Change the world


Only a sense of urgency, thinking outside the box, will set Ramaphosa apart.

It's 05:05 on a Saturday. Alan Winde wakes up to be greeted by a missed call notice on his phone. He checks his WhatsApp messages. One reads: "Hi Alan, I called to check how I could best enable you to do your job better in the coming week, give me a call please. Cyril."

That's the kind of personal touch and follow-through that can set President Cyril Ramaphosa apart from mediocrity in his second term.

It is the ability to be present and focused in leading the machinery of the state through the complex bureaucratic structures and meetings as well as through creativity, urgency, and freedom to follow up personally with anyone anywhere in the country to get things done. 

One morning, the call could be made to a mayor in an obscure rural municipality, and on another it could be to the head of an SOE playing a vital role in the logistics network of the country, while continuing to respect the protocols in terms of intergovernmental relations and reporting lines across the state sector.

The idea is to remake the president as being in charge, interested, and willing to serve as an enabler for the entire government to work. Nothing stops surprise visits to schools and hospitals even as the president continues to focus on his actual job of leading at a national level. 

Last Sunday, Ramaphosa delivered the annual January 8 statement of the ANC NEC, in an event that continued the internal party approval he has received from the recent conference, if the body language of the attendees is anything to go by. 

Among many others, two things will make or break his presidency, the continued renewal of the ANC and the state, as well as the quality of leaders with whom he leads. All other issues are a function of these two. 

ANC renewal

The president announced a "road map to repositioning the ANC in the next 10 years" had been crafted "to reimagine an ANC of the future".

He said the party "must take steps to have the ANC recognised as a leader of society as this has been the character of the ANC since 1912". 

Ramaphosa added in Sesotho the ANC belonged to the people in general "whether people like it or not, this is a party of the people of SA, and it shall be evident in 2024".

He continued: "We are moving forward with the renewal of the ANC. The recent conference has shown that whether one likes it or not, we are all going to have to be part of the renewal agenda." 

Ramaphosa was bold as he went over this part of his speech, clearly bolstered by his re-election at the conference and the reaffirmation of the step-aside resolution, among others. But talk is cheap, very cheap!

Nothing about the revived commitments suggests the slow, steady, business-as-usual approach the party has maintained under Ramaphosa will work going forward. The party is racing against time while its processes of cleaning itself up are running at a snail's pace. 

Indeed, the president has been able to lead a party that did the unthinkable and fired a sitting secretary-general over criminal charges he faced and managed not to have this reversed at a conference.

The resolution led to many powerful politicians stepping aside from their positions due to criminal charges. But against the broader sample of people with smallanyana skeletons, those who have been compelled to step aside are a drop in the ocean. Many more have brought the party into disrepute but remain in office.

The electoral committee reforms leading to the local government elections and the national conference are duly noted but were not implemented at regional and provincial conferences. 

What is needed is a bolder approach to clean up the party and it should start with ensuring that all leaders facing allegations of wrongdoing are finally removed from every position of power throughout the country and the practice of redeploying leaders rather than firing them when compromised is stopped. 

There should be follow-through on all party-based processes of institutional building to achieve this role of the party. The party needs to pay attention to non-factional recruitment of members too and discard the phenomenon of "members belonging to members as voting fodder".

When it does this, it will create an environment in which securing and retaining office becomes a function of how one performs when deployed rather than through domineering over the membership. 

Cabinet reshuffle and renewal

Ramaphosa was at pains to explain how South Africa's socioeconomic challenges undermine the quality of the country's democracy. Perhaps it may be time for him to infuse more energy into the leadership of the state through a wholesale Cabinet makeover. 

The president should get rid of many ministers who first set foot in leadership roles as far back as the 1990s. There may be nothing else left from these politicians rather than to continue being a thorn in the flesh of a more vibrant and rapid change. 

Changing Cabinet ministers should be based on performance rather than shifting power at the level of the party. But because of the intricate nature of the imperatives of staying in power in the party, many presidents have used shifting loyalty and sometimes scandal to be the driver of change in the Cabinet rather than performance imperatives. 

Ramaphosa should approach his Cabinet reshuffle with a view to accelerating the succession plan for future leadership in the state by bringing in younger people with experience and strong potential in ministerial roles and introducing others as deputy ministers. 

He must also ensure the state is fit for purposes, removing deadwood from Cabinet regardless of age and position in the ANC. 

Only through a hands-on leadership approach, renewed ANC, and a better Cabinet can the president truly enjoy the benefits of the political success he has recently had at the level of the party. He now needs to make it count.  

- Dr Ongama Mtimka is a lecturer and political analyst in the Department of History and Political Studies of the Faculty of Humanities at Nelson Mandela University. He writes in his personal capacity.

Contact information
Dr Ongama Mtimka
Tel: 0415044819