We learnt this week that the South African minister of communications can’t pin the city of Geneva in the state of Switzerland. But what of the state of our own nation as the government displays as many fractures as an orthopaedic ward?
In parliament, DA leader John Steenhuisen asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to put country before party. Little chance when the “consensus building” that CR champions has less to do with the wider interests of the nation and everything to do with the narrow needs of the fissiparous party he just about leads.
The “just about” part of his frail leadership is illustrated by the splendid contempt shown by energy minister Gwede Mantashe for CR’s big-bang announcement on freeing the country from the monopoly darkness of Eskom.
It’s easy to paint Falstaffian Mantashe as the villain of the piece, but in his case it is an entirely self-drawn portrait. He told parliament he could shake the magic money tree to fund a mythical sovereign wealth fund via royalties from oil and gas, but omitted to mention that is at least a decade to come, if it ever does. And his new legislation almost insures against it.
Last week, literally hours after the state of the nation announcement by Ramaphosa that he was liberating swathes of the country from the dead hand of Eskom, Mantashe queered his pitch
The “immediate action” offered by the president on Thursday night was translated by Mantashe the next day into “the government will not be rushed”. And this is in respect of renewable solar and wind power applications, on which his office has been sitting for six years.
Ramaphosa tells the nation some municipalities will be enabled to “procure their own power from independent producers”. Don’t switch off your inverter. If Mantashe had any intention of allowing this any time soon, he would have since withdrawn his opposition to the City of Cape Town application to do just that. He has not.
In the swirl of current controversies, it’s perhaps incautious to cite the FW de Klerk example. But he did turn his back on a party orthodoxy of 50 years’ standing. More telling was his predecessor, PW Botha. He was a reluctant reformer who hesitated to cross the Rubicon. But even he, with his limited menu of concessions — which, like many on offer today, were often behind the curve — had one crucial insight.
He realised that even small-bore changes could not be implemented while simultaneously maintaining unity in his reactionary party. And so he drummed out his most politically powerful internal opponent, Transvaal leader Andries Treurnicht. Treurnicht was dubbed “Dr No”. For every concession Botha wanted to drive, he was the road block. And so he was ejected.
The inner struggles of the National Party are of little relevance today. But there is one eerie parallel with the powerful ruling ANC. It, too, is caught on the altar of false unity. Timid reformers are bested by rejectionists who make even the most obvious and less difficult reforms needed by our shattered economy almost impossible. Mantashe is today’s “Minister No” or “Mr Not Now”.
This assumes there is a deep ideological contest at the top table of the ANC, and not just a smash-and-grab opportunism by the looters and plunderers, some of whom still hold positions in the ruling national executive committee.
Some years ago, while the energy minister’s office was not processing bids for alternative energy procurement, I visited a local solar company. It was, sadly, dismantling its factory and dismissing staff because of the government’s filibuster of the process. The CEO was very proud of his company slogan, though: “The sun doesn’t send an invoice.”
That is likely another reason for the foot-dragging. No invoices means no extra padding, no cuts for the connected. Former ANC secretary-general and president Kgalema Motlanthe warned in 2007: “Almost every project is conceived because it offers certain people a chance to make money.”
This proved a perfect prologue to the Zuma era. Will it be the epitaph for the Ramaphosa presidency?
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications.
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