Why Cyril’s Marikana apology has been his biggest blunder to date
Dear Cyril, being sorry for being Cyril won’t make you the president.
It should not be that hard for Cyril Ramaphosa to become ANC president at the end of the year.
He’s a successful guy with the backing of both labour and business.
But amazingly, he’s entering this fight as the underdog against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whose strong association with and blessing of her former husband should – in a half-decent world, at the very least – taint her to the point that she has no chance.
But this is an ANC driven by the politics of the belly, and the big Zuma faction in the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) looks at Dlamini-Zuma and sees continued free access to the all-you-can-eat patronage-politics buffet regardless of whether they bother to work for their supper.
Ramaphosa just has to live with that, and it’s a challenge he can overcome. The NEC is not everything. Jacob Zuma was able to defeat far greater obstacles in his rise to power a decade ago.
Will Ramaphosa be a better president? Will he be capable of cleaning up and reforming this party he has loved for decades, and which has decayed into a putrefying zombie corpse of what it was meant to be?
I’d argue even my cat would be a better president, because at least my calico wouldn’t be actively destroying the country. But there’s reason to hope with Cyril, for more than just the simple reason that he offers something completely different.
Before that can happen, he will need to put up the biggest fight he can muster. He will need to rise above even himself and his own limitations. He will need to come across as more of a fighter, because Zuma and his horde will take no prisoners between now and December. That doesn’t mean Ramaphosa should descend to their muddy levels, but he can’t afford to come across as soft.
We were reminded by Trevor Manuel over the weekend that struggle icons such as Kader Asmal backed Ramaphosa to take over from Mbeki in 2007. When Ramaphosa declined, a deeply disappointed Asmal had no problem telling everyone Cyril had “no balls”. Even Nelson Mandela preferred Ramaphosa over Thabo Mbeki in 1999, but something happened to give Mbeki the inside track. To this day, no one is entirely sure of what that was. I’m not sure it was because Ramaphosa lacked balls back then too – but he’s going to have to grow a pair, and soon.
Because of our long era of being without Ramaphosa – a man who likes to apologise – we got two presidents immune to apologies, even when they did plenty wrong.
Mbeki is yet to mutter half a word in apology for the hundreds of thousands believed to have died unnecessarily due to his Aids denialism. Zuma should be apologising to us for about 1 000 things every day at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but JZ has only ever managed one very half-hearted and awkwardly worded apology after the Constitutional Court found he breached his oath of office.
Guys like Mbeki and Zuma don’t apologise because they know it’s bad political strategy. Donald Trump is famous for never apologising. Ever. Even when he was forced to say sorry for bragging about grabbing unsuspecting women “by the pussy”, Trump somehow transformed that apology into an attack on his critics.
I wish we lived in a world where people vote for men and women who apologise for mistakes, but we don’t. We vote for badly formulated ideas of heroes.
When Ramaphosa apologised in 2012 for having bid R18 million on a buffalo, he’d done nothing particularly wrong. That buffalo was eventually sold for R20 million, and not to Ramaphosa.
We may think it’s obscene to spend so much money on one buffalo, but whoever ended up owning that buffalo has no doubt made even more money out of it by now. If Cyril wanted an expensive buffalo, and he had the money to buy one, so what? It was an investment decision. He should have just told his critics to mind their own wallets.
Instead, pathetically, he told the country he was sorry for having putting up his hand for such a big bid “in the sea of poverty”.
He was essentially apologising for who he was (a rich man). You can’t apologise for being rich and expect to be taken seriously. Donald Trump pretends he’s one hundred times richer than he actually is. He believes it gives him more credibility and respect.
You can’t very well apologise every time you get criticised. When Julius Malema apologises, he does so in a politically strategic way. His apology, for example, for having given South Africa Jacob Zuma simply served to make himself look good and Jacob Zuma look bad. But Malema never properly apologised for his “she enjoyed it” Khwezi comments, even when ordered to do so.
People want to be led, even if they tell you they want a leader who consults with everyone and tries to find the consensus view. Maybe they think they want that, but instinctively they respond to signs of strong leadership.
And Ramaphosa’s recent apology for the “unfortunate language” he used in asking police to take “concomitant action” against Marikana miners in the days leading up to the massacre of 34 striking mine workers in 2012 was another colossal mistake, perhaps the biggest of them all.
What had the man done wrong, despite how strongly the EFF may feel about that email?
Ramaphosa simply sent a message to the police asking them to take steps in the wake of 10 people losing their lives during protest action at a Lonmin platinum mine at which he was a board member. That’s reasonable. If Ramaphosa had done nothing, he would have been criticised even more harshly, and no doubt he’d be apologising just as profusely for today for having stood idly by while people were dying.
Ramaphosa didn’t ask the police to shoot and kill innocent people. He couldn’t have had any idea what was going to unfold. And yet, here he is today … apologising. That only makes him look guilty, because an apology is understood to be an acknowledgment of guilt.
No one has accepted his apology anyway, and no one cares he offered it.
His biggest actual crime seems to be that he used a big word like ‘concomitant’ in an email. Perhaps the police chief who read that word decided that it must have meant something really serious – and the next thing we knew, 34 miners were lying dead in the North West dust.
Were the cops shouting: “Unleash the concomitance!” just before they pulled their triggers? Obviously not.
That is how absurd Ramaphosa’s apology is. ‘Concomitant’ is just an adjective used to describe something that happens at the same time as another thing and is connected with it. I don’t think Ramaphosa was even using the word correctly. He should have just asked for “appropriate action” from the police. If he needs to apologise for anything at all, it’s for being guilty of pretentious crimes against grammar.
Most sadly, I imagine that if enough of us complain to him that we’re sick and tired of him being sorry for everything, his response might be, “Oh, I’m sorry about that. I’ll work at fixing it.”
Maybe this “strategy of saying sorry” is a holdover from the time when he was such a skilful labour negotiator – when he needed the qualities of finding compromise between very different people.
But that’s not the Ramaphosa anyone except Zuma needs right now. We need the guy who’ll start to act and sound like a president, even if that means never having to say you’re sorry.
Source : citizen