An open letter to Cyril Ramaphosa

Dear President Ramaphosa, I’d like to tell you a story about two people, who 35-odd years ago, found themselves where you now are.

On December 25 1991, Michael Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, resigned.

In the preceding five years, he had dismantled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ adherence to Marxist-Leninist doctrine, and stood by while a number of Eastern Bloc countries abandoned Marxist-Leninist governance during 1989 and 1990, symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

His policies of glastnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), and his formation of the Congress of People’s Deputies saw the demise of one party rule, and the emergence of a social democracy.

After the failed August Coup by Marxist-Leninist hardliners resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union – against his wishes – he resigned in disgust, became an ardent critic of successors Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and campaigned tirelessly for Russia’s social democratic movement.

In the space of just five short years, he succeeded in doing what the West had laboured mightily for 45 years to achieve: the unmaking of what American president Ronald Reagan characterised, in a 1983 public address, as the Evil Empire.

How on earth did an avowed Marxist-Leninist, who served continuously in Communist Party structures after completing his law degree in 1955 and rose to be general secretary of the party and chairman of the Supreme Soviet, make a volte-face of such magnitude in just five years?

On February 2 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk, during his opening speech in South Africa’s last white Parliament, announced the unbanning of the ANC, SACP and PAC, the release of all political prisoners, the repeal of apartheid legislation, setting the stage for reforms similar to those of his Russian counterpart, and ushering in a Western-style liberal democracy and a market-oriented economy.

Like Mr Gorbachev, Mr De Klerk faced a backlash from conservative hardliners, which manifested in an attempted coup in the Bantustan pseudo-state of Bophuthatswana, launched by the neo-Nazi separatist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), which, in recognition of its laughable military performance, earned the sobriquet, the Coke and Brandy Brigade.

But Mr De Klerk stuck to his guns, knowing full well that he was working both himself, and his party, out of power.

In April 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president, of the Republic of South Africa.

In the space of just five short years, Mr De Klerk oversaw the dismantling of the apartheid state, which had endured for almost as long as had the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

How on earth did an avowed apartheid apparatchik – his paternal great-grandfather, Jan van Rooy, and his father, Jan de Klerk, both served as senators in the National Party government and he was elected to Parliament in a 1972 by-election in Vereeniging – make such a volte-face? Aside from his supervising of the repeal of The Mixed Marriages Act in 1985, for his entire time in government he was seen as an apartheid hardliner, and an advocate of white minority interests.

It is doubtful that either Mr Gorbachev or Mr De Klerk, had a Saul of Tarsus-like road to Damascus moment, considering their respective ideological trajectories beforehand.

They would have foreseen the catastrophic destruction of all they had worked for over the years, and concluded that in order to salvage what they could, heretofore inconceivable and irrevocable change must happen.

Rather than wait for that change to be initiated by forces beyond their respective control – in both instances those forces were already on the move – they chose to initiate the discomfiting changes that would spell their political demise.

And so, Mr President, you too, must confront the reality of the situation that you now face, a situation not disimilar to that which galvanised Mr Gorbachev and Mr De Klerk into doing the unthinkable.

In the two years since your ascension to the presidency of the ANC and the country, you have taken us on a rollercoaster ride from the stellar heights of Ramaphoria to the depths of Ramanausea.

We are sick and tired of your excuses, your shilly-shallying, your silences and glaring absences in times of all-too-often crises.

The party which you so love and all it stands for, is torn apart by factionalism, and it constantly overrides your endeavours to implement the reforms that we so desperately need.

It trades in populism, foisting upon us measures that will do nothing to end the evils of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

The architects of state capture walk free, enjoying the spoils of the public purse they have plundered, and despite the ongoing revelations at the Zondo commission of inquiry, we see no material progress with prosecutions.

Eskom and SAA are poster children for what has become of the public enterprises that your party sees as playing a pivotal role in the much-lauded, but incapable, development state. Overstaffed, overpaid, gutted of competent managers, administrators, and board members.

The civil service is bloated to the point where for every R100 collected in tax revenue, R46 is spent on the emoluments of public servants.

You can no longer prevaricate as you have done, fearful that your enemies in the party will remove you from office, for they will continue to undermine you, no matter what you do.

If the presidents of your staunchest ally and your greatest enemy could step off the terrifying precipice of change, what is stopping you?