OPINION: Really, Mr President?

Norman McFarlane

Mr President, I’m confused, and I’m hoping that you will be able to clear up my confusion.

You campaigned for the position of ANC president, and, by extension, the presidency of the country, on an overtly anti-corruption ticket, in the lead-up to the 2017 Nasrec elective conference.

Flushed with the success of your hard-won battle to ascend the throne of power in the ruling party, you set about deposing Jacob Zuma, pushing him onto his own sword, in much the same way that he had done to his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, after that fateful 2007 Polokwane elective conference.

Indeed, the taking down of your predecessor after you’d been elected president of the ruling party was a cleverly strategised symbolic gesture, calculated to burnish your image as a corruption fighter, something the country desperately needed after the Gupta Leaks email bonanza revealed the depth and breadth of corruption that had endured for years in the organs of state, and public enterprises.

In much the same way that South Africans had an abiding sense of hope after 1994 that we would overcome our dark past, many South Africans saw in you a literal new hope, as we entered the age of Ramaphoria.

For a time, you were the darling of society, taking your much publicised jogs on the Sea Point promenade and posing for selfies with fans, and chatting with all comers, collegial, engaging, even inspirational.

You could, it seemed, do no wrong, and your trajectory as a corruption busting knight in shining armour seemed assured.

So many of your supporters were fooled into believing that you had the capability to pull us back from the edge of the abyss on which the country teetered, believed that you could, believed that you would, save us all.

Just two-and-a-half years later, your once shining armour is no more, and you stand before the people like that mythical emperor in his new clothes.

In the idiom of Steve McQueen’s character, Jake Holman, in the 1966 war drama, The Sand Pebbles, when against all of the odds, he takes a fatal bullet in the chest: “What the hell happened?”

Aside from being “shocked”, or convening yet another summit, colloquium or board of inquiry, or mournfully appealing to the country to stand together to overcome, at each fresh revelation of blatant corruption, kleptocracy, chicanery, femicide, deepening unemployment, poverty, inequality, rising crime statistics, what have you done that has made a material difference?

Faced with the coronavirus pandemic, you were afforded an opportunity to re-chart your course, and for a time, it seemed that you would do so, but 150-odd days into the lockdown, you are evident more by your absence than by your presence in a news cycle dominated by revelations of appalling abuse of Covid-19 relief funds, by key people in the ruling party.

Yes, you have publicly called your party to account over this egregious plundering of a mortally wounded fiscus, but where has it gotten you?

Your predecessor, Jacob Zuma, lavishly tainted by allegations of corruption in the arms deal, Nkandlagate, and state capture is calling for your head on a platter, as is that other shining light of probity, Tony Yengeni, tried, convicted and sentenced to four years in prison in 2003, for defrauding Parliament, and, incredibly, appointed to head the ANC’s crime and corruption committee, in 2018.

And what of ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule, also lavishly tainted by allegations of corruption, both during the ongoing State Capture Commission, and by association with his sons, both of whom were awarded tenders for procurement of “Covid-19 commodities”, saying he will “never step aside for corruption allegations”?

The popular narrative has been that you are “playing the long game” that you cannot dismiss the useless dead wood in your cabinet, or the corrupt cadres that permeate your administration, for fear of pushback by your enemies in the ANC national executive committee.

But what has your inaction – read long game – achieved, other than a rising clamour for your recall by the very forces in your party that you sought to appease?

You could have been the first ANC president in history to put the country before your party, yet you failed us. Why?