Ramaphosa is big on promises but running out of time to act - Businesslive

Oct 24, 2021
24 October 2021 - When the ANC promises that “we will do better”, the question that leaps to mind is, better at what?

Michael Morris 

When the ANC promises that “we will do better”, the question that leaps to mind is, better at what?

The record suggests that the governing party’s chief accomplishment is stringing people along, and — whether one acknowledges it grudgingly or not — it’s nothing short of impressive that it continues to succeed.  

In Alberton just last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa told supporters that ANC local government candidates “have taken a pledge to end corruption, fraud and patronage, no matter what form it takes and no matter who it involves”. 

He went on: “They have committed themselves to improving the lives of the people they serve. They will not rest until the people they serve have proper houses and services, clean water, roads and cities without litter scattered [around].”

And it turns out he is the right man to be delivering this message.

A recent poll commissioned by the Centre for Risk Analysis (CRA) found that while a combined 80.5% of respondents thought their lives had stagnated or worsened over the past five years, Ramaphosa was far and away the country’s most popular political leader. 

While a fraction over half of the respondents (50.3%) said they supported the ANC, 62% had a favourable or somewhat favourable view of Ramaphosa.

He certainly has a record of mostly saying the right things, or the kinds of things that make him seem the pioneering reformer so many people desperately want him to be. 

But there’s a difference between words and actions. 

On the corruption front, Ramaphosa has been — or has seemingly been — soldiering away for some time. He is the man who acknowledged candidly: “The ANC is pained immensely by stories of corruption. We are highly conscious of the damage that corruption does to the party and the country … with some cases maybe we have made an approach that is too legalistic and that approach needs to be reassessed.”

Good man for owning up, most would be happy to acknowledge. 

Troubling, though, is that Ramaphosa made this statement all the way back in October 1996.

More recently — though already a year ago, now — the president characterised the ANC as “accused number one” when it came to corruption. Since then, countless headlines testify to yet more hundreds of millions being siphoned off by cadres. 

And, now, another promise: we will do better. 

As for ANC candidates committing themselves “to [not resting] until the people they serve have proper houses and services, clean water, roads and cities without litter”, we have heard this before, too. 

The January 8 statement of 2018 — a key pointer, presumably, to the Ramaphosa incumbency — promised an “era of unity and service to the people”.

If South Africans are still waiting for it to begin, it remains remarkable that so many are still willing to give Ramaphosa the benefit of the doubt. 

The conundrum is that, if the facts of the shocking and undeserved “lived experience” that is the lot of residents of ANC-run municipalities are inescapable, the condition itself is wholly avoidable: it is up to residents themselves and no-one else to choose better local administrators. 

This is not a leap in the dark: the media is filled with credible accounts — the bulk of them based on the government’s own reports — of which towns and cities work, and which don’t. 

Whether good sense prevails — or the hope that wells from habitual generosity — will be revealed in just over a week. Either way, the solutions will be tougher to pull off today, having been delayed, year after year, for so long. 

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.


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