It was on Thursday 26 March 2020 when South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Commander-In-Chief President Cyril Ramaphosa donned camouflage uniform with neither name tag nor rank insignia. The occasion was at Doornkop military base in Soweto where he was to marshal his troops for battle against the corona virus pandemic under strict lockdown regulations. “This is not the time for skop en donner,” he commanded. Ordinary South Africans were hyped up that the head of state had given a line of march against the deadly Covid-19.
If there was ever a time that exposed Ramaphosa’s leadership deficiencies, it is during this time of the national lockdown when his troops won’t heed his command.
A fortnight after commanding his troops to treat citizens with dignity, 40 year-old Collins Khosa was kicked, choked and bashed against the wall by uniformed SANDF members. His sin was consuming alcohol within the parameters of his yard in Alexandra (Johannesburg). Khosa died later in the evening of 10 April allegedly from head injuries sustained during the assault. As if defying their commander wasn’t enough, soldiers who were deployed to patrol the streets had poor understanding of the same lockdown regulations they were out to enforce. Khosa’s consumption of alcohol at his place of residence was not in violation of lockdown regulations but he died anyway. Soldiers implicated in his assault and alleged murder were exonerated by a wishy-washy internal inquiry and are still on the SANDF payroll. It took the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to ensure Khosa had a dignified send-off. The matter of his alleged murder by SANDF members was ventilated in court.
At the time of their appointment, cabinet ministers take an oath of office which amongst others states: “I ABCD, do hereby solemnly swear to hold my office as Minister with honour and dignity; to respect and uphold the constitution and all other laws of the Republic of South Africa and to perform the duties of my office conscientiously and to the best of my ability.” Two weeks after Ramaphosa commanded all citizens to stay at home and only leave their houses for essential work, Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams defied this command and went socialising with friends. Pictures of the visit were captured on camera and posted on social media. She was in contravention of Regulation 11b gazetted under the Disaster Managament Act: 57 (2000). The communication minister’s conduct communicated a message that was at variance with the rules issued by National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) headed by Ramaphosa. Suffice it to say, she failed to uphold the law of the Republic and hold her office as Minister with honour as per the dictates of her oath of office. The EFF lodged a criminal case against Ndabeni-Abrahams and had her day in court where she paid a R1000 admission of guilt fine which came with a criminal record. Even though the law allows her to remain in office provided she isn’t handed a 12 month custodial sentence without an option of a fine, the gist of the matter is that Ramaphosa is the first democratic president to harbour a cabinet minister with a criminal record. Cabinet ministers in the democratic dispensation who may have criminal records got them in the apartheid era. This didnt happen even under former President Jacob Zuma Zuma who was always on the receiving end of all sorts of ridicule.
Then there was the notorious R37 million fence along Beit Bridge border. This is the fence that separates South Africa and Zimbabwe and which was constructed as a measure to fight the corona disease. It was stolen during construction but not only that, Public Works Minister Patricia De Lille admitted there was a deviation from procurement processes when Magwa Construction was awarded the contract. The matter is currently under investigation by Auditor-General and Public Protector.
This was followed by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) heist in which R5.7m, meant for 200 workers impacted by Covid-19, was deposited into a bank account of a single person and then funnelled to friends and relatives.
The President never bothered to take the nation into his confidence in these headline-making cases.
In April Ramaphosa announced a R500bn Covid-19 relief package to cushion companies and individuals against the impact of the pandemic. No sooner had he made his address and ANC councillors were already involved in graft relating to distribution of food parcels and the manufacture of personal protective clothing. It’s worth noting that it was neither DA nor EFF councillors who were looting from desperate people ravaged by Covid-19 but it was councillors from the same party led by Ramaphosa. Once again, his cadres defied him and went on a looting spree.
The Covid-19 relief package has become a looters paradise under his watch.
In June, the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) announced that taxis would revert to loading 100% capacity and resume inter-provincial travel whether government approved it or not. SANTACO’s President Phillip Taaibosch, in presenting the Council’s decision also emphasised that taxis would not only resume 100% loading capacity against NCCC’s promulgated regulations, but also that “no taxis will be impounded”. Here was somebody, an ordinary citizen, issuing instructions to an already confuddled nation and the country’s president stood by like a spectator.
While the nation was struggling to navigate the economic turmoil brought about by the pandemic, Ramaphosa announced measures to stimulate industries that had suffered a serious knock. And having had no electricity blackouts for much of the lockdown, Eskom suddenly rolled out loadshedding thereby throwing the spanner into the works and rendering the President’s measures impotent.
Just in case one wonders who President Ramaphosa is – he is the president who created unprecedented euphoria during his maiden speech in Parliament on 15 February 2018. This is the speech that was dubbed the iconic Thuma Mina (Send Me) speech in which he concluded his address by a citation from Hugh Masekela’s song titled “Thuma Mina.” He recited: “I wanna be there when the people win the battle against Aids; I wanna lend a hand. I wanna be there for the alcoholic. I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse. I wanna lend a hand, send me.” Sadly, Ramaphosa has not lived up to his “Thuma Mina” commitment.
Collins Khosa died a brutal death at the hands of Ramaphosa’s men and women – nobody came to his rescue. The President was not there to lend a hand. When reported cases of gender-based violence spiked during the lockdown, Ramaphosa was not there for victims of violence and abuse. Instead Tshegofatso Pule died gruesomely after her eight-months pregnant body was hanged on a tree by people allegedly linked to her boyfriend. The hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were deployed in communities and were meant to patrol our streets were not there to help her and many other women.
When the people waged the battle against corona virus, Ramaphosa backtracked from his “Thuma Mina” commitment and said: “The war against corona virus is in your hands.” This conglomeration of events happened in less than four months and there has since been a growing disenchantment from across the political spectrum that Ramaphosa has all the characteristics of a Commander-In-Chief who has lost all command – from Union Buildings to Luthuli House.