosa’s praise was always the focus. Ramaphosa praise-singing, jet -fuel of the campaign weighed more than the health of the organization.

Beyond the 2019 elections outcome, the next key thing to get the 6th administration functional was to appoint his cabinet. Ramaphosa ran into unforeseen headwinds when his plan to offload David Mabuza, awoke to see how little power he really has. is first stumbling block was being forced to wait before he could appoint his cabinet. Right here two things that would prove that Ramaphosa was not in control. While members of parliament were sworn in, ANC Deputy President David Mabuza requested opportunity and time to first clear his name as part of 22 red-flagged by the ANC Integrity Commission. Mabuza would insist that the Integrity Commission engage him on this matter to establish the base of their discomfort with him.

The integrity commission would now be forced to have urgent hearings, we know how that process panned out when the Commission was shown as a factional grouping hellbent on serving the interest of some against others. This action on the part of Mabuza was calculated because he would now force a delay on the part of Ramaphosa’s much-awaited cabinet. Meaning Ramaphosa would commit political suicide had he dared to go ahead and announced a cabinet in the omission of Mabuza. Right here the lack of actual power of Ramaphosa was laid bare. Mabuza’s actions exposed the lack of integrity on the part of force the integrity commission rendering it another ANC entity that could not escape the endemic factional fibre that defines the organization.

Ramaphosa in his usual public relations campaign drive promised South Africans a clean and lean cabinet. A clean government would now be defined by those who would make it into the cabinet. Meaning if anyone remotely tainted by any form of the allegation made it into the cabinet, the clean government idea would be obliterated. In bravado, cabinet the constitutional prerogative of the president became the defining moment.

However, we all know constituting a cabinet remains a balancing act and trade-off between contesting interests understood in alliance partners, gender-parity priorities, generational-mix demands, factional and personal interests that often translates to pure rewarding of mot patronage. Unfortunately, ANC politics dictates SA presidents actively engaged in balancing acts of rewarding the multiplicity of contesting interests when it also seeks to buy the ongoing support of the same groups.

Ramaphosa’s eventual cabinet promised to be lean and clean. On the lean side, any reduction from the 5thadministration number of cabinet ministers would be read as a victory and a right to claim a leaner cabinet. Ramaphosa’s cabinet saw a reduction of 4/5 ministers while its deputy ministers became the playgrounds for patronage in claims of balancing the competing interests. His final cabinet of 28 ministers and 34 deputy ministers can hardly earn the claim of lean. Furthermore, included in his cabinet are many who were flagged by the ANC Integrity Commission, some with adverse findings of the public protector, some named in state capture hearings as beneficiaries from controversial and tainted Bosasa not excluding the president. A clean cabinet would, therefore, be an oxymoron. South – Africa would not have any clean cabinet but a cabinet that confirms the powerbases in the ANC alliance partners dynamics.

Come the time when the committee chairs for parliament was appointed, Ramaphosa and his crew appeared completely outmanoeuvred when some senior members and names against whom vociferous media-campaigns have been run made it into chairperson positions. While it really should never have been about any number of those appointed, the fact is committees are chaired by occupants against whom vicious media-led political campaigns were lodged crucified as tried in the courts of media.  We know that some wanted to protest against this, the contradiction here was the same who wanted to express their dissatisfaction are not exempted from allegations at least as carried by the media.  In all of this, we knew that Ramaphosa was also served a Section 79 inquiry as constitutionally provided for.

On Thursday 20 June, Ramaphosa delivered his 3rd SONA. SONA’s an annual moment in the life of the nation when the president convenes both houses of parliament to share the state of the nation address. SONA delineates a form of reporting. In fact, it is explained in the following sense on the State’s website: “Why is the State of the Nation Address important?

In the address, the President highlights the achievements and challenges experienced over the past year and presents the Executive’s program for the year ahead. The address covers political, economic and social matters, and considers the general state of South Africa. It reflects on South Africa’s domestic affairs as well as its relations in Africa and abroad. The State of the Nation Address is an important means of the Executive accounting to Parliament and the South African public for what government has delivered over the past year, and to involve the public in the political agenda of the coming year. The State of the Nation Address is also about celebrating our nation and nation-building.”

SONA’s are also long and boring speeches in which a number of those in attendance are caught in forty winks dreamland. Ramaphosa’s SONA could have been accepted as normal, but it, unfortunately, was declared dead in the water, killed by the unnecessary expectations the Ramaphosa public relations team subjected it to when it deceived the SA populace to think Ramaphosa will produce something spectacular, extraordinary  so fundamentally different and marking a break in SONA address histories.

Again Ramaphosa disappointed the South African masses because he erroneously  accepted his own public relations t sophism of him being a messiah, when he gave a lacklustre, rather opaque ad empty of coherent plan for the economy or job creation, stab in the air presentation; He dovetailed this with a dream of a 4th  industrial revolution technology-based new city inspired by among others China, that dreams about. We all should accept there is nothing wrong with dreaming some even protested true leaders are dreamers. The challenge was on the back of the crafted public relations-rhetoric of a messiah identity Ramaphosa’s SONA petered out into a pie- in the sky dream. It was quickly written off as a pathetic attempt to conflating the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr’s, historic I have a dream speech, and a crossover of the 44th USA president Barack Obamas yes, we can – themes. His SONA died at the altar of his own public relations campaign.

By Sunday all knew that Ramaphosa’s SONA failed on many fronts when his usual praise singers-combo of Ranjeni Munusamy and Qaanitha Hunter in the Sunday Times led with “Cyril’s R400m timebomb”, “Smart City a castle in the sky” and “Cyril’s ‘jobs for friends’ face resistance”. Sunday Times Clearly Ramaphosa was facing the coldest week as president of SA.

