Cyril on tightrope, must proceed with caution

The ancient Greeks believed the world went round in endless circles, sometimes getting better, then getting worse, then better, then worse again.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa in deep thought at the recent 54th annual ANC elective conference in Nasrec Centre Picture: MASI LOSI

There is, as the scriptures say, a time to weep and a time to rejoice, a time to destroy and a time to rebuild. It is always wise to know the right time.

There is a time for despair and a time for hope. When opportunities arise they should not be squandered. Madiba said, “We must use time wisely and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do the right thing.”

The decks are now cleared for ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa to restore the dignity of the country and the glorious party of Nelson Mandela and his contemporaries who served the people of South Africa with distinction, never seeking gain or personal glory.

Ramaphosa’s election as leader of the ANC promises to offer South Africa opportunities – all of which should be exploited. Already, the markets have responded positively to his election and there are hopes that he will be the Biblical Nehemiah of our democracy and its institutions.

But for Ramaphosa to keep this momentum and retain his status as one of the founding fathers of our constitutional democracy, he will have to keep his pre-election promises and revive the selfless leadership style of Madiba.

Just as daffodils fade, that legacy quickly became a beautiful thing of the past. Perhaps the 1994 euphoria was premature and probably naïve in the context of post-colonial Africa where jubilation should always have a tinge of vigilance.

Ramaphosa must do what he knows is good for this country and refuse to dance to the galleries of popularity. His walk to power has been long, winding and difficult but with courage he has persevered.

Our society is crying out for direction and salvation. Providing it is a duty he and his colleagues owe generations to come.

True leaders are not born but evolve out of desperate circumstances. Theirs is to navigate a route that will steer a floundering ship from turbulent waters.

All things being equal, the flurry of litigation before the ANC’s Nasrec conference shows beyond doubt that the process of electing the future head of state must be as inclusive as possible.

There are no perfect models – all systems have their flaws. But the election process must always be credible and capable of finding a fit and proper person with a proven record of selflessness.

What is required at this perilous moment in South Africa is not a nice docile angel who has never ever sinned, but a capable leader with an ethos of service and integrity who will put the nation first.

Ramaphosa is such a leader, a Christmas gift for South Africans, one whose election came at a time it was needed most.

For this reason malicious accusations against him should be thrown into the sea.

There tend to be numerous Judas Iscariots and other dangers in the way of a leaders seeking to rebuild a country. Resistance usually comes from the most unexpected quarters. There are many examples in modern history.

This includes in Africa. It has now been revealed that the US and Belgian intelligence instigated the capture and murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo at independence.

The overthrow of Ghana’s Prime Minister Kwame Nkruma in 1967 and the assassination of the selfless revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara of Burkina-Faso in 1989, were also the work of external forces.

Throughout Africa’s post-colonial era, the modus operandi has been the same – buy off some of the leader’s associates and cause endless fratricide.

In countries such as Russia the destabalisation of progressive leaders has come from within. After Joseph Stalin’s many years of dictatorship of Russia, Nikita Khrushchev, the son of a poor peasant took over.

His membership of the politburo under Stalin – the country’s highest executive body – had tarnished Khrushchev’s image.

He nevertheless did not hesitate to bitterly criticise Stalin’s era of mass killings and actively sought to undo the damage. He introduced what became known as the destalinisation programme and all the statues and public places bearing Stalin’s name were either destroyed or renamed. The standard of living in the Soviet Union improved.

Not all Khrushchev’s efforts were a success. His ambitious program of farm production failed. Industrial growth declined and the 1962 Cuban missile crisis humiliated Russia.

But it was his policy of peaceful co-existence with non-communist countries that angered the party stalwarts and Communist China. So Khrushchev, the modernising Soviet statesman, was finally forced to resign.

Similarly, President Michael Gorbachev took over at a time when Russia’s economy was in decline. He succeeded in reducing state intervention in the economy and liberalised communism and its dastardly practices. But again his actions angered party hardliners and for his efforts to achieve cordial relations with Western superpowers such as the US and Britain, he was labelled “an agent of the West” – one whose mission was allegedly to destroy the communist utopia.

It is reported that in 1991, just hours before the Russian army placed Gorbachev under house arrest for two days, the US learnt of a plot by the army to depose him and warned him. A bloodless coup nevertheless followed – one that only ended when Gorbachev’s chief detractor, Boris Yeltsin, unexpectedly intervened and persuaded the army to restore civilian rule.

In the end a disillusioned Gorbachev resigned and the populist maverick Yeltsin took over. Today, Russia’s economy is again experiencing serious difficulties.

Returning to South Africa, Ramaphosa is presently on a tightrope with different tensions straining in different directions. And who knows what sort of dangerous creatures lurk in the river below.

So far he has demonstrated a high degree of skill, savvy and flexibility. Were this not the case, he would not be where he is now.

He has done the best that was humanly possible in extremely difficult circumstances. But he would do well to continue walking with extreme care. If he is destabilised and made to fall, the likelihood is he will not go down alone. South Africa will almost certainly fall with him.

What the country desperately needs now is stability, development and forward-thinking leadership. Anyone with an understanding of the times can clearly see ours is a season to urgently rebuild.

Ntsiki Sandi is a Grahamstown-based lawyer writing in his personal capacity

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