Cyril Ramaphosa sees his ‘New Dawn’ from the comfort of his motorcade

On the one percent, blood money and pharaohs

There is something about President Cyril Ramaphosa allowing the Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba to present the recent Budget Speech that is unforgivable. From our reflections on the Zuma years, we know to never again let our restlessness cease. Should we let it, rigour mortis will quickly set in and that will be the death of a promising nation. We know, because we’ve come so close before.

Let’s keep the relationship between the ruler and the ruled constructively adversarial. Let’s just say, for now, that we buy into the need for healthy living but we wish to hold at a distance the now infamous jog through Gugulethu. ‘I’m Sister Lilian Mthembu from G-Section, Kwa Mashu’, let’s just say, ‘and its 6.15am Monday morning and I am 5th in the queue at the Taxi-Rank to get my transport (1st leg of 4 daily trips) to work at King Edward VIII Hospital in Umbilo, Durban’.

Then the minibus taxi passes all the streetlamp news posters; ‘Cyril this’, ‘Cyril that’, ‘Cyril whatnot’. Such it is with streetlamp news posters the morning after the night before. ‘Does Cyril even know about us?’ ‘What does the former trade unionist really look like these days?’ ‘Does he even speak like us or does he speak like the people across the highway, there by La Lucia?’ ‘Does he speak with a sea-view or with the view from inside an outside toilet, or does he speak with forked-tongue?

What if pharaoh looks like us?

Perhaps the question creates a problem where none exists. But then, we are dealing with South Africa, a country which falls in and out of love with politicians far too easily. In the love-is-blind department some might remember from a while back a chap called Jacob Zuma (politically promiscuous bunch we are); the love story, the messy break-up and the secret separation-settlement agreement. Mine eyes still moist up when I think of the loss and there isn’t a strong enough quick-set adhesive that could heal my broken heartedness. Enter Cyril Ramaphosa stage right.

Okay, so he doesn’t talk like us, even in the vernacular. He sounds somewhat mother-tongue-tied, like he is forcing himself, like it is a script to a drama show or some such. I smell half-cooked umqombothi here. But we like Cyril. How can one not like a person baptised, ‘Cyril’, it’s unheard of in human history. I know of nobody who has unfriended a ‘Cyril’ on Facebook, ever. But then, if Cyril is not sounding like ‘us’, there must be a ‘them’. Is there an ‘us and them’ after all, or are we all still expected to have bought into that hoax called the rainbow nation?

Talking of hoaxes, it is admitted that the idea of the pharaoh is drawn from the Biblical Exodus narrative of the Very Old Testament (The ‘New’ Testament is over 2000 years old now, nothing new about it. So we have the Old Testament and the Very Old Testament). Usage of the idea of the pharaoh, or any other metaphor from the Exodus narrative or any scriptural texts for that matter, should in no way be read as a validation of the historicity of such texts. I do tend to like Israel Finkelstein (The Bible Unearthed) a shade more than many other biblical archaeologists, I must admit. In fairness, the idea of ‘What if pharaoh looks like us?’ was drawn from a lecture presented by Reverend Allan Boesak at a lecture at the University of Pretoria in November 2017. Nonetheless, if Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, could use such texts to make merry, I do not see why I should be denied the opportunity to use same to argue a point; to which I shall return. Besides, the wise have also crafted a whole industry out of just the phrase. “Let my people go!

Despite the apparent stillness of mind of every minibus taxi passenger, or smartphone-clutching Gautrainer, since Valentine’s Day 2018 when love broke down (A subtle-as-a-chainsaw hint at the greatness of Prefab Sprout), and since SONA thereafter, everyone was preoccupied with the questions, ‘Is Cyril with us?’, ‘Is Cyril with them?’, ‘Is Cyril for us all?’.

Lest we are so self-centred that we should forget, there are millions without media, who, upon being asked about Cyril may respond, ‘Which Cyril?’ ‘Who is Cyril?’. These are the millions who come to mind first when penning these thoughts. One senses though that pharaoh wants so much to look like them also, the millions who always have just less than enough in that folded handkerchief to make it to next payday or pension day. But can he, really?

If the boot had already been on the necks of the pharaoh’s poor pre-Cyril Ramaphosa, then the Budget-2018 just pressed the boot that little bit harder. But, let’s not be too harsh, at least the messenger was well dressed. Make that, very well dressed! Pharaoh’s team are starting to look distinctly unlike us, nouveau riché with blood money some would add, and so the truth must out itself.

Let alone it’s very questionable policy positioning there is something about Cyril allowing Gigaba to present the Budget Speech 2018 that is unforgivable (not that I’m a member of the Forgiveness Committee, or anything). There was nothing spoken by Gigaba that could not have been said better, more eloquently and more meaningfully by any corrupt-free member of Parliament. Okay, the number of corrupt-free members of Parliament is shrinking, but still, I think my point stands. Unlike Mr Ramaphosa’s judgement in this instance, which falls.

Imagine, just for a moment, if Mmusi Maimane (just stick with me here, please!) had the opportunity to decide on presenting the Budget Speech 2018 and he chose Gigaba to do so. To quote that famous Eric Idle line, “Say no more!”. Why couldn’t Cyril just go ‘cold-turkey’ on the Zuma legacy? That not so insignificant matter of the ANC National Executive Committee might answer that (Below).

Is pharaoh starting to look like us or the proverbial 1% of the 1%, of which he is a part? Let’s be frank here. Does he look like our dear Sister Lilian from King Edward VIII Hospital, or does he look like Capital? Please feel free to bring in the legacy of Race-based economic discrimination at this point if you wish. Can he look like both? Can this type of political schizophrenia work? Does Cyril have the political equipment to give our newfound hope a tangible turn for the better? Being a Marx-ist, in the strictly Groucho sense that is, these questions cannot be suppressed (social critics like Groucho Marx, Bill Hicks, Chris Pryor, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Sarah Silverman, and our very own Thenjiwe Moseley and John Vlismas are some of the best sociologists we should still be tuned into.)

Notwithstanding the forgiveness withheld with regard to the presentation of the Budget Speech 2018, as mentioned above, it will be fair to allow Cyril an addendum in time to present us with his new possé. What will they look like? Will they offer us a gaze whilst driving past us in the queue on the street outside the pension pay-point, or the queue at the bus station, whilst they pass by in their luxury sedans with cellphones glued to their ears?

Even if we allow Cyril the time to present us with his new set of ministers and deputy ministers, we are still stuck with the deputy pharaohs on the NEC of the African National Congress (including Jesse Duarte, Ace Magashule, David Mabuza), an NEC which doesn’t own the country, but who certainly acted as if they did since the ANC conference last. Let’s put it bluntly, and I guess I speak for every self-respecting South African on this, we do not want these deputy pharaohs trying to look like us. No, we’re going to come off looking bad, real bad!

In a Sampie Terreblanche kind of way, we need to be reaching out to one another and perhaps more than the issue about the pharaoh looking like us, we really need to find new and genuinely equitable ways to look more like one another. From our reflections on the Zuma years, we know to never again let our restlessness cease. Should we let it, rigor mortis will quickly set in and that will be the death of a promising nation. We know, because we’ve come close.

Can I call Mr Ramaphosa ‘Cyril’, please?

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