Time for decisive leadership, Mr President!
EDWIN NAIDU Naidu is a communications professional and writes on justice and higher education.
AFTER seven days of deadly looting in South Africa, which claimed about 212 lives, President Cyril Ramaphosa finally reassured citizens on Friday that the government would act to quell the violence. But was it a case of too little too late for our president, who is far too youthful to be moving at a snail’s pace or a Madiba-like shuffle? In a country gripped by fear and looting, there was much loathing, too. The looting was deplorable and has harmed the economy. It will result in the shutting down of businesses and leave people without jobs. It will not inspire investor confidence in South Africa. The loathing, however, a consequence of so-called racial tension that harks from the 1949 riots, cannot be used as an excuse for what happened during the past week and a half. The relationship between Indian South Africans and their black counterparts is not one of mistrust; many would say there is unity in purpose. But like in 1949, all it takes is one spark to divide people. History tells us that on January 13, 1949, an Indian store-keeper in central Durban assaulted an African youth. Thus began a spiral of violence resulting in the deaths of 142 people. The story doing the rounds of the gruesome deaths of black African individuals in Phoenix has the potential to become as explosive as what happened in 1949. But it would detract from the looting that devastated our country. Recent happenings should not be deemed a repeat of 1949, which many argue was a consequence of the apartheid government deliberately sowing seeds of division between African and Indian citizens. Addressing such a serious matter under a democratic government should have been done far better, though. At the onset of the looting, when one wanted leadership, there was none, especially to address this apparent polarisation of black African and Indian communities, thanks in part to the many who took to self-protection in the absence of police and the army. Sadly, this is what happens when the rule of law is under threat. One cannot rely on the law enforcers to keep the peace. Communities have to defend themselves, their properties and families. But for the vigilante groups who killed innocent people in Phoenix, the law must do its job and ensure they are brought to justice. Flaunting their ghastly deeds on social media was daft. There should be little trouble bringing these people to justice. In addressing, what went wrong, many want to racialise what in essence was criminal activity. The looting is not about South Africans of African origin versus those of Indian descent. On Friday, Ramaphosa was unconvincing as he sought to reassure the nation and investors that it was time to rebuild South Africa. The insurrection against South Africa had failed. This was not another family meeting, where he comes across as a caring undertaker showing sympathy to a grieving family. This was a national crisis. For the second time in a week, after his Monday briefing, he left one none the wiser. Fear continues to spread on social media. Admittedly, our country was a time bomb long before what the president labelled an insurrection. While there may be truth in this claim, the Intelligence Ministry has yet to back it up. One can take the president seriously only when seeing those responsible behind bars. He announced that more than 2 500 people were arrested for crimes linked to unrest and looting. Justice must be swift, not as slow as the president and the government in tackling what unravelled in South Africa. Some of the alleged ringleaders have also been caught. Perhaps the majority that put Ramaphosa into power against Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at Nasrec on December 18, 2017, has made him a lame duck president from the start of his tenure. Slow to act, slow to speak, his slow measured words continue to ring hollow. On many levels, he has yet to act decisively. The man is credited with helping to draft the Constitution hailed by many as the most human rightsfriendly document in the world. Yet, under his watch, people have been allowed to piss on the Constitution at will. Throughout it all, you would never hear a squeak from Ramaphosa. Conveniently, people like to depict him as a leader who leads by consensus. Whatever the case, Ramaphosa was silent as deputy president on the shenanigans of the Gupta brothers who raped and pillaged the nation’s coffers with support from the highest office and compliant ministers. By turning a blind eye to their misdeeds, allowing their thieving to deprive people of promises made in the blueprint for a better South Africa, he betrayed the Constitution. Money taken out of the country by the Guptas could have been spent on social welfare, health, education, housing and sanitation – meeting the promises in the Constitution, aimed at a better life for all. If, as heard before the Zondo Commission, estimates that the Guptas fled South Africa with R50 billion are true, imagine the impact this would have had on the poverty alleviation or free education you hear bandied about by the self-proclaimed “saviour” of our country, Duduzane Zuma. Before he dreams about 2024, the younger Zuma should come clean about his association with the dirty Gupta clan. Surely, if they have dirty money and feature on Interpol wanted lists, by association, the National Prosecuting Authority ought to be looking at Zuma jr too? If he is sincere about his presidential ambitions, he should start first with a lifestyle audit. But don’t expect Ramaphosa to say anything about this – he is probably consulting. Or, one hopes, looking at how he is going to deal with the threat of a younger Zuma possibly usurping him. One wonders what ANC leadership thinks of such presidential ambitions, given that in the past, leaders – with the exception, one may add of Tokyo Sexwale – openly threw their name into the hat. But there’s still time to deal with the young gun. Ramaphosa has much on his plate. For now he must deal decisively with those responsible for the looting and reassure those who feel under siege. What he ought to be doing, though, is holding ineffective ministers accountable for their inaction when it comes to doing their jobs. The Police Ministry is far from the epitome of efficiency one expects of a law enforcement agency. The Ministry of Intelligence seem to operate under a rock. They have no sense of the temperature on the ground. The Defence Ministry has a leader more embroiled in scandal than showing any ability to defend the nation. They appear reactive instead of being proactive. But the reaction has been tardy. As a result, can one trust government to keep a grip on safety and security? How much of the reason for the looting – and the loathing – is because of the leadership style of Ramaphosa and government doing little to make a dent in poverty, or building an inclusive South Africa where everyone feels a sense of belonging without fear?