SONA response time would unveil a brutal and cold confirmation that Ramaphosa is nothing but a proverbial scarecrow. He would have to endure eight hours of rebuke, reprimand, and lecturing. None more calculated and scathing than EFF leader Julius Malema who went for the jugular, when dared to go where few have ventured. Nothing would be more piercing and cutting to the marrow than the words, “What did Mandela see in you that we can’t see.”

Malema read Cyril the riot act, reminding him of the ANC resolutions that made him president which he increasingly unpalatable.  Anybody who knows how Ramaphosa sees himself as a second Mandela knew this was cutting to the heart. Malema would end off with a physical gesture of invoking fear on Ramaphosa as he encouraged him to wake up from his dreams. No amount of public relations or sweeping by any ANC leader could change the devastation the collective Opposition inflicted. Ramaphosa looked wasted. The President of the ANC and South Africa appears a man isolated having lost at an organizational level and has counted on a constituency outside that eerily seem to have less patience with him. He is a man yet to respond to the public protector to explain what appears to a bigger than R500k Bosasa donation of misrepresentations.

In the end, Ramaphosa’s undoing may be attributed to his unswerving faith in the make-belief pseudo-science of public relations that can fix everything, a practice that portrays him as a USA based president not answerable to his political party but answerable to a public-in-publics deliberately confused to be the SA masses, the same who continue deceiving him as to his popularity at the expense of his ANC party. Ramaphosa is thus suspended between the true reality of South Africans, in particular, the poor and the reality his make-belief apparatus insist us see.

Clyde N. Ramalaine

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Let Zuma tell his story like all others!

Since the start of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on August 20, 2018, it solicited people to come forward to share their stories as it relates to its investigation of how and if the state was captured.

Given the media-led campaign aimed at conditioning South Africa on the prevalence of state capture, a much-awaited moment of former President Jacob Zuma’s attendance in showing up before the State of Capture Commission was always anticipated.

With a month shy of celebrating its one-year anniversary, there is little doubt that Zuma’s presence at the Commission marks the apex of witnesses before the commission. It is so because it can be argued that he is for some the kingpin since he is the face of the executive that stands accused of having enabled state capture. The Commission while signed off by him, was never his initiative and he is placed at the centre of an allegation of a state that is captured as the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s October 2016 “The State of Capture” report leads. Zuma thus in an orchestrated sense becomes the epicentre for a claim of state capture, the aorta at least for those who believe it existed. For some, he is finally in the dog-box, called to account for his role in State Capture fraud and corruption activities.

The State of Capture Commission, hitherto, has entertained a litany of accounts. Versions that detail personal stories made up of facts, innuendos, allegations, speculations and also utter fabrications. Some of these were already refuted before this very Commission. I have elsewhere asserted the Zondo commission could easily be defined as a ”Latent Labour Dispute Commission” since many who appeared detailed job or position loss allegedly at the hand of a president. Nevertheless, these are their respective stories and we warrant hearing them all.

Sharing one’s story is not a straight line, it includes one’s vantage point, one’s interpretation necessarily understood in subjectivity. It comes coloured with our shades. These stories are not exempted from emotion and even pain, we saw this with those who appeared before the Commission, Vytjie Mentor, Mcebisi Jonas, Themba Maseko, Pravin Gordhan, Barbara Hogan, Pumla Williams, Agrizzi among others. These, all shared their versions of how they either lost a job, were ill-treated or had people plotting against them.

On Monday, July 15, the Commission began hearing Jacob Zuma’s account it would be the first of five days set aside to hear his version. Unlike those who came before the commission who came to tell their stories, Zuma is here not in the equal sense of how other ministers appeared. He appears really as accused number one, at least in the eyes of those who believe the case of state capture was long made. All those who hitherto have appeared before the  Zondo Commission were led by the Commission’s evidence leaders to prepare for the engaging. That leading takes the method and form of prepared statements predicated on their compiled statements as aided by the Commission. Meaning the Commission invested resources (time and effort) to assist those who appeared before it to prepare their statements.

All those who appeared in apparent aid to the case fo state capture had prepared statements. Yet, it appears that privilege or right was not extended to President Zuma. Is it possible that the Commission does not see Zuma as one to assist them instead he is accused whom they can to place at the proverbial crime scene? The question that may arise is what then was the Commission’s motive when it in process sense treated Zuma differently by not obtaining his statement?

Zuma’s introduction details almost 30 years. He linked the proverbial dots of plans to have him removed, even attempts on his life as plotted by a group of people whom he claims work in cahoots with the intelligence structures of two external agencies. He shows this as a consistent aim which ultimately harvested his removal and yet continues.  He anchors this in a history of his role as intelligence head of the ANC, where information was made available to him.

As part of his narrative, he informed the Commission that Ngoako Ramatlhlodi who was a witness at the Commission and accused him of having auctioned off SA was recruited by the apartheid state intelligence while he was a student in Lesotho. Later he also included Siphiwe Nyanda as compromised. These revelations sent the social media discourses into an overdrive. While still delivering his introduction, many commented that this was a deliberate deflection. It appears they wanted him to come and just confirm what they already believe of him in guilty conviction.

Their intolerance to afford him to tell his story is the opposite of how they responded to others who also appeared. Their intolerance confirms their claim to know his story better than him. He is not afforded the same confidence all others who appeared before the commission were extended. There is this dialectic tension of demanding him to speak at the Commission but only from a directed script that attests concession to guilt, anything else is seen as a deflection. In truth they want him to relate the stories they already have heard. Naturally, the commission straddles political and legal spheres and he as a clever politician knows how to engage in that political space.

If Zuma must speak can those who want to hear him, let him speak and can we desist demanding him telling us what we want to hear. After all, it is his story. The week ahead promises more volatile moments however let us hear Zuma’s story.