The President’s people are failing to put him together again

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. FILE PHOTO

A campaign speech. This was the consensus reached by analysts of Donald Trump’s 2020 speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos. His second attendance to the gathering in the Swiss resort, the 45th president of the United States used the opportunity to report back to the investment world on what great progress he and his administration had made to “make America, great again.”

Two years ago, in 2018, having been in the White House for a year, Trump bemoaned the previous administration under his predecessor, Barak Obama. He hinted some of this in his speech this year but quickly pointed out what his administration had done much to correct he wrong. China and trade was one such wrong which Trump claimed he was able to correct. 

While it was at times hard to believe some of the figures presented by Trump, one thing was for sure. His administration was on message. He had found America in a terrible state when he took office but today, he says, America is in a much better place. So optimistic and brighter had America’s future become that Trump dismissed the environmental “prophets of doom.”

As we approach the second anniversary of Cyril Ramaphosa becoming South Africa’s fifth democratically elected president, in February 2018, how different Trump’s America is compared to Ramaphosa’s South Africa. Yet the Ramaphosa presidency is not on message and the president has only his men and women, surrounding him, to blame.

While the president’s advisors and officials advised him to use “fighting corruption and state capture” as their campaign message, they have proven to be out of their depth in running the country and offering the first citizen the necessary advice and warning.  As with the Trump campaign, his advisors and officials suggested to the president to send a message that would distance himself from his predecessor. We suddenly started to speak of the “9 wasted years”, “new dawn” and “the new Nelson Mandela”. Yet they thought that this was all that was needed to run a country. 

In fact, it would seem that all the president’s men and women are worth is to throw mud and cast aspersions on opponents but are incapable of pushing positive publicity. The conundrum, we as the South African public therefore sit with, is not whether the president has surrounded himself with men and women who are incapable of doing their jobs and advise their boss but their incompetence has led us to question the competence of the president himself. 

In the last two years, we have witnessed a presidency which is simply incapable of leading on critical issues. They were caught off-guard on the violent xenophobic outbreak in Gauteng and elsewhere against fellow African brothers and sisters. What an indictment this was on our intelligence agency the State Security Agency (SSA), but yet no heads have rolled, Mr President. 

A pre-recorded message on the SABC was advised when the country faced a breakdown on gender-based violence and the alleged xenophobic violence. Never mind that we were also able to see the wrong recording or that we lumped these two separate but complicated violent issues together, the president addressing the women marching and the nation came after questions were being asked where exactly he was.

Where were his advisors when he embarked on Inkwazi, if it was used, to go to Egypt? Only to cut that trip short and attend to the crisis at Eskom. With the advantage of hindsight, we see that the president’s advisors and officials, as high up as cabinet members, let him down by failing to arrest the situation and prevent the nation from plunging into load shedding again.

Indeed, one can agree with the president. Sabotage is involved but he is wrong about who is pursuing this sabotage campaign. His presidency is being sabotaged by those in his office and cabinet.  Save that the rest of us was wondering how the ANC could throw a R50 million bash as we sit in darkness and the presidency still being in a tizz about load-shedding, number two in the presidency decides to break ranks. Officials in the presidency attempt to clean up a mess which they started in the first place by simply nor coordinating the fall out or the message. 

Unlike Trump, president Ramaphosa does not face an election year but South Africa could well do with some optimism, in his upcoming State of the Nation Address, amidst the chaos and confusion that continues to reign in our government. While Trump was able to assure the investment community at Davos that America was the place to be, we wonder whether our president can even give us hope as a nation, let alone international investors.

Journalist Carlo Peters was correct to tweet asking where all the men and women who got the president elected as president of the ANC were. It seems that as the president continues to face tough choices and criticism, his office and his team continues to fail him by not being on message and not supporting him in fostering confidence.


Wesley Seale taught South African politics at UWC and Rhodes University.