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Cyril Ramaphosa arrives with his wife to deliver his State of the Nation address, February 16 (©NASIEF MANIE/AFP/Getty Images)

Relief at the end of the corrupt and illiberal regime of Jacob Zuma has quickly given place here in South Africa to swooning adulation for the new President, Cyril Ramaphosa. South African political culture is very much leader-focused and the recent experience of democracy means that it is also naive. One realises that electorates get more sophisticated with time and even understand a bit of comparative history. That is how you get an electorate smart enough to reject the massively popular Churchill for the rather anonymous Attlee because the latter was better suited to the work of postwar reconstruction. No such scepticism exists in this case. Ramaphosa has known how to press all the right buttons and has led an extended charm offensive, piling on the rhetoric of consultation and conciliation with a trowel. The idea — clearly successful — has been to position himself as the man who negotiated the country’s first democratic constitution, who will bring the same skills to dealing with the country’s problems now, and fulfilling the promise of Nelson Mandela. This is heady stuff and were an election to be held today he would clearly win by a mile.

In large part this is due to sheer relief at the end of Zuma’s blundering and stealing and the way in which he allowed the state’s capture by a gangster elite. But this is a good moment to look at South Africa’s leadership under the ANC since democracy was won in 1994. Mandela was a dear old man, greatly loved, and his message of racial conciliation and forgiveness was just what the country needed. In every other way he was a hopeless president. He never understood or did the job, instead spending all his time with pop stars, sportsmen and the mega-rich. He neither presided over the cabinet nor even bothered to stay right through its meetings. There was simply a hole in the middle of government where there needed to be hands-on executive leadership. Corruption began to flower under his administration, particularly in the infamous arms deal of 1999.

Next came Thabo Mbeki, in many respects more capable but given to stealthy behind-the-arras elimination of possible rivals and to grandiose visions of himself as the leader not just of Africa but of the entire Third World. He also used nakedly racist rhetoric against whites. His combination of paranoia and grandiosity led him to believe that the anti-retroviral drugs used to treat the HIV-positive were just a scheme by Big Pharma and that he knew better than medical science. Accordingly, he deprived the HIV-positive  of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). A later Harvard study showed he had caused 300,000-365,000 unnecessary deaths, almost all Africans — a true genocide and at least 20 times more than had died for political reasons under apartheid. Under him corruption became structural as part of the vast ANC patronage network. Even when cadres were found stealing, no one was punished. Finally, there was Zuma, under whom a corrupt mafia took over the entire state. The president, a semi-literate, warned people against witches, told them the ancestors would be angry if they didn’t vote for him and also said that God supported the ANC. He made up policy without the least regard for legality or affordability and seemed quite ignorant of the constitution.
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April 9th, 2018
5:04 AM
This article did not cover the other aspects in all this. Julius Malema...he is the greatest danger to peace.

Eddie Goldschagg
April 8th, 2018
8:04 AM
R W Johnson.There are a lot of people who certainly will not like what you said, but you hit the nail on the head. Thank you. I will follow you with interest.

April 8th, 2018
7:04 AM
As a South African I ask. What is the next step?

Craig Schweitzer
April 6th, 2018
5:04 AM
Att: R.W. Johnson I am a South African, am a third generation citizen and spent my entire life living in Johannesburg. We get bombarded with political opinions from numerous sources. People comment of current affairs from various perspectives, and often with differing agenda's. I read your article with interest, and was captivated from your first sentence. You have so succinctly documented exactly what is happening in South Africa (and Africa) right now, that I feel your article should be used as a reference point in understanding the political and economical situation of this country before continuing with a political direction. I feel that the reality, which you have described, should be understood, and the course of our future altered to fix our future outcome, not for the benefit of the quarter million only. Thank you for writing this article, I will certainly share it far and wide, and intend following your future commentaries.

Johann Fourie
April 6th, 2018
2:04 AM
A most interesting summary of events of the past 20 + years, albeit alarming at times.Full marks to the authour.

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