Final Word

King Solomon on South Africa, Zuma and Ramaphosa


What happened in South Africa in recent times with Cyril Ramaphosa taking the reins from Jacob Zuma is reflected in wise political words by King Solomon of the Bible.

In the book of Proverbs 29;2 Solomon is recorded as having said: “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.”

However, while the people of South Africa are rejoicing the election of Mr. Ramaphosa as the new President of the country, they should also heed the wise words of the late French president Charles de Gaulle who once said: “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians."

This should also be read in conjunction with the warning from Paul Krugman, writing in The Australian Financial Review, in 2010 – coincidently shortly after Mr. Zuma came to power: “I always believe that ultimately, if people are paying attention, then we get good government and good leadership. And when we get lazy, as a democracy and civically start taking shortcuts, then it results in bad government and politics.”

In the initial rise to power by Mr. Zuma, and what happened subsequently, we find echoes of the wise words of Christian Nestell Bovee in his work Intuitions and Summaries of Thought: “Political aspirants make too much of the people before election, and, if successful, too much of themselves after it. They use the people when they want to rise, as we treat a spirited horse when we want to mount him;--for a time we pat the animal upon the neck and speak (to) him softly; but once in the saddle, then come the whip and spur.”

Ramaphosa and US presidents

In his first speech to Parliament as new President of South Africa, the State of the Nation Address (SONA) one could not fault some commentators for observing that he seemed to have taken a leaf out of the book of the previous, and first black, president of the United States, when he (Ramaphosa) branded his presidency with the slogan “Now is the time!”

Not only had Obama’s slogan of ‘Yes, we can’ a similar ring to it. But in Mr. Ramaphosa’s calls to cooperation and joint action there were also echoes of another quote from a famous Obama interview, during which he said about politics: “All of us are neck deep in politics everyday of our lives. Every organization on earth that involves human beings has its politics. Politics does not have to be a bad thing. Actually, politics can be a good thing when we bring people to the table to sit down, work together, compromise and get things done for the common good.”

However, while one can in the mind’s eye, see Mr. Ramaphosa nodding his head in agreement with this Obama statement, or even King Solomon as quoted above, one must point out how accurately a famous statement by then US president

George Washington way back in 1796 describes what has also happened over the past quarter century in South Africa:

However, (political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

And, what has happened to the African National Congress under the leadership of Mr. Zuma is probably best described in the words of yet another US president, Dwight Eisenhower, who in 1956 said: “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”

Final word

And, while South Africans have a hard time to make sense of the fast changing political landscape in the country they will do well to maintain, at least partly, the cynicism incapsulated in George Orwell’s statement: “Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

by Piet Coetzer

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