They’re so busy trying to keep the unions on-side, keep business confident and not tip the other half of the ANC off the edge, that leading the country is a precarious balancing act, writes Mandy Wiener
Thursday night’s fiasco in Parliament was, in actual fact, a true reflection of the state of the nation that is South Africa.
As we all watched the theatrics of the Economic Freedom Fighters, waiting for the president to talk, it became apparent that the moment was an analogy for the real state of the country.
For the past 18 months, we have been waiting for Cyril Ramaphosa to talk – to make tough decisions, to act decisively and to lead with authority.
But instead he has been hamstrung by politics, distracted by party squabbling and the fightback campaign orchestrated against him and his reform policies.
Much like he was on Thursday night. He sat back, leaned against the podium, smiled and waited for the noise to die down.
We know by now that Ramaphosa leads by consensus, that he consults broadly and that he requires buy in from all sectors. He doesn’t weigh in on the noise around him.
His people say this makes the outcome more “durable” and longer lasting.
All of this takes time and patience, which the public is short on currently.
We want the instant gratification that comes with popular declarations. Much like we wanted him to step up and deliver his speech on Thursday night without an hour and a half delay.
Similarly, instead of focusing on the real business of rebuilding the country after 10 years of devastating state capture, we were distracted by a sideshow put on by Malema and his crew in red.
As a country, while we should all be rolling up our sleeves and getting busy with our civic responsibilities of restoring state institutions and investor confidence, we’re distracted by the bluster of politics which is overshadowing our patriotism and optimism for the future.
It’s undermining the public confidence in our elected leader’s ability to get things done efficiently and without histrionics.
Having said that, Malema’s outrage at the presence of former President FW de Klerk in Parliament struck a chord that resonated with his constituency.
And for good reason too.
This again is an analogy for where we are as a nation, 25 years into democracy, that has failed to truly come to terms with our past.
While we are looking towards the future and building the economy and creating jobs, we can’t lose awareness of the fact that there are still vast tracts of people who feel that they have been disenfranchised and failed by their leaders.
Many don’t believe that the crime of apartheid has been sufficiently avenged.
When Ramaphosa did eventually begin to speak, he delivered a speech that was middle of the road.
It was “meh”.
Short on detail but frank in its acknowledgement of the financial diagnosis of the country.
He spoke about a new university in Ekurhuleni, a sovereign wealth fund, a state bank and a smart city in Lanseria.
What most people heard was the bit about growing the marijuana industry. But no so much about Eskom or austerity. No grand sweeping action to inspire.
Again, this is a reflection of the true state of the nation. Our leadership is driving along at a slow and steady pace. They’re likeable, trying to appease everyone and keep them happy.
They’re so busy trying to keep the unions on-side, keep business confident and not tip the other half of the ANC off the edge, that leading the country is a precarious balancing act.
There is no freedom to make hard decisions and act decisively.
But the real truth of this analogy, if we are going to be honest about it, is that in all likelihood very few South Africans were actually even watching SONA on Thursday night.
This was either because they couldn’t afford to or because they just couldn’t care less.
The apathy amongst citizens around politics feeds through to the apathy of watching the president’s annual address. Some probably chose to watch the season premiere of The Bachelor instead.
It’s years of cynicism culminating in an indifference about what the president has to say.
Like Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s dystopian play Waiting for Godot? South Africa is having an existential crisis waiting for Ramaphosa to finally arrive.
Let’s hope that unlike Godot, he actually will.