Seize the moment - Ramaphosa must give Cabinet dead wood the axe
**This opinion piece was first featured in the Daily Maverick**
As we celebrate the nationalism and camaraderie portrayed through community action across all sectors of society to protect property, lives and livelihoods, followed by the inspirational acts of the clean-up, one gets a sense of the depth of the humanity and ubuntu that binds us as a nation. However, one also gets a sense that many may not have grasped the depth of the danger we were, and may still be, in.
In a country with the highest rate of inequality in the world (and growing), coupled with a ruling party both politically divided and steeped in a conflicted anti-corruption journey, the gravity of the past week’s crisis is attracting significant discussion and realisation of how precariously close we came to losing control of law and order.
Aside from our witness of an ineffective state intelligence agency, along with a police force largely unfit to manage the chaos and a lethargic army that struggled to get into position, one shudders to think of what might have been had the drivers and instigators of this anarchy been better organised, bigger in numbers and smarter in their execution of whatever plan it was they had. One cringes to think of might have been, had citizens and communities not taken up the role of the state by providing necessary protection to property and lives.
Now more than ever, the adage by Churchill rings so true for us: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. This is not the time to breathe a sigh of relief and believe that our worries are over. We must unpack the real burning issues. And here I don’t mean the obvious matters of attending to the ineptitude of the State Security Agency and its weak intelligence capabilities, or the lack of discipline and training of our police and defence forces. The real work of getting down to reversing our levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty requires substantial attention if we are serious about removing the threat of more and larger incidents of unrest and violence in the future.
Unfortunately, we have lost two decades in which to develop a highly educated, vibrant and entrepreneurial environment of employment opportunities, due to the ruling party lacking the moral courage to place South Africa’s people ahead of the party and self-enriching interests.
The recent crisis presents us with an opportunity for a critical thinking approach from the top, one that will begin a new journey to construct a competent state. One that will give meaningful attention to our desperate and dysfunctional systems of education, health, safety, water, energy, industry and so on.
Our president’s biggest dilemma has an opportunity to be dismantled. While Cyril Ramaphosa’s journey to lead the country was made possible by many compromised cadres who helped him “across the line” at Nasrec in December 2017, his opportunity to break the shackles of indebtedness has arrived. Far too many of his Cabinet posts are filled by people out of their depth, implicated in acts of corruption, or well past their sell-by dates. Most are suffering the long-term effects of a visionary bypass and keep South Africa trapped in a quagmire of inefficiency and administrative bungling that fails to unlock even a fraction of the prosperity we are capable of.
Seriously, what does Gwede Mantashe really know about the minerals and energy sector? Similarly, what does Fikile Mbalula know about the complex transport industry? Sure, they have advisers who may know a lot, but it’s the Cabinet ministers’ responsibility to challenge their advisers and drive the innovative vision and future of these ministries. If not, we sit with expensive and shockingly poor decisions like e-tolling, Russian nuclear deals and powerships, to mention but a few.
Others such as the bumbling Blade Nzimande and our Minister of Communications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, have done much to disenchant the industries they preside over. Worst of all is our deputy president, the enigmatic David Mabuza, who has largely been MIA and has developed an amazing skill of skipping the country for “medical treatment” every time the courts need answers about his gross abuse of power while he was the premier of Mpumalanga.
Ministers have come and gone in the critical area of education, each one unable to arrest the declining pass rates and the issue of a largely unemployable youth sector. There is a similar mess in the Ministry of Health, where the current management of the pandemic and the decade-long inability to introduce a workable universal healthcare system has been atrocious.
And as for Police Minister Bheki Cele, well let’s just wait and see if he will pass the sanity test of opening his filing cabinet to tear up his plan that seeks to stop citizens from applying for gun licences for reasons of self-defence. With last week’s crisis providing all the empirical evidence and a statistically sound sample of what citizens have been arguing for, will the penny drop?
The adage by the late civil rights activist Tyree Scott is extremely apt for the president today: “You can’t leave those who created the problem in charge of finding a solution.”
The time for a Cabinet shake-up is overdue and with the past few week’s events as a backdrop, the president’s conundrum of a passing-out parade for the fickle crew could not be better timed. A well-crafted discussion to convince them of a need for a well-deserved break or retirement to enjoy the trappings of their extraordinary wealth has arrived. I imagine many of them will breathe a sigh of relief and seize the opportunity